Penn State Earth and Mineral Engineering researchers are working with three industry partners through a $1 million grant from the Department of Energy’s office of Fossil Energy to look at profitably extracting rare earth elements(REEs) from coal regions in eastern Pennsylvania. In 2016, the Penn State team found a cost effective and environmentally friendly way to extract REEs from coal and coal byproducts. The grant will provide an opportunity for lab testing and to design a pilot plant for the production of salable REEs.
The team will focus on using pressure filtration extraction and ion-exchange/ion-chromatography processes to separate solids and fluids. The REE-enriched fluids would then have the REEs extracted and allow the liquids to be reused back into the system. The process is environmentally friendly as no additional resources are being mined, and the liquids are recyclable.
On a recent visit to a coal mine, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry highlighted the importance of this Penn State-industry collaboration. "I don’t think we can overstate how important the development of rare earth elements out of our anthracite coal is and the potential it’s going to have," Perry said during his remarks. "Our goal is clear. It's to develop an economically competitive supply of rare earth elements."
There are 17 rare earth elements that are found in the Earth’s crust that have unique properties, making them valuable in technology components used for national defense, computer systems, transportation and health care. Currently, the US imports almost all its rare earth elements, of which China produces about 85% of the world’s REEs. The research is important for national security to have the capability of producing our own elements rather than depending on foreign sources.
To read more on the research please see the full story from Penn State News