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DOE awards $3M to MP Materials for project to extract rare earths from fossil fuel waste streams

MP Materials has received a $3-million award from the Department of Energy (DOE) to complete a feasibility study, working with the University of Kentucky (UK), on a system to produce rare earth oxides, metals, and other critical materials recovered from coal by-products. This project is enabled by a DOE-exercised option of a previous MP Materials and UK conceptual study in 2020.

MP Materials owns and operates Mountain Pass, the only integrated rare earth mining and processing site in North America. There, the company recovers primarily bastnaesite ore from an open-pit surface mine. The rare earth elements are separated from the other elements in the ore through a process of crushing, milling, conditioning and floatation. The result is a rare earth concentrate.

The concentrate then undergoes a chemical process to purify, recover, separate and precipitate the individual rare earth elements. Rare earth oxides—primarily lanthanum, cerium, and NdPr oxide—are packaged and treated to meet specific customer specifications.


Mountain Pass facility. Source: MP Materials

Pursuant to this DOE-funded project, MP Materials and UK will advance their design for a modular system to concentrate coal by-product locally, in Kentucky. The concentrate will then be delivered to Mountain Pass, California, where MP Materials will leverage its existing capabilities to refine and extract the individual rare earth elements from concentrate before reducing them to metal.

The collaboration seeks to minimize the system’s capital and operating costs, as well as its environmental footprint, while maximizing economic opportunities for coal communities.

The clean technologies powering the future depend on powerful rare earth magnets to turn energy into motion. As the economy electrifies, achieving a sustainable means to extract critical materials from the by-products of fossil fuel extraction would diversify the supply base while providing valuable economic opportunity to communities across the country. We appreciate the support of the Department of Energy and the opportunity to collaborate with the world-class experts at the University of Kentucky as we work to advance this study.

—Michael Rosenthal, Chief Operating Officer, MP Materials



If they could process coal ash to extract the REEs and separate the toxics like arsenic, mercury and lead, the ash dumps around the world might be detoxified and remediated.

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