Recognition and (semi-)quantitative analysis of REE-bearing minerals in coal using automated scanning electron microscopy

Biao Fu, Guorong Xu, James C. Hower, Yijun Cao, Yukun Huang, Liang Si, Li Xian, Guangqian Luo, Guijian Liu, Guangqing Hu, Hong Yao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The recognition and quantification of rare earth and yttrium (REY) minerals in coal is extremely important for understanding their geological origin and developing high-efficiency extraction techniques. This study developed an automated image analysis by scanning electron microscopy (AIA-SEM) method for characterizing REY minerals in coal. Carbon and copper were used as grey-scale calibration standard to assure the consistency per experiment and differentiate organic matter and minerals with different brightness. Two critical issues in determining REY including rapid recognition of fine REY-bearing particles and accurate classification and quantification of REY minerals in coal are resolved by (1) establishing grey threshold standard to locate REY-bearing grains and a two-step image scan; (2) developing classification criteria supplemented with spot- and EDS-mapping analysis for questionable particles. By using the established method, a total of 166 REY-bearing mineral grains were identified from 12,930 particles in a medium-volatile bituminous coal (REY concentration: 149.21 ppm; ash yield: 21.25%). It is found that Ca-REE flurocarbonates, monazite, and (Sc, Y)-bearing zircon are the dominant REY species in the studied coal sample. REE-aluminophosphates are also important hosts for REE in coal, with total amounts being >10%. REY minerals are fine in particle size. Over 50% of monazite, xenotime, Ca-REE flurocarbonate, and REE-aluminophosphate have particle size below 5 μm and monazite occurs mostly as submicron particle. Most REY minerals (> 60%) are embedded into coal macerals as included minerals. About 80% of REY-bearing phosphates and zircon are partly or completely encapsulated in clay minerals, whereas more than half of Ca-REY-fluorocarbonates mineral grains is free of other minerals.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104443
JournalInternational Journal of Coal Geology
StatePublished - Feb 1 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 Elsevier B.V.


  • Automated mineral analysis
  • Mineral-coal/mineral association
  • Particle size distribution
  • REY mineral contents

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Fuel Technology
  • Geology
  • Economic Geology
  • Stratigraphy


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