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Since 1988 China has been the dominant supplier of rare earth elements (REE), providing 95 percent of the global market in 2011. To break their dependencies, countries around the world have been on missions to identify ways to extract these valuable minerals, and a Department of Energy (DOE) lab is among the players taking the lead in the U.S.’s efforts.
There is tremendous potential. In 2015, the U.S. produced about 900 million tons and consumed 798 million tons of coal. If 100 percent of the REEs were extracted annually from coal ash, it would meet the market demand for most industries that depend on it, according to the DOE.
Currently REEs are used in catalysts, cell phones, hard drives, hybrid engines, lasers, magnets, medical devices, televisions and other applications.