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DOE working on mining rare earth minerals

DOE Fossil Energy and Carbon Management

The US Department of Energy is working on projects to ramp up domestic mining and production of the so-called “rare earth minerals” – used in batteries, electric vehicles, cellphones and computers.

The demand for those minerals continues to grow.

Grant Bromhal is the acting director of DOE’s Mineral Sustainability Division. He said there’s been a lot of research done on extracting those minerals from coal – and that includes coal waste and coal byproducts.

"We have a program that's been looking at four main different streams — newly-mined coal, coal refuse, ash internments and acid drainage," Bromhal said. "Those would be sources for rare earth elements."

Bromhal said UND’s Energy and Environmental Research Center has been doing great work on extracting those minerals from lignite.

"The great thing about lignite is that it's easier to get the rare earths out of the lignite, than it is with some of the other coals," Bromhal said. "It requires less strong acids — it's more environmentally friendly and less costly. So there is significant potential there."

Bromhal said right now, the rare earth minerals mined in the US are sent to China for further processing. But he said a new processing facility is being built in Texas, partially funded by DOD — and he called that a positive step.

"What we're trying to do here is — looking to take it further and further, to build multiple of these facilities, so we can really build a supply network," Bromhal said.

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