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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2017-11-21 16:00:48
  • Article ID: 685611

Kentucky Researchers First to Produce High Grade Rare Earths From Coal

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 21, 2017)  University of Kentucky researchers have produced nearly pure rare earth concentrates from Kentucky coal using an environmentally-conscious and cost-effective process, a groundbreaking accomplishment in the energy industry.

"As far as I know, our team is the first in the world to have provided a 98 percent pure rare earth concentrate from a coal source," said Rick Honaker, professor of mining engineering.

From national defense to health care, rare earth elements or REEs are essential components of technologies like iPhones, computers, missiles and other applications. Interest in REEs is at an all-time high in the U.S. right now, with the Department of Energy investing millions in research. Honaker has received $7 million from the department to produce rare earths from Kentucky coal sources, a feat he has now accomplished, and $1 million for other REE projects.

"The primary objective for our DoE (Department of Energy) project was to produce a concentrate containing a minimum of 2 percent rare earth elements," he said. "We have far exceeded this objective."

The process recovered more than 80 percent of the REEs present in the feed sources. The concentrates were comprised of more than 80 percent total rare earth elements on a dry whole mass basis and more than 98 percent rare earth oxides. More importantly, critical elements such as neodymium and yttrium — used in national defense technologies and the high-tech and renewable energy industries — represented over 45 percent of the total concentrate.

Another unique feature of the new recovery process is that scandium — a highly valued rare earth element used for aerospace, lighting and other applications — was efficiently separated from the other rare elements and concentrated as a separate product from the circuit.

The achievement was made possible using a patent pending process developed by Honaker and Wencai Zhang and with funding provided by a U.S. Department of Energy Cooperative Agreement.

“Our novel rare earth recovery process is low cost and more environmentally friendly than alternative technologies, such as solvent extraction," Honaker said.

The process will be part of a one-fourth-tph (tons per hour) mobile rare earth recovery pilot scale plant being developed and tested by Honaker’s research team as part of the U.S. Department of Energy project.

"We are excited about the new development and look forward to testing the process in our pilot-scale facility which will be operational during spring 2018."

UK is the University for Kentucky. At UK, we are educating more students, treating more patients with complex illnesses and conducting more research and service than at any time in our 150-year history. To read more about the UK story and how you can support continued investment in your university and the Commonwealth, go to: uky.edu/uk4ky. #uk4ky #seeblue

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Light-Emitting Nanoparticles Could Provide a Safer Way to Image Living Cells

A research team has demonstrated how light-emitting nanoparticles, developed at Berkeley Lab, can be used to see deep in living tissue. Researchers hope they can be made to attach to specific components of cells to serve in an advanced imaging system that can pinpoint even single cancer cells.

Demonstrated Natural Refrigerant Replacements Could Reduce Energy Costs and Conserve the Environment

The 1987 Montreal Protocol and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol called for countries around the world to phase out substances that deplete the ozone layer and cause global warming, but many HVAC systems still use synthetic refrigerants that violate those international agreements and inflict environmental damage. Recently, Iranian researchers investigated how natural refrigerants could be used in geothermal heat pumps to reduce energy consumption and operating costs. They report their findings in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy.

The Behavior of Water: Scientists Find New Properties of H2O

A team of scientists has uncovered new molecular properties of water--a discovery of a phenomenon that had previously gone unnoticed.

Algorithm Provides Early Warning System for Tracking Groundwater Contamination

Scientists at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) and Savannah River National Laboratory have developed a low-cost method for real-time monitoring of pollutants using commonly available sensors.

Protons Get Zippier in Neutron-Rich Nuclei

A new study carried out at the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility has confirmed that increasing the number of neutrons as compared to protons in the atom's nucleus also increases the average momentum of its protons. The nuclear physics result, which has implications for the dynamics of neutron stars, has been published in the journal Nature.

Sight Unseen: Novel Method Detects Evidence of Unmarked Human Graves

A new approach to find unmarked gravesites could help narrow the scope and potentially speed up the search for clues during crime scene investigations. Geospatial researchers with the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory and forensic scientists at University of Tennessee used LIDAR to detect telltale signs of recently buried human remains.

UT-ORNL team makes first particle accelerator beam measurement in six dimensions

The first full characterization measurement of an accelerator beam in six dimensions will advance the understanding and performance of current and planned accelerators around the world.

For UW Physicists, the 2-D Form of Tungsten Ditelluride Is Full of Surprises

In a paper published online July 23 in Nature, a UW-led research team reports that the 2-D form of tungsten ditelluride can undergo "ferroelectric switching" -- a first for a exfoliated 2-D material. Ferroelectric materials can have applications in memory storage, capacitors, RFID card technologies and even medical sensors.

