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High concentration of rare earth elements found in American coal basins

The U.S. Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory has found high rare earth element concentrations in American coal basins.

Coal samples taken from the Illinois, Northern Appalachia, Central Appalachia and Rocky Mountain basins, as well as the Pennsylvania anthracite region, contain greater than 300 parts per million of the elements, according to a Nov. 29 release.

Rare earth elements are vital components of electric car batteries and consumer electronics such as cell phones. Many of these resources are imported from China, but U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry wants to reduce dependence on imports.

"Supporting innovative research and development to establish efficient, cost-effective [rare earth elements] extraction methods is critical to our country's energy and national security," Perry said in the release.

The project to recover rare earth elements from coal-related materials in American coal basins began in October and was made in partnership with West Virginia University, the University of Kentucky, Tetra Tech and the XLight Corp.

WVU explored acid mine drainage from bituminous coal mines in the Northern and Central Appalachia coal basins, while Tetra Tech looked at bituminous, sub-bituminous and anthracite coal from the same basins.

The University of Kentucky analyzed western Kentucky bituminous coal in the Illinois coal basin, and XLight investigated coal-related materials in the Eastern Pennsylvania anthracite region, according to the release.

WVU will use the acid mine drainage as a feedstock, with final design and construction of bench-scale test facilities beginning in January 2018. Pilot-scale facilities for the other basins are in progress.

"Identifying promising sources of domestic coal and coal byproducts containing high [rare earth elements] concentrations is a key milestone on the pathway toward economic recovery of [rare earth elements] from U.S. coal and coal byproducts," the DOE said.