Rare earth element project receives federal funding

Potential development of a new industry to extract rare earth elements from the ash of Wyoming’s Powder River Basin coal took a step forward with a recent federal grant.

Funds for the $1.62 million three-year project are part of the U.S. Department of Energy Commercialization Fund, which was created to promote promising energy technology from the energy department’s national laboratories.

The energy department grant is for over $810,000, and remaining funds will come from others involved in the project, including $187,500 each from Campbell County and the city of Gillette.

The project will facilitate the expansion of technologies and methods for rare earth element extraction from coal ash developed by researchers at the National Energy Technology Laboratory.

The project involves the Laboratory, the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources, Campbell County, the city of Gillette and Energy Capital Economic Development.

The project will create a pilot-scale production facility at the Advanced Carbon Products Innovation Center now under development near Gillette, to demonstrate economically viable production of rare earth elements from coal-related feedstocks. Rare earth elements are a series of chemical elements found in the Earth’s crust that, due to their unique chemical properties, have become essential components of many technologies.

The technologies span a range of applications including electronics, computer and communications systems, transportation, health care and national defense.

The potential to recover rare earth elements from coal is significant for Wyoming. The state is the nation’s No. 1 coal producer. Studies have shown that Powder River Basin coal ash has a high extractable rare earth element content compared to other coal ash.

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