January 20, 2018

Unthinkable! Extracting rare earths from coal through ion exchange?

 Frontiers continue to be broken and some things – previously thought of confined to science fiction are becoming a reality. This is definitely true with rare earths.

Mining News reports that a group of researchers from Pennsylvania State, led by the US Department of Energy (DOE), has discovered that rare earth elements can be extracted from two coal by-products through an ion-exchange process.

The publication quotes, Sarma Pisupati, professor of energy and mineral engineering at Penn State, in a statement, as saying: “”We have known for many decades that rare-earth elements are found in coal seams and near other mineral veins. However, it was costly to extract the materials and there was relatively low demand until recently.”

The teams say they wanted to take a fresh look at the feasibility of extracting REEs, from coal given the fossil fuel abundance in the country. The new mineral processing technique makes the extraction not only cost-effective, but also environmentally friendly.

The method, they explain, involves rinsing the coal with a solution that releases the REEs that are bound to the fossil fuel.

Meanwhile, the team is now collaborating with several Pennsylvania coal miners to explore the viability of a commercial REE-extraction operation.

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