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Rare earth element enrichment in coal and coal-adjacent strata of the Uinta Region, Utah and Colorado

  • Coe, Haley H.1
  • Birgenheier, Lauren P.1
  • Fernandez, Diego P.1
  • Gall, Ryan D.2
  • Vanden Berg, Michael D.2
  • Giebel, Andrew3
  • 1 University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT , (United States)
  • 2 Utah Geological Survey, Salt Lake City, UT , (United States)
  • 3 Colorado Geological Survey, Golden, CO , (United States)
Published Article
Frontiers in Earth Science
Frontiers Media S.A.
Publication Date
Apr 26, 2024
DOI: 10.3389/feart.2024.1381152
  • Earth Science
  • Original Research


This study aims to quantify rare earth element enrichment within coal and coal-adjacent strata in the Uinta Region of central Utah and western Colorado. Rare earth elements are a subset of critical minerals as defined by the U.S. Geological Survey. These elements are used for a wide variety of applications, including renewable energy technology in the transition toward carbon-neutral energy. While rare earth element enrichment has been associated with Appalachian coals, there has been a more limited evaluation of western U.S. coals. Here, samples from six active mines, four idle/historical mines, four mine waste piles, and seven stratigraphically complete cores within the Uinta Region were geochemically evaluated using portable X-ray fluorescence (n = 3,113) and inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (n = 145) elemental analytical methods. Results suggest that 24%–45% of stratigraphically coal-adjacent carbonaceous shale and siltstone units show rare earth element enrichment (>200 ppm), as do 100% of sampled igneous material. A small subset (5%–8%) of coal samples display rare earth element enrichment, specifically in cases containing volcanic ash. This study proposes two multi-step depositional and diagenetic models to explain the enrichment process, requiring the emplacement and mobilization of rare earth element source material due to hydrothermal and other external influences. Historical geochemical evaluations of Uinta Region coal and coal-adjacent data are sparse, emphasizing the statistical significance of this research. These results support the utilization of active mines and coal processing waste piles for the future of domestic rare earth element extraction, offering economic and environmental solutions to pressing global demands.

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