November 14, 2023 - A coal mine bought by a former Wall Street banker over a decade ago contains rare earth elements that could be worth tens of billions of dollars.
In 2011, Randall Atkins, a former Wall Street banker, bought a coal mine outside of Sheridan, Wyoming. Originally, the plan was to sell coal to power plants.
However, in collaboration with the DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory and geologists at Weir International, Inc., Atkins’ company, Ramaco Resources, discovered the mine contained abundant rare earth elements.
Because of this, the mine is worth an estimated $37bn – significantly more than the $2m Atkins bought it for.
Ramaco said it could start operations this year, making it one of two rare earth mines currently operating in the country.
What Are Rare Earth Elements and Why Do Domestic Supplies Need to be Established?
Neodymium, praseodymium, and dysprosium are just a few of the rare earth elements found in Atkins’ Brook Coal Mine, according to Ramaco.
Sitting in the middle of the periodic table, these metals possess properties like fluorescence, magnetism, and conductivity. Just 17 of the total 118 elements in the periodic table are considered REEs.
From 2018 to 2021, about 74% of REEs in the US were imported from China; however, these imports are costly.
That’s why the US Government is pushing to mine for rare earth elements at home instead of relying on imports. Earlier this year, the White House announced it plans to invest $32m in domestic rare earth and other mineral projects.
What Have Critics Said About the Unconventional Brook Coal Mine?
Often, REEs are found mixed with other elements, including some radioactive ones. Separating and purifying them is intensive and creates waste that can harm the environment.
For example, rare earth deposits can occur in cobalt and other minerals. “These substances have to be cracked, crushed, and ground before you can ever even begin the processing,” Atkins explained.
The Brook Mine is considered an unconventional deposit because the rare earth elements are in and around the coal, closer to the surface.
According to Atkins, this is supposed to make extracting them less expensive and won’t require the use of caustic acids.
However, residents were worried about how the coal mine’s presence might affect air and water quality back when it was bought ten years ago.
With plans for the mine shifting to rare earth elements, it appears concerns are still arising, so it’s crucial for Ramaco to ensure these metals are mined sustainably when operations begin.