Key Focus Areas

Key Focus Areas

The Rare Earth Elements (REE) from Coal and Coal By‐Products RD&D Program consists of five core technology areas that are focused on development of REE separation and recovery technologies, addressing the current global REE separations market and process economics, and demonstrating the generation of environmentally benign REE separation processing capabilities. Our nation’s vast coal resources contain quantities of REEs that offer the potential to reduce our dependence on others for these critical materials and create new industries in regions where coal plays an important economic role. The development of an economically competitive supply of REEs will secure and maintain our nation’s economic growth and national security. 

Resource Sampling and Characterization

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While significant progress has been made in identifying field site locations and  compositional assessment of potential coal and coal by‐product REE‐containing materials, continued effort is essential to identify the “best” source of materials to support future commercial REE production. Chemical and physical characterization efforts, addressing REE elemental concentrations and phase compositions in the coal and coal by‐product resources are essential in the development of viable REE separation processes.

Separation Technologies 

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NETL is developing REE separation and extraction capabilities from coal‐based resources such as coal, coal refuse, clay/sandstone over/under‐burden materials, aqueous effluents, and power generation ash. The REE program is focused on developing economically feasible and environmentally benign technologies for separating REEs from resources starting with a minimum of 300 ppm total REEs, and concentrating to a 2wt% mixed total REE oxide in the resulting processed material. 



The program is currently pursuing:

  • 2nd Generation Technologies that have demonstrated TRL‐3 laboratory‐scale or TRL‐5 bench‐scale‐ready REE separations processing capabilities, and are currently in the conceptual design phase and
    economic assessment for potential construction and technology demonstration in operating bench‐scale and pilot‐scale unit operations, respectively. 
  • Transformational Technologies that are new novel, advanced, TRL‐1‐2 laboratory‐scale concepts for REE separation.

The timeline for commercial‐ready deployment of the 2nd Generation and Transformational REE separation technologies is 2023 and 2025, respectively.

REE Sensor Development

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Development of portable sensors for field site identification of promising REE coal‐based resources, as well as devices for determination of REE concentrations in process separation flow streams is being considered. Tentatively these technologies will be tested in the field, at bench‐scale separations test facilities and validated to commercial‐ready status during use in pilot‐scale demonstration projects.


Process & Systems Modeling

Modeling efforts are being focused on development of multi‐phase flow with interphase eXchanges (MFIX) computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software to simulate REE separation and optimization of the separation process. This effort is being conducted in close coordination with researchers who are developing and/or demonstrating viable 2nd Generation and/or advanced, new/novel REE separation concepts. The CFD models will be used as virtual test platforms to optimize process separation designs and ultimately package the modeling capability into a generalized toolset for public distribution as part of technology transfer.

Techno-economic Analysis

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Techno‐economic analyses are being conducted to evaluate the international rare earth element market and to assess the economics of commercially producing REEs from currently considered 2nd Generation and Transformational separation processes. An REE market characterization will be performed and coal‐based REE economic baseline/cost targets assessing potential benefits and job creation document will be undertaken.