Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

EERC, Dept. of Mineral Resources researching "rare earth elements"

State Geologist Ed Murphy speaks to North Dakota's Industrial Commission
Dave Thompson
State Geologist Ed Murphy speaks to North Dakota's Industrial Commission

Research continues into extracting “rare earth elements” in North Dakota.

It's being done by the Energy and Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota, as well as the North Dakota Geological Survey.

"These are critical elements we use in high-tech devices," said EERC chief research officers Brian Kalk. He said the North Dakota Legislature set aside some money for this research.

"In North Dakota, we have them (rare earth elements) in our coal," Kalk said in an interview. "We have them in our produced water."

Kalk said EERC will be working with the Geological Survey on getting more samples throughout the state."

"We're going to try and develop an industry of extracting rare earth elements out of North Dakota products, to help with the national and international need," Kalk said.

Right now, those minerals have to be imported.

Representatives of EERC and the state Mineral Resources Department say a key will be to get the rare earth minerals out without disturbing a lot of land.

"In China, they just dig a big hole, digging up all that clay, leaving spoil piles and acid leach pools and all of that," said state Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms. "That's not what we intend to do."

One technique EERC and DMR will be researching is “solution mining,” running water through the lignite to extract the rare earth minerals.

"This is a real advantage, having lignite, because it's much easier to remove these critical minerals from soft coals than it is from bituminous or anthracite," said state geologist Ed Murphy.