Former Wall Street banker Randall Atkins got a lot more than he bargained for when he paid $2 million for a Wyoming coal mine without even seeing it in 2012. At the time, he planned to make money selling coal from his mine to other plants. That was before he conducted a study in conjunction with the Department of Energy and discovered he was sitting on a treasure worth more than the gross domestic product (GDP) of some small countries.
It turns out that his coal mine was also home to an estimated $37 billion worth of rare earth elements (REEs). These elements are part of a rich vein of unconditional deposits running throughout the mine. Unconditional deposits are rare earth elements contained inside other minerals and rocks, such as cobalt.
They must be harvested through a different process than normal mining. The rocks containing the REEs must be crushed, ground down or broken so that the REEs they contain can be accessed. It sounds like a complicated and expensive process, but the potential value of REEs makes that process worth the trouble.
Why Are REEs So Valuable?
REEs are valuable for several reasons, the first of which is that they’re hard to find in great quantities. That’s where the “rare” in REEs comes from. Second, REEs are valuable in several key technologies and industries. Some of the products that require REEs as part of their production process include:
As the world’s technological dependence grows, the REEs used in the manufacture of things like computer and cell phone batteries become more valuable. An REE study by the U.S. Geological Survey showed that America imported over $150 million worth of REEs in 2021.
The reliance on imports is problematic for many reasons, not the least of which is that China, one of America’s potential rivals on the world stage, is one of the main exporters of REEs. If diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China should chill for one reason or another, the country may decide to cut America’s supply to REEs. Such a move would harm several critical U.S. industries, including the military and tech sectors.
What Are Some Of The Most Valuable REEs?
The mine Atkins purchased, known as the Brook Mine, is a motherlode of REEs. Some of the most desirable REEs include:
It has long been suspected that America’s vast quantities of sedentary basis may be rich in REEs, and scientists identified Wyoming as a likely place to find them. Now, the Brook Mine may be able to give U.S. industry unprecedented access to these vital materials. Atkins and investors in his Ramaco Resources will make more money than they could have imagined when they bought the Brook mine.
An REE Boom In Wyoming?
Could the Brook Mine lead to an REE boom in Wyoming? It’s possible, although finding REEs and extracting them is an expensive business. Yes, there is vast potential profit in REE mining, but like oil drilling and gold mining, finding these materials can take years and cost millions of dollars.
The indicators of REE deposits could be there, and yet there may not be enough to justify the cost of getting to them. Then again, there may not be any deposits at all. In either case, the miner loses a ton of money. But if they hit like Atkins’ mine, it could be worth it. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Atkins and the Brook Mine are living proof.
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This article Wall Street Banker Pays $2 Million Sight Unseen For Coal Mine Then Discovers It’s Filled With $37 Billion Worth Of Rare Earth Elements originally appeared on Benzinga.com
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