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  • Matt Spencer

Researchers discover nearly pure rare earth concentrates

Researchers from the University of Kentucky have discovered nearly-pure rare earth concentrates from coal using an environmentally-conscious and cost-effective process. This is a first in the energy industry.

The rare earth concentrates was uncovered using a patent pending process developed by mining engineering professor Rick Honacker and Wencai Zhang. “Our novel rare earth recovery process is low cost and more environmentally friendly than alternative technologies, such as solvent extraction,” Honaker said in a press release.

Honacker further says, “As far as I know, our team is the first in the world to have provided a 98 percent pure rare earth concentrate from a coal source.” The process recovered more than 80 percent of the Rare earth elements (REEs) present in the feed sources. The concentrates were comprised of more than 80 percent total rare earth elements on a dry whole mass basis and more than 98 percent rare earth oxides. critical elements such as neodymium and yttrium, used in national defense technologies and the high-tech and renewable energy industries, as well as scandium — a highly valued rare earth element used for aerospace, lighting and other applications, was also found in the  concentrate.

The significance:

Rare earth concentrates are incredibly important in the energy and technology industries today. Energy concentrates are used in the production of iPhones, computers, missiles and other applications. Honacker had received $7 million from the US Department of Energy to produce these concentrates, revealing its importance. “The primary objective for our DoE (Department of Energy) project was to produce a concentrate containing a minimum of 2 percent rare earth elements,” he said. “We have far exceeded this objective.”

The future:

The process will be part of a one-fourth-tph (tons per hour) mobile rare earth concentrates recovery pilot scale plant being developed and tested by Honaker’s research team as part of the U.S. Department of Energy project.

“We are excited about the new development and look forward to testing the process in our pilot-scale facility which will be operational during spring 2018.”

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