How Rare Earth Elements (REEs) may Make Coal Important Again

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Edgy Labs covers how rare earth elements (or REEs) may revive the American coal mining industry and increase U.S. competition with China.

Rare earth elements (or REEs) are used in all modern electronics. From cell phones to hi-tech weapons systems, millions of devices rely on REEs.

REEs
A REE open-pit mine | Ecomerge.blogspot.com

But what makes REEs rare isn’t their quantity on Earth, it’s the amount of time and energy it takes to extract them.

Rare Earth Elements and the Coal Industry

“There are 17 rare earth metals that are found in the earth’s crust and low and behold Northeastern Pennsylvania has the highest rare earth minerals because of our coal mining and waste in our coal mines,” said Congressman Lou Barletta in an interview with PA Homepage News.

A list of REEs taken from Wikipedia:

Z Symbol Name Etymology
21 Sc Scandium from Latin Scandia (Scandinavia).
39 Y Yttrium after the village of Ytterby, Sweden, where the first rare earth ore was discovered.
57 La Lanthanum from the Greek “lanthanein”, meaning to be hidden.
58 Ce Cerium after the dwarf planet Ceres, named after the Roman goddess of agriculture.
59 Pr Praseodymium from the Greek “prasios”, meaning leek-green, and “didymos”, meaning twin.
60 Nd Neodymium from the Greek “neos”, meaning new, and “didymos”, meaning twin.
61 Pm Promethium after the Titan Prometheus, who brought fire to mortals.
62 Sm Samarium after mine official, Vasili Samarsky-Bykhovets.
63 Eu Europium after the continent of Europe.
64 Gd Gadolinium after Johan Gadolin (1760–1852), to honor his investigation of rare earths.
65 Tb Terbium after the village of Ytterby, Sweden.
66 Dy Dysprosium from the Greek “dysprositos”, meaning hard to get.
67 Ho Holmium after Stockholm (in Latin, “Holmia”), native city of one of its discoverers.
68 Er Erbium after the village of Ytterby, Sweden.
69 Tm Thulium after the mythological northern land of Thule.
70 Yb Ytterbium after the village of Ytterby, Sweden.
71 Lu Lutetium after Lutetia, the city that later became Paris.

 

Barletta also stressed that coal mining could be safer for National security, if not the environment.   

“The United States currently gets all of their REEs from China. Some lawmakers say this is also a national security issue and want to find domestic sources of those elements,” the Congressman stated.

It’s no surprise the People’s Republic leads in the export of rare earth elements since China produces 90% of REEs extracted worldwide.

China’s Market Influence on Rare Earth Elements

“Mountain Pass” (Molycorp Minerals LLCwas expected to be America’s primary source of REEs. But, it went bankrupt in 2015 and sold for $20.5 million USD to a Chinese corporation called MP Mine Operations (MPMO).

Due to coal mining activities, PA is one of the richest REEs sites in the U.S.Click To Tweet

Mining.com called Mountain Pass “a victim of low rare earth oxide prices.” So the question is, can an American REE mine sustain itself in an already dominated market?

Industrial Minerals reports that Chinese authorities are prepared to “deal firmly with producers” who attempt to provide competitive prices in the rare minerals market.

Still, the stock market seems to indicate that the US believes it can hold its own.

Over the past few weeks, trading for U.S. Rare Earth Minerals Inc (USMN) has indicated “a strong trend”. Moreover, in the past few days, the stock has been “overbought” according to BVN News Journal.

coal
Yttrium, named after the Swedish village of Ytterby where the first ore was found | Bjoern Wylezich | Shutterstock.com

EPA Regulations and Mining Communities

Congressman Barletta argues, “The coal industry is here and it’s never going away. There will always be uses for it.”

However, not all coal mining communities agree.

Despite President Trump’s relaxation of EPA regulations and his support of reviving coal jobs, miners like those in Wise, VA are calling coal obsolete. Instead, they’re more interested in catching up with industry 4.0 by investing in drone technologies.

Can coal make a comeback? Is the US capable of rare earth extraction for a global market?

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