Sheridan-Area Mine Could Hold Treasure Trove
Scientists say the Brook Mine has more rare earth metals than any other quarry found since 1952
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Nov 10, 2023
Ramaco Resources Inc.’s nearly 16,000-acre carbon capture research center and mine, where a large cache of rare earth minerals was discovered in May, is located outside of Sheridan. (Courtesy photo from Sheridan, Wyoming Travel and Tourism)
By K.L. McQuaid
Special to the Wyoming Truth
Talk about your pleasant surprises.
In 2011, Ramaco Resources Inc.’s founder and CEO Randall Atkins acquired the Brook Mine near Sheridan for $2 million, after former owner Brink’s Global Services decided to exit the coal business.
Prior to the purchase, Atkins hadn’t even visited the mine.
In May, geological scientists discovered the mine likely contains one of – if not the –greatest deposits of so-called “rare earth” minerals in North America, used in everything from cell phones to electric vehicles to computers.
Based on early projections, the nearly 16,000-acre mine’s deposits could be worth $37 billion.
The discovery at the Powder River Basin mine marks the first time in over 70 years that a U.S. mineral repository was determined to contain such rare materials.
Atkins addressed the status of the Wyoming mine as the company announced its third quarter 2023 earnings earlier this month.
“We are now moving to a phase of extensive testing of the metallurgic and chemical composition of the deposit to determine its nature and extent,” said Atkins, who is also the company’s chairman.
“This will guide us to the best alternatives for extraction, separation and refinement, which are key to ultimate development. We have established that we have a large rare earth deposit.”
Unearthing the rare earth minerals could be transformational not only for Lexington, Ky.-based Ramaco and the economy of the northern portion of Wyoming, but also the U.S. government and the nation’s high-tech industry.
It may also tip geopolitical scales in the U.S.’s favor over China, currently the largest supplier of rare earth minerals on the planet. China at present refines and supplies 95% of the world’s 17 rare earth minerals, which include germanium, gallium, neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium and terbium.
The metals today sell for roughly $1 million per every 2,204 pounds.
Last year, U.S. manufacturers used about 18.3 million pounds of the elements to manufacture electric automobiles, wind turbines, airplane engines, nuclear reactors, computer chips and low-energy lightbulbs, among other products, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The importance of rare earth metals also came into tighter focus just last month, when China announced plans to implement export restrictions for some graphite products used in electric vehicle batteries, citing national security concerns.
Sheridan carbon capture research
The Brook Mine isn’t Ramaco’s only operation in Wyoming that could generate significant scientific and commercial advancements.
Adjacent to the mine, the company maintains a carbon research and pilot facility, where it is working on the development of “advanced carbon products and materials from coal.”
As part of that work, the company holds about 50 intellectual property patents, has various pending applications, exclusive licensing agreements and trademarks.
More specifically, Ramaco is working to develop a synthetic graphite from coal to replace the material in electric vehicle batteries and in other applications, and has developed a “low-cost process to produce activated carbon fiber monoliths for direct air capture and other filtering application.”
If Ramaco’s rare earth deposit is found to meet expectations, it could lead to both significant job creation in northern Wyoming and shift the entire focus of company.
To date, Ramaco’s operations have centered around metallurgical coal mining in West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
In the third quarter of this year ended Sept. 30, for instance, Ramaco produced and sold 996,000 tons of coal, which was up 64% from the comparable period in 2022, according to the company’s income and balance sheet.
Those coal sales generated net income of $19.5 million vs. the $7.6 million in net earnings Ramaco had during the second quarter of this year.
But while the company’s focus to date has been on coal, the Brook Mine and its carbon-related research center in Wyoming could provide it with an alternative revenue stream – one that aids in the development of renewable energy in the future.
“The next challenge from here is the assessment of the optimal extraction and separation techniques which can be then used to estimate the mine’s economics,” Atkins said of the Brook Mine earlier this month in the company’s earnings report.