Coal could become too valuable to burn. Randall Atkins, the CEO of Ramaco Resources , found out to his surprise earlier this year that a Wyoming coal mine he purchased for just $2 million may contain the largest unconventional deposit of rare earth elements ever discovered in the United States. A third of the Brook Mine in Sheridan alone is estimated to contain up to 1.2 million tons of rare earth oxides, according to Weir International, a mining consultancy hired by Ramaco. To put that in perspective, the U.S. consumed about 10,000 tons of rare earth elements annually over the past decade. Rare earths are used in advanced military technology, electric vehicles and other applications. The deposits found in the coal and clay in Sheridan are potentially worth tens of billions of dollars. Potential boon Atkins told CNBC on Monday that it is logical to think rare earths could be sitting undiscovered elsewhere in the U.S. It is a potential boon for a coal industry that was long thought to be one of the biggest losers in the push to transition to renewable energy. “This is extremely promising; it’s promising not only for this company, but it’s potentially promising for the United States and frankly, for the entire coal industry,” Atkins told CNBC’s “The Exchange.” “This might be something that will kind of awaken the thought that there might be different uses for coal,” Atkins said. “Indeed, one of our one liners is coal is too valuable to burn.” Ramaco last month started developing the Brook Mine, the first new rare earth mine in the U.S. since Mountain Pass Rare Earth Mine opened in California in 1952. The discovery also has national security implications. China has imposed export controls on gallium and germanium, minerals used for semiconductors, communications and defense. The Brook Mine contains meaningful deposits of both those two minerals, based on early core samples, according to Ramaco. METC YTD mountain Ramaco Resources in 2023. Rare earths are typically found in hard metals like uranium and need to be ground into powders using very caustic acids, Atkins said. The deposits found in Wyoming are unique because they are in coal and clay, which are much softer materials that are easier to extract with a more benign process, he said. “It’s certainly going to be less expensive to get out of coal than it would be hard minerals, and it would also be simpler and much more environmentally friendly to refine them by using much milder solvents and other techniques,” Atkins told CNBC. But the CEO cautioned that “Mother Nature can be very tricky.” It will still be tough to extract the rare earths, which are microscopic particles measured in parts per million, Atkins said. “There is a great deal of work that has to go into defining what’s the appropