Coal itself is a valuable and sought-after natural resource that has powered many aspects of life since before the Industrial Revolution. The coal mining industry has, as a whole, dipped in recent decades but it is still going strong.

A recent discovery in a coal mine in Wyoming, however, is proving that there are other riches to be found at the bottom of coal mines … ones that have the potential to be worth much more than coal. In this case, a coal mine valued at $2 million has a possible treasure worth $37 billion. Just what is this treasure? Let’s find out.

From Wall Street Banker to Miner

Randall Atkins, a former Wall Street banker, purchased a coal mine in a rural community in Wyoming about twelve years ago. At best, he hoped his investment would yield modest returns. He got more than he bargained for.

Source: Mead Gruver

Government researchers recently found that the coal mine holds rare-earth minerals. In fact, it is the largest deposit of rare-earth minerals in the United States. That drastically changed the value of Atkins’ coal mine. His initial investment of $2 million is currently valued at $37 billion.

What Are Rare-Earth Minerals?

Despite the name, rare-earth minerals are not terribly rare. They are commonly found in the Earth’s crust, however the quantity is usually small and the minerals are mixed with other elements. This makes them labor intensive and expensive to mine.

Source: Reuters

There are seventeen different elements that fall under the rare-earth classification. They are valued for their unique properties – magnetism, luminescent, heat-conducting, etc. – that makes them ideal for use in technical and electronic items, like cellphones, electric batteries, and lasers. As the demand for more of these items increases, the value of rare-earth minerals goes up.

Using AI to Find Rare-Earth Minerals

Ramaco Resources, the company owned by Atkins, worked in collaboration with the Energy Department’s National Energy Technology Laboratory to use state-of-the-art equipment to search for rare-earth minerals.

Source: GlobalData

Using a combination of artificial intelligence and remote sensing, the National Energy Technology Lab researchers can predict unconventional deposits. This cutting-edge technology is proving its worth and pacing the way for continued advancements in rare-earth mineral detection.

Making the Transition from Coal to Rare-Earth Minerals

Understandably, Ramaco Resources is transitioning the coal mine into a rare-earth mineral extraction facility. Plans are underway for the former coal mine to become the country’s first rare-earth mine since 1952.


In addition to giving Atkins an impressive return on his investment, the mine would provide the much-needed raw materials for the ever-growing renewable energy sector.

A Boom to Wyoming’s Economy

Atkins’ coal mine is located in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. In this location, the deposits of heavy rare earth minerals are more abundant than light ones. The heavy minerals are actually more valuable than the light one and are easier to extract.

Source: Mp Materials

Prior to this discovery, China had been the world leader in the rare-earth mineral industry. Most renewable energy and tech companies turned to China for the raw materials they needed. The Ramaco mine will greatly reduce the country’s dependence on China.

“Mine to Magnets”

Atkins and his team leaders at Ramaco have developed a plan to take the raw material from “mine to magnets.” Under this strategy, the company will be involved in every step of the process from extracting the rare-earth minerals to processing the raw materials to manufacturing the items needed for the green-energy industry.

Source: Pixabay/Blomst

This comprehensive approach is not only a money-making strategy for Atkins and his company, but it will establish them as a leader in this field. Ramaco, as a result, will produce components for military applications, electric vehicles, and wind turbines, to name a few.

Ending China’s Dominance in the Rare-Earth Industry

The discovery of rare-earth minerals in Wyoming opens the door for further exploration and identification of rare-earth minerals in the United States. This, in addition to Ramaco’s plan to process the raw material on site and manufacture the components themselves, could put an end to China’s monopoly of the industry.

Source: Dane Rhys

This move could also upend the current supply chains and allow the United States to excel in the green-technology industry without having to outsource to other countries and without depending on overseas supplies, processing facilities, and shipping methods.

The Visionary Mine Owner

Finding rare-earth minerals in the coal mine was an unexpected discovery for Atkins and one that has set in motion his visionary plan for future growth and success. Atkins’ father was also involved in the mining industry, so he understands the challenges of the industry and has learned how to avoid pitfalls.

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Under his leadership, Ramaco is committed to using coal in alternative ways, focusing on advancing technology, keeping politics out of his company, and stressing scientific approaches to furthering the industry as a whole.

Cost-Effective Extraction

The biggest challenge to making a successful transition from coal mine to rare-earth mine will be finding the most cost-effective way to extract the rare-earth minerals and process them.

Source: WyoFile

Atkins noted that an ineffective extraction method or processing method could end up draining millions of dollars from the company. His immediate goal is to find the most economical means to find and process the minerals.

Gathering Information to Make the Best Decisions

Before he could determine his best course of action, Atkins needed to gather all available information. His experts at Ramaco began a deep drilling operation to pull up soil samples. An analysis of these samples will provide them with the information needed to make the best decisions.

Source: X/daily_cowboy

For example, the analysis of the samples will help them narrow down the optimal mining and extraction methods, how to best separate the rare-earth minerals from surrounding elements, and the processing techniques that would be ideal.

The Future of Mining in America

Atkins explained that the innovations being done at Ramaco and the Wyoming coal mine are paving the way for the future of mining in America. It will not only have a positive impact on the community, but it will open doors for young scientists to work in cutting-edge industries.

Source: Don Bartletti

“What we’re doing here is neat for younger people. It’s novel, cutting-edge science and tech. Rare-earth deposits open up completely different horizons for this community,” he added.