Those elements are essential for such things as cellphones, batteries and other electronic devices. The United States imports most of those elements from other countries, such as China.
“We are seeing we have high concentrations in coals, and lignite in particular,” research center CEO Charles Gorecki told Prairie Public. “And it’s just identifying where they are, and working on how you extract them and get them to a processing plant.”
Gorecki said those rare earth elements are worth a lot of money — far more than the coal.
“That could be an industry for the future for North Dakota,” he said.
The elements are present in both the lignite coal as mined, and in the coal ash left over when the lignite is burned, according to Gorecki.
The EERC also is researching extracting graphene from lignite.
“Graphene is a single layer of carbon molecules in a sheet,” Gorecki said. “It’s extraordinarily light, and extraordinarily strong.”
It could be used in aviation, and it also is valuable, he said.
Read More: Researchers study ‘rare earth’ elements in lignite coal | State & Regional