The U.S. Department of Energy announced $6.9 million in grants for research on rare earth elements derived from coal and coal byproducts.
Equinox Chemicals LLC and its partners were awarded $999,983 to conduct laboratory testing and create a technical design for a pilot plant to produce salable rare earth elements from the byproducts of an existing eastern Kentucky coal preparation plant, according to a June 9 press release.
A further $1 million will go to Inventure Renewables and its partners to design a pilot plant to extract rare earth elements from anthracite coal-related materials from an eastern Pennsylvania mine.
A third grant of $1 million will go to Marshall Miller & Associates and its partners to prepare a technical design for a pilot plant that will produce rare earths from an existing West Virginia coal-washing plant.
The DOE also announced that $3.95 million is available for projects in three new research categories: developing advanced technology for initial rare earth element extraction, optimizing current separation technologies, and advancing technology for high-purity rare earth element extraction.
Up to eight projects could be selected in the new categories, and recipients would have to share at least 20% of costs.
Rare earth elements are essential for electronics, computer and communication systems, transportation, health care and defense, and the possibility of extracting them from coal byproducts has generated a considerable amount of interest.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced at the National Coal Council's annual spring meeting that harnessing coal byproducts such as rare earth elements is key to ensuring the commodity's future.
Meanwhile, a rare earth extraction company has a memorandum of understanding with a coal company over the possibility of deriving the commodities from anthracite coal byproducts.
Other research has taken an interest in the rare earth elements that may be extracted from acid mine drainage.