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Seeking Rare-Earth Elements in a Wyoming Coal Mine

A metallurgical coal company may be leading the first rare-earth minerals mining operation in the U.S. in more than 70 years, according to The Wall Street Journal (subscription).

What’s going on: The Brook Mine outside Sheridan, Wyoming—purchased 12 years ago by a former Wall Street banker for $2 million—“contains what might be the largest so-called unconventional rare-earth deposit in the U.S., according to government researchers” and could be worth up to $37 billion.

  • The coal company that owns the mine, Ramaco Resources, recently began extracting samples for in-depth analysis.
  • If the project goes as planned, it will be the first U.S. rare-earths extraction endeavor since 1952.

Why it’s important: “The U.S. is racing to catch up on rare-earth supplies with China, among other countries, as the minerals are in ever-greater demand for a variety of uses, including electric vehicles and offshore wind turbines.”

  • In recent years, the U.S. has used an annual average of 8,300 metric tons of rare-earth oxides. The Brook Mine contains up to approximately 1.1 million metric tons of rare-earth oxides in slightly more than a quarter of its nearly 16,000 acres.

Unconventional but abundant: Coal beds are considered an unconventional source of rare-earth deposits, which are usually found in hard rock.

“Mine to magnets”: Ramaco Resources Founder and CEO Randall Atkins and his team “are embarking on what they call a ‘mine to magnets’ strategy: They hope to mine rare-earth elements, process them and manufacture items needed for the green-energy transition. Those include permanent magnets for the motors in electric vehicles and offshore wind turbines, and in military applications such as missile defense.”

  • Though China controls most of the world’s rare-earth mining, Ramaco is hopeful it can construct an onsite plant to economically process the extracted minerals itself.
  • However, it is still too soon to know the cost of such a move.

Our view: “Many modern technologies cannot be manufactured without critical minerals,” said NAM Vice President of Domestic Policy Brandon Farris.

  • “The U.S. has vast resources available to develop domestic sources, yet we are hamstrung by our antiquated permitting process, which has limited our ability to access raw materials vital to the production of everything from cars to electronics and medical devices.”
  • “The NAM continues to consistently and strongly urge Congress and the administration to expedite permissions to develop those resources in a responsible way. We need to develop domestic sources of our most vital raw materials and do so in an expedient manner to continue being a leader in products the country and world rely on.”
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