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DOE awarding $17M to 3 projects to produce rare earth elements from coal-based resources

The US Department of Energy (DOE) will award more than $17 million to three projects that will support the design and construction of facilities that produce rare earth elements and other critical minerals and materials from coal-based resources. The projects, funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, may strengthen domestic supply chains, helping to meet the growing demand for critical minerals and materials and reduce reliance on unreliable foreign sources.

Rare earth elements and other critical minerals and materials are key to manufacturing clean energy technologies here in America—such as solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cells. Coal and coal production waste contain valuable rare earth elements that can be used to manufacture clean energy technology components.

The United States currently imports more than 80% of rare earth elements, but rare earth elements naturally occur all around us, including in our domestic coal and coal wastes, which comprise more than 250 billion tons of coal reserves, more than 4 billion tons of waste coal, and about 2 billion tons of coal ash. DOE seeks to tap this unconventional resource to help build a domestic supply chain critical to the US economy, clean energy, and national security.

Three projects were selected for negotiation to support the development of FEED studies for potential future intermediate- and/or demonstration-scale facilities for the extraction, separation, and production of rare earth elements and other critical minerals and materials from unconventional resources.

The FEED studies will establish and define technical requirements focused on project scope, schedule, and costs, and reduce risk during the construction and operation of future rare earth element and critical minerals and materials production facilities:

  • The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Champaign, Illinois) plans to perform a FEED study needed to establish a fully integrated, vertical supply chain for several critical minerals found entirely within Illinois. The objective is to produce lithium, scandium, neodymium and praseodymium, high-purity dysprosium, as well as other rare earth oxides, nickel, zinc, cobalt, manganese, and potentially high-purity aluminum.

    The project envisions three key facilities: (1) an extraction facility in Marissa, Illinois, at the Prairie State Energy Campus (a combination coal mine and coal-fired power plant complex); (2) a concentration and production plant to be located nearby to produce mixed rare earth oxides, scandium and other critical minerals; and (3) a purification and refining facility in Urbana, Illinois, to refine individual rare earth oxides and metals (via electrowinning and metallothermic reduction) from the mixed rare earth oxides.

    DOE Funding: $4,000,000; Non-DOE Funding: $1,000,266; Total Value: $5,000,266

  • Winner Water Services, Inc. (Sharon, Pennsylvania) previously completed a Feasibility Case Study (FCS), which was the precursor program for the FEED study the company intends to complete at the Harllee Branch Power Plant in Milledgeville, Georgia. The FCS established a proof-of-concept commercial-scale plant design for implementing the company’s technology to recover rare earth elements from coal ash. The FCS plant was designed to produce approximately one ton per day of rare earth oxides.

    This mixture was refined to produce (1) concentrated heavy rare earths, (2) combined samarium, europium, gadolinium oxides, (3) lanthanum oxide, (4) neodymium/praseodymium metal, and (5) cerium carbonate. The FEED study will focus on further developing the FCS strategy to produce a detailed design and AACE Class 3 estimates for a hub-and-spoke model to generate one ton per day of mixed rare earth oxides from coal ash and refine them into critical minerals for the southeastern United States.

    DOE Funding: $7,993,082; Non-DOE Funding: $2,000,000; Total Value: $9,993,082

  • Tetra Tech, Inc. (Houston, Texas) plans to complete a FEED study for a demonstration-scale rare earth metal and critical minerals production plant for coal-based resources located in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania. The study will address Bipartisan Infrastructure Law priorities by completing the following objectives: (1) confirm quality and quantity of five years of feedstock reserves; (2) complete lab-scale production of samples of proposed products and wastes from feedstock sources; (3) complete preliminary engineering design of the facility for the selected site; (4) identify and engage key project stakeholders; (5) update the project business plan; (6) understand environmental impact of the project and develop any required mitigations; and (7) implement a community benefits plan.

    The project is a modular rare earth metal, alumina, and lithium carbonate production plant. It will process claystone exposed during surface mining of metallurgical coal for steel production. The expected outcome is to produce an investment package allowing for potential ownership or lending parties to make a financial investment decision to develop the project.

    DOE Funding: $5,389,456; Non-DOE Funding: $1,351,487; Total Value: $6,740,943

DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), under the purview of DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM), will manage the selected projects.

Since January 2021, DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management has announced an estimated $58 million in projects that support critical minerals and materials exploration, resource identification, production, and processing in traditional mining and fossil fuel-producing communities across the country.

This total includes $16 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding for detailed engineering and cost FEED studies that are focused on design, construction, and operation of a first-of-a-kind domestic, demonstration-scale rare earth production facility that will extract, separate, and refine rare earth elements from unconventional sources such as acid mine drainage and mining waste.



The United States needs to get government and business working together instead of being enemies, we get so much more accomplished than waiting for something to become profitable enough for the private sector corporations. Let's get with it, have a better hybrid economy and a better future for everyone.

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