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Process evaluation and flowsheet development for the recovery of rare earth elements from coal and associated byproducts

Minerals & Metallurgical Processing , 2017, Vol. 34, No. 3, pp. 107-115

Honaker, R.Q.; Groppo, J.; Yoon, R.-H.; Luttrell, G.H.; Noble, A.; Herbst, J.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.19150/mmp.7610


Coal and coal byproducts produced annually contain a sufficient amount of rare earth elements (REEs) to meet current U.S. demand. The REEs exist in the form of minerals, ion-adsorbed elements associated with clays, and chemically bonded elements within the organic coal matrix or host mineral. Researchers at three universities collaborated to evaluate the effectiveness of existing physical and chemical concentration processes for the recovery of the REEs. The efforts found that physical separation processes can increase the total REE content in the thickener underflow material collected from a Central Appalachian coal cleaning facility from around 300 ppm to values greater than 17,500 ppm on an ash basis. Leaching followed by solvent extraction was found to be the most effective to recover the REEs from coarse middlings materials collected from multiple coal basins, as indicated by recovery values exceeding 80 percent. Based on material characterization data and process evaluations conducted for several potential feed coal sources, economic recovery of the REEs will require byproduct production of both clean coal and REE concentrate using a process flowsheet that is unique for each source.