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International Journal of Coal Geology




Fort Union lignite coal samples were subjected to a series of aqueous leaching experiments to understand the extraction behavior of the rare earth elements (REE). This testing was aimed at understanding the modes of occurrence of the REE in the lignite coals, as well as to provide foundational data for development of rare earth extraction processes. In a first series of tests, a sequential leaching process was used to investigate modes of occurrence of the REE of select lignite coals. The tests involved sequential exposure to solvents consisting of water, ammonium acetate and dilute hydrochloric acid (HCl). The results indicated that water and ammonium acetate extracted very little of the REE, indicating the REE are not present as water soluble or ion-exchangeable forms. However, the data shows that a large percentage of the REE were extracted with the hydrochloric acid (80-95wt%), suggesting presence in HCl-soluble mineral forms such as carbonates, and/or presence as organic complexes. A second series of tests was performed involving single-step leaching with dilute acids and various operating parameters, including acid type, acid concentration, acid/coal contact time and coal particle size. For select samples, additional tests were performed to understand the results of leaching, including float-sink density separations and humic acid extraction. The results have shown that the majority of REE in Fort Union lignites appear to be associated weakly with the organic matrix of the coals, most likely as coordination complexes of carboxylic acid groups. The light REE and heavy REE exhibit different behaviors, however. The extractable light REE appear to have association both in acid-soluble mineral forms and as organic complexes, whereas the extractable heavy REE appear to be almost solely associated with the organics. Scandium behavior was notably different than yttrium and the lanthanides, and the data suggests the extractable content is primarily associated as acid-soluble mineral forms.

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