Extraction of strategically important rare earth elements from Victorian-brown coal and coal products

Project title:

Extraction of strategically important rare earth elements from Victorian-brown coal and coal products

Project outline:

The US Department of Energy (2017) classifies five rare earth elements (REE, neodymium, dysprosium, europium, yttrium and terbium) that are necessary for the transition to clean energy systems and at high risk of shortages before 2035. Victorian brown coal is said to contain “the whole periodic table” but technology has made significant advances since the most recent element surveys in the 1980’s.

A preliminary assessment of REE concentrations in fly ash from a Victorian brown-coal fired power station measured 1-3.5 times the crustal abundance of REE with high supply risk in fly ashes with grey or brown colour. This has raised questions about the feasibility of REE extraction from the large stockpiles of ash or by-products from existing coal-processing industries in the Latrobe Valley.

An updated survey of REE distributions in Victorian brown coal, its fractions and products will determine whether any potential for commercially viable rare earth extraction exists. Opportunities to obtain cost-effective rare earth ores by pre-separating fly ash, selective mining or cooperation with local businesses that process coal will be considered. The final outcome will be a techno-economic evaluation of potential sources and processing technologies for high commercial-value or strategically important rare earth elements from Victorian brown-coal.

Project supervision team:

Principal supervisor: Assoc. Professor Vince Verheyen

Associate supervisor: Dr. Alicia Reynolds and Dr. Adeel Ghayur

Vince brings experience with PhD supervision and the Victorian brown coal industry. Both Alicia and Vince bring extensive sampling and laboratory analytical skills. Adeel brings techno-economic evaluation experience.

The scope of this project could be adjusted to suit either Masters or PhD level research.

ERA: Environmental science and management

Developing a secure and environmentally friendly source of rare earth elements is a key component for providing, using and managing a low-carbon energy system. 

Research centre:
Carbon Technology Research Centre/Civil and Power Engineering. 
The Carbon Technology Research Centre is well equipped to obtain suitable samples and measure rare earth concentrations. Some samples and analytical methods already exist in the laboratory, along with experience with techno-economic assessments in the Latrobe Valley.


U.S. Department of Energy (US DoE), 2017, “Report on Rare Earth Elements from Coal and Coal Byproducts: Report to Congress,” Washington DC.