NETL Program Progresses Coal Ash Rare Earth Element Extraction Process

In a project supported by NETL and using post-combustion coal ash as the feedstock, Physical Sciences, Inc. (PSI), in a partnership with the University of Kentucky Center for Applied Energy Research (UK/CAER) and Winner Water Services, produced a mixed rare earth product using a micro-pilot chemical processing system in its Andover, Mass. laboratory.

Starting with a 500 ppm rare earth concentration in the fine ash fed to the micro-pilot system, PSI made a product with greater than 50 000 ppm rare earth concentrations, or greater than 5% by weight a 100-fold increase in the rare earth concentration.

According to Charles Miller of NETL, PSI will first perform physical processing of ash from combustion of East Kentucky Fire Clay bituminous coal in a power boiler to produce a non-magnetic fine ash. Fire Clay coal has relatively high REE concentrations in some areas because it contains volcanic ash, which might have been the source of REEs.

PSI’s partner UK/CAER physically processed their first batch of ash in Lexington, KY to serve as feed for PSI’s micro-pilot-scale chemical digestion and extraction process.

“The fine ash fraction was fed to PSI’s micro-pilot system for chemical processing,” Miller explained. “Data and knowledge gained from PSI’s micro-pilot system testing will be used by Winner Water Services to design and build a pilot-scale chemical processing system in Sharon, Pa. with capacity to handle a half tonne of fine ash per day.”

The process is promising because PSI’s product concentration to date significantly exceeded its initial target of 2% by weight. Miller said the pilot-scale chemical processing should begin in 2019 and be complete by 31 March 2020.

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