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Rare earths: an old coal mine bought for $2 million could be worth...several billions

The good vein of Randall Atkins.

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Rare earths: an old coal mine bought for $2 million could be worth...several billions

The good vein of Randall Atkins. When in 2012, this ex-Wall Street banker bought the old Brooke coal mine in Sheridan, Wyoming for two million dollars, he was very far from imagining the treasure it still contained. For him, only a few reserves must remain that can be exploited by his company Ramaco Resources, specializing in metallurgical coal.

This was without counting the surveys carried out by scientists from the National Technology and Energy Laboratory (NETL). Thanks to their model combining data and artificial intelligence, researchers are able to detect deposits of rare earths and critical minerals on unconventional sites, such as coal deposits. The surveys carried out in the Brooke mine proved pleasantly surprising.

The Randall Atkins mine may be the largest unconventional rare earth deposit in the United States. Rare earths are a family of metals that are used in the composition of semiconductors, and therefore make it possible to produce electric batteries, missiles and even offshore wind turbines. At current prices, the mine could therefore be worth $37 billion, reports the Wall Street Journal. If mining proceeds, then the Ramaco Resources site would become the first rare earth mine discovered in the United States since 1962.

According to estimates, 1.1 million tonnes of rare earth oxides could be lying underground at the Ramaco Resources site. A gigantic quantity therefore. Because across the Atlantic, the annual consumption of rare earth oxides amounts to nearly 8,300 tonnes, according to data from the US Geological Survey. However, exploiting this windfall will require considerable resources or partnerships from Ramaco Resources, which is currently only valued at $600 million.

The Brooke mine reportedly contains neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium and terbium. The discovery of these metals could allow the United States to catch up in the race for rare earths, dominated by China. Beijing has recently curbed exports of gallium and germanium. A perceived measure against the response to American restrictions introduced by the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

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