Investigation of Rare Earth Element Extraction from North Dakota Coal-Related Feedstocks


Results of REE extraction from North Dakota lignite using three solvents tested in Phase 1.
Results of REE extraction from North Dakota lignite using three solvents tested in Phase 1.
University of North Dakota Energy and Environmental Research Center (UNDEERC)
Website:  University of North Dakota
Award Number:  FE0027006
Project Duration:  03/01/2016 – 03/31/2019
Total Award Value:  $4,309,347
DOE Share:  $3,343,847
Performer Share:  $965,500
Technology Area:  Rare Earth Recovery
Key Technology:  Process Systems
Location:  Grand Forks, North Dakota

Project Description

In Phase 1 of this project, the University of North Dakota (UND) project team identified locations in North Dakota with coal-related feed stocks having exceptionally high rare earth elements (REE) content and developed a simple, highly effective, and low-cost method to concentrate the REEs in the lignite feed stocks using a novel technology that takes advantage of the unique properties of lignite. In laboratory experiments, UND achieved greater than 2% concentration of rare earths in the mixed rare earth concentrate while recovering up to 35% of the rare earths from the incoming feedstock. In Phase 2, the University is partnering with Microbeam Technologies, Barr Engineering, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and MLJ Consulting to investigate the feasibility of recovering REEs from North Dakota lignite and lignite-related feedstocks. The team will scale-up the technology and demonstrate it at a scale of 10-20 kilograms per hour feed stock throughput and evaluate the economics for a commercial-scale, rare-earths-concentrating facility in North Dakota. The project also includes development of a commercialization plan and market assessment. The Lignite Research Program of the North Dakota Industrial Commission, North American Coal Corporation, Great River Energy, Minnkota Power Cooperative, Great Northern Properties, the University of North Dakota, and the North Dakota University System are cost-sharing this project.

Project Benefits

The recovery of REEs from lignite and related materials could lead to a significant new industry for maintaining existing and creating new jobs, and create new opportunities for marketable use of North Dakota lignite coal. Multiple high-value by-products that will further enhance the lignite industry will also result from the process. The potential also exists to significantly or completely offset current imported REE and REE products by providing a reliable domestic resource and novel low-cost technology focused on its development. The ultimate significance of this research is development of a high-performance, environmentally benign, and economically viable technology for REE production from an alternative resource that will reduce dependence on foreign supplies and strengthen the economic and national security of the United States. This project will enable transition to pilot-scale, and will be a foundation for subsequent larger demonstrations and eventual commercial deployment.

Contact Information

Federal Project Manager 
Charles E. Miller:
Technology Manager 
Mary Anne Alvin:
Principal Investigator 
Dan Laudal:

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