US extracts valuable rare earths from old coal fields

The day of coal mining is over in the United States as well. Former President Donald Trump has once again declared a renaissance of fossil fuels. But the hope that was raised by this was not fulfilled. Coal has played an important role in industrialization around the world. However, other raw materials are likely to come into focus in the future. These include, for example, rare earths. These are a total of 17 metals that are indispensable in many different fields. For example, they are needed for the production of electric car batteries, as well as for the manufacture of displays or the manufacture of fighter aircraft. By the 1980s, the United States was the world’s largest exporter of rare earths. In the meantime, however, China has garnered a world market share of about eighty percent. This reliance on the Middle Kingdom is a headache for many American politicians.

US extracts valuable rare earths from old coal fields
Image: Dekumanas on the English Wikipedia. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

The recovered metals are not radioactive

This is where the old coalfields can come into play again. Because researchers in the US state of Wyoming have discovered that the layers around mined coal contain valuable rare earths. Joke: So far it has been a pure waste product of coal production. It is possible that valuable resources have been dumped here for decades. Researchers are now working on ways to specifically identify, extract and process rare earths. Big advantage: unlike traditional mining sites, the material obtained in this way is not radioactive. This should simplify processing and reduce costs. Theoretically, rare earths can also be obtained from burnt coal – the so-called coal ash. Research is also being done here. However, in reality the goal of politics is not to burn coal at all in the medium to long term.

Wyoming plays an important role in rare earths

Wyoming thus plays a dual important role in the US government’s efforts to increase mining of indigenous rare earth elements. Because the state has huge reserves of coal. In the future, these may no longer be used to generate energy, but to mine coveted metals. However, until researchers develop a market-ready process, the focus will be on traditional mining. Here too, Wyoming has one of the most promising deposits. It is currently being developed by mining companies. The United States theoretically has considerable reserves of other coveted raw materials such as copper, lithium or nickel. However, there is a reason these have not been developed yet. Because mining is often associated with ecological risks. Several new and stricter rules have been issued in recent years. But in the immediate vicinity, many do not necessarily have a mine.

Via: Handelsblatt

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