Characterization and pre-concentration of rare earth elements in density fractionated samples from the Waterberg Coalfield, South Africa

F. Zonke Chitlango, Nicola J. Wagner, Ofentse M. Moroeng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


The increased global demand for rare earth elements (REEs) from unconventional sources has led to increased interest and research in coal deposits. South Africa has extensive coal resources, but understanding of the concentration, mode of occurrence, and distribution of REEs in the coals and associated sediments is limited. This study aims to assess selected coal samples obtained from an exploration project underway in the Waterberg Coalfield (South Africa) to determine the concentration and mode of occurrence of REEs, and to gain insight into the behaviour of REEs during density fractionation. Density fractionation of coal is considered a pre-concentration method prior to REE extraction. Samples were selected from zones 8, 7, 4, and 3, spanning the Grootegeluk and Vryheid Formations of the Waterberg Coalfield. Density fractionation was conducted at relative densities (RD) of 1.3 to 1.8, providing float (F) and sink (S) products. Five parent and thirty density-fractionated coal samples were characterized using proximate analysis, petrography, X-ray diffraction (XRD), and the concentration of REEs determined using Inductively Coupled Plasma- Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) (after microwave digestion). The samples are classified as medium-rank C bituminous coals with variable maceral composition. The dominant minerals are kaolinite and quartz, occurring as both syngenetic and epigenetic phases. The total REY (REEs + yttrium) concentrations range from 45.1 to 389.2 ppm, higher than for world coals (except sample 8H F1.30, REY = 45.1 ppm), and generally higher than the average for Chinese coals. Float products obtained at 1.40 to 1.80 RD show greater variation of light REY (LREY) compared to medium REY (MREY) and heavy REY (HREY), whereas float fractions at 1.30 and sink fractions at 1.80 RD show no distinct enrichment patterns. Although the results suggest a relationship between the concentration of LREY with float fractions obtained between 1.40 and 1.80 RD, pre-concentration using density fractionation generally shows limited benefits for these coals. Ashing of the coals may be more effective in concentrating the REEs and further investigations are therefore required.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104299
JournalInternational Journal of Coal Geology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2023


  • Grootegeluk Formation
  • Hydrothermal solutions
  • Lanthanides
  • REY enrichment
  • Vryheid Formation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Fuel Technology
  • Geology
  • Economic Geology
  • Stratigraphy


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