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Characterizing rare earth elements in Alaskan coal and ash

Minerals & Metallurgical Processing , 2017, Vol. 34, No. 3, pp. 138-145

Gupta, T.; Ghosh, T.; Akdogan, G.; Srivastava, V.K.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.19150/mmp.7614


In recent years, the demand for rare earth elements (REEs) has grown due to increasing demand and global supply shortage. The supply deficit of these critical elements has encouraged the search for new sources, with coal and coal byproducts as possibilities. Coals from certain parts of the world can be rich in REEs and can approach a total concentration of 1,000 ppm. Two Alaskan coal samples, from Healy and Wishbone Hill, were investigated for the effects of density and particle size on REE concentrations for three selected size fractions, and flotation tests were conducted on finer fractions. Additionally, bottom ash and fly ash samples from a power plant were examined for their REE concentrations. The results show that the upgrade potential for REEs on an ash basis from a whole-coal basis ranges from 2:1 for the Wishbone Hill samples to 4:1 for the Healy coal samples. Flotations of the finer fractions of the two coal samples, conducted under similar conditions, revealed higher concentrations of REEs in the tailings. Both coal samples had comparatively higher contents of light-group rare earth elements (LREEs) than heavy-group rare earth elements (HREEs). REE content trends for the power-plant products on an ash basis indicate that fly ash has slightly higher concentrations of both LREEs and HREEs than bottom ash.