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Wyoming could become hub for rare earth mining

The date of: 2023-06-27
viewed: 2
source:Wyoming business report

Rare earth elements (REEs) terbium and dysprosium and their lighter counterparts neodymium and praseodymium are critical elements in our daily lives.
Even if we could pronounce them, we probably wouldn’t give them much thought. But these REEs are necessary for electric vehicle motors, advanced military technology, medical devices and many of the technologies we utilize daily, and they have the potential to change the economic landscape of Wyoming.
Currently, China produces the majority of REEs. The only significant source of these rare metals in the U.S. is in the Mojave Desert in California. That is about to change with the discovery of a relatively large deposit of REEs in Sheridan County at the Brook Mine.
The Brook Mine was an active coal mine owned and operated by Sheridan Wyoming Cola Company since 1914. The property was acquired in 2011 by Ramaco Resources Inc., one of North America’s only exclusive producers of metallurgical coal and operator of three active mining complexes in Central Appalachia. Its subsidiary, Ramaco Carbon, is devoted to the development of carbon technology.
“When we purchased the Brook Mine, our intention was never to mine the coal to be used as a fuel source,” explained Randall Atkins, chairman and CEO of Ramaco Resources. “Our plan is to pioneer more valuable and environmental uses for coal. We call it ‘Coal to Products’ (C2P).”
In his testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Atkins said, “Coal today is basically thought of as a cheap, controversial, environmentally challenged fuel combusted in power plants. What if we looked at the use of the commodity through an entirely different lens and assumed that ‘coal is too valuable to burn’?”
Atkins continued, “We think of coal as ‘carbon’ ore. We intend to manufacture high-value products from carbon ore with higher economic value and a lower environmental footprint. We aim to develop a source for the creation of advanced carbon products and materials, in addition to the REEs, including carbon fibers, graphene and graphite.”
Ramaco foresees the C2P technology could result in high-value, high-growth products with a potential $96 billion global market. Included in the six broad carbon uses are carbon fiber, graphene, building products such as composites and roofing tiles, advanced porous carbons and synthetic graphite. These include uses such as conductive links, carbon foam, energy storage in the form of lithium-ion batteries and supercapacitors, and carbon fiber used in the aerospace and automotive industries.
The REEs are listed as the sixth use, but as equally important as the other five.
In the process of evaluating the site for the potential C2P capacity, Ramaco also discovered the REEs. Years of core drilling and working in partnership with the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory and Weir International Inc., revealed a significant deposit of REEs at the Brook Mine.
“What makes this deposit of REEs different from those in China and the Mojave Desert is the placement,” Atkins said. “They are what is known as unconventional.”
Conventional deposits are found in igneous hard rock deposits, Atkins noted. “This makes them both difficult and expensive to mine and process. Whereas the ‘unconventional’ deposits at Brook Mine are at reasonably shallow depths. They are primarily in softer clay and related strata above and below our coal seams,” Atkins said. “This makes them much easier to extract.”
Atkins added the Brook Mine site contains approximately 640,000 to 800,000 tons of in-place 100% total rare earth oxide (TREO) with no cutoff in concentration. Considering the current usage of REEs in the U.S. is approximately 10,000 tons per year, the mine has the potential of meeting the demand for the elements for the next 60 years. This would greatly reduce the United States’ dependency on China.
“Ramaco plans to analyze the appropriate mining, processing and mineral development plan for the REEs, along with a comprehensive economic analysis,” Atkins said.
Included in this analysis will be a socio-economic evaluation of the impact of the mining operation on the Sheridan community, as well as for the state of Wyoming as a whole.
“We recognize that any new mine project, especially one involving emerging technology, is fraught with uncertainty,” Atkins added. “If the feasibility of extracting the REEs proves lucrative, this could establish Wyoming as a potential rare earth hub in the world. It could add a whole new portfolio of minerals to Wyoming’s existing set.”

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