Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration

, Volume 36, Issue 5, pp 903–916 | Cite as

The Occurrence and Concentration of Rare Earth Elements in Acid Mine Drainage and Treatment By-products: Part 1—Initial Survey of the Northern Appalachian Coal Basin

  • Christopher R. VassEmail author
  • Aaron Noble
  • Paul F. Ziemkiewicz


The conventional rare earth element (REE) industry has historically sought to develop ore deposits where geologic processes have produced mineralized zones with commercially attractive REE concentrations. These deposits are extremely uncommon, particularly in the USA. Given the criticality of these materials and the need for sustainable domestic supply, the current research seeks to leverage other autogenous processes that lead to concentrated REE resources. One such process is the generation of acid mine drainage (AMD). AMD is very common in many coal mining districts and results from the exposure and oxidation of pyrite during mining. During the generation and migration of AMD, liberated sulfuric acid mobilizes several metal ions including REEs. Treatment of AMD is required under U.S.C §1251, the Clean Water Act, and often consists of neutralization, oxidation, and metal hydroxide precipitation. To investigate the deportment of REEs during this process, a field sampling campaign was undertaken, whereby the concentration of REEs in AMD and AMD precipitates was measured directly. In the nine sites evaluated in this study, the REE concentrations of the precipitates varied from 29 to 1286 ppm with an average of 517 ppm among the sampled sites. The individual elements were enriched compared with the associated bulk Northern Appalachian (NAPP) coal material by factors ranging from 3 to 15. Furthermore, the distribution of REEs in all precipitate samples favored the heavy REEs (HREEs) when compared with traditional REE ores. This research represents the first part of multi-part research endeavor to characterize, classify, and determine the practicality of refining REEs from AMD and its by-products.


Acid mine drainage Rare earth elements Coal by-products 



This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Energy under Award Number DE-FE0026927.

Compliance with Ethical Standards


This report was prepared as an account of work sponsored by an agency of the United States Government. Neither the US Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process disclosed, or represents that its use would not infringe privately owned rights. Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the US Government or any agency thereof. The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the US Government or any agency thereof.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.West Virginia Water Research InstituteMorgantownUSA
  2. 2.Virginia Tech Mining and Minerals EngineeringHolden Hall 100, Virginia TechBlacksburgUSA

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