Rare Earth Minerals
New Opportunities in Rare Earth Element Recovery from Coal and Coal By-Products
Kentucky River Properties, LLC (KRP) is working in conjunction with Dr. Rick Honaker of the University of Kentucky Mining Engineering Department to commercially develop rare earth elements (REE) from Eastern Kentucky coal resources. KRP owns and controls hundreds of thousands of acres of fee and mineral properties in Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, and West Virginia. KRP typically leases its coal, oil and gas, and timber resources to operating companies in exchange for a royalty based on extraction and production of those resources.
For the past several years, KRP has worked with the Dr. Rick Honaker with the University of Kentucky, and others, seeking to identify and quantify potential deposits of Rare Earth Minerals associated with the coal seams and surrounding strata and to develop cost effective techniques to extract and separate the Rare Earth Minerals. Dr. Honaker’s work continues under current US DOE/NETL grants to which reference is made for more technical details.
As a result of the work done by Dr. Honaker and KRP, we have determined that the Hazard No. Four or Fireclay seam of coal appears to contain the highest concentrations of numerous Rare Earth Minerals. While other coal seams contain identifiable concentrations, our work to date has focused primarily on the Fireclay seam.
KRP owns an estimated 100 million tons of Fireclay coal, in-place, and located in Eastern Kentucky. One of KRP’s lessees is currently mining this seam and has typically produced approximately 200,000 to 500,000 tons per year. Since the coal is currently being produced economically, the costs of extraction of an ore to obtain associated REM is reduced considerably.
During the past several years, KRP has engaged in a fairly extensive core drilling program on its reserves in Eastern Kentucky and has excellent data on the extent, thickness, location and other important attributes of the Fireclay coal seam. The existence, location, mineability, and coal attributes are well known and well proven. In addition, the drilling program identified the associated strata (i.e. the roof and floor of the mining process) surrounding the coal seams which recent research by Dr. Honaker proves contain significant concentrations of Rare Earth Metals as well.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Fossil Energy conducts programs to ensure the availability of ultraclean (near-zero emissions), abundant, low-cost domestic energy from coal. These efforts are designed to fuel economic prosperity, strengthen energy independence, and enhance environmental quality. As the Office of Fossil Energy’s research laboratory, the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) is engaged in research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) activities to create technology and technology-based policy options for public benefit.
As part of its RD&D technology portfolio, NETL has initiated the Rare Earth Elements (REEs) from Coal and Coal By-Products RD&D Program, which focuses on developing REE separation and recovery technologies, addressing the current global REE separations market and process economics, and demonstrating environmentally benign REE separation processing capabilities. The quantities of REEs in our nation’s vast coal resources offer the potential to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign sources for these critical materials, and to create new industries in regions.
The overall objectives of NETL’s REE program are to demonstrate the techno-economic feasibility and performance of existing commercial or newly developed REE separation technologies. These technologies are focused on separating and recovering REEs from coal and coal by-products containing a minimum of 300 ppm total REEs, and concentrating the REEs to levels greater than or equal to 2 percent by weight, tentatively producing 90 to 99.99 percent high-purity, salable, individual rare earth metal oxides by the year 2020. These objectives will be accomplished through laboratory REE separation projects and demonstration of concept feasibility at bench-scale through pilot-scale facilities and integrated processing systems. Ultimately, these efforts will ready REE separations technology for commercial deployment. Key success factors for this program include co-production of materials and critical elements, successful demonstration of environmentally benign processing, and competitive economics.