Scientists Discover How to Protect Yeast From Damage in Biofuel Production

Some chemicals used to speed up the breakdown of plants for production of biofuels like ethanol are poison to the yeasts that turn the plant sugars into fuel. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and several Department of Energy laboratories have identified two changes to a single gene that can make the yeast tolerate the pretreatment chemicals.

Lining Up the Surprising Behaviors of a Superconductor with One of the World's Strongest Magnets

Scientists have discovered that the electrical resistance of this material changes in an unusual way under very high magnetic fields--a finding that could help direct the search for materials that can perfectly conduct electricity at room temperature.


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DOE funds 13 projects under fifth round of HPC4Manufacturing Progaram

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), which manages the High Performance Computing for Manufacturing (HPC4Mfg) Program to use supercomputers to advance U.S. manufacturing, today announced the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has awarded nearly $3.8 million for 13 industry projects under the program.

Four Argonne transportation and fuel experts collect Dept. of Energy honors

Four researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have earned Distinguished Achievement awards for helping to reimagine transportation, sustainability and mobility.

From Hurricane Katrina Victim to Presidential Awardee: A SUNO Professor's Award-Winning Mentoring Efforts

Undergraduate students of Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO) biology professor Murty Kambhampati come to Brookhaven Lab during the summer to conduct research in natural resource management.

SNS completes full neutron production cycle at record power level

The Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has reached a new milestone by operating a complete neutron production run cycle at 1.3 megawatts. Achieving the record power level with a remarkable 94 percent accelerator beam availability establishes a new baseline of operation as well as a path to operate reliably at higher powers. Increased power offers researchers the ability to conduct faster scientific analyses using neutrons on more types of materials.

Milsmann earns prestigious NSF CAREER Award

Carsten Milsmann, assistant professor in the C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry at West Virginia University, has earned the National Science Foundation's prestigious CAREER Award for research that could help develop solar energy applications that are more efficient and cheaper to produce.

46th annual SLAC Summer Institute celebrates Standard Model at 50

The event attracted 124 participants and explores the successes and challenges of the theory that describes subatomic particles and fundamental forces.

UW, PNNL to host energy research center focusing on bio-inspired design and assembly

The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded an expected $10.75 million, four-year grant to the University of Washington, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and other partner institutions for a new interdisciplinary research center to define the enigmatic rules governing how molecular-scale building blocks assemble into ordered structures & hierarchical materials.

Argonne among 10 recipients of competitive grant for ultrafast science

Argonne has been awarded U.S. Department of Energy funds to probe materials and chemical processes on time scales of a quadrillionth of a second or less.

One cool camera: LSST's cryostat assembly completed

Work on the camera for the future Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) has reached a major milestone with the completion and delivery of the camera's fully integrated cryostat. With 3.2 gigapixels, the LSST camera will be the largest digital camera ever built for ground-based astronomy. It's being assembled at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

Risa Wechsler named director of KIPAC

Risa Wechsler has been appointed director of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC), a joint institute of the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University. On Sept. 15, she'll take over from Tom Abel, whose five-year term at the helm of the institute is coming to an end.


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Deep Learning Stretches Up to Scientific Supercomputers

Collaboration powers machine learning software that performs data analytics on petabyte-sized data sets in series of successful test runs.

Complex Networks Identify Genes for Biofuel Crops

Systems biology leads the way to exascale computing on Summit supercomputer.

Quantum Computing of an Atomic Nucleus

The first-ever computation of an atomic nucleus, the deuteron, on a quantum chip demonstrates that even today's rudimentary quantum computers can solve nuclear physics questions.

New Approach Yields High-Purity Radium for Medical Applications

Proton-irradiated thorium targets are successfully mined for therapeutic radium isotopes.

Steering Light with Dynamic Lens-on-MEMS

Scientists add active control to design capabilities for new lightweight flat optical devices.

Sugar-Coated Sheets Selectively Target Pathogens

Researchers design self-assembling nanosheets that mimic the surface of cells.

Tracking Down Helium-4's Quarks and Gluons

Scientists obtain the first exclusive measurement of deeply virtual Compton scattering of electrons off helium-4, vital to obtaining an unambiguous 3-D view of quarks and gluons within nuclei.

Predicting Magnetic Explosions: From Plasma Current Sheet Disruption to Fast Magnetic Reconnection

Supercomputer simulations and theoretical analysis shed new light on when and how fast reconnection occurs.

Is Nature Exclusively Left Handed? Using Chilled Atoms to Find Out

Elegant techniques of trapping and polarizing atoms open vistas for beta-decay tests of fundamental symmetries, key to understanding the most basic forces and particles constituting our universe.

As Future Batteries, Hybrid Supercapacitors Are Super-Charged

A new supercapacitor could be a competitive alternative to lithium-ion batteries.


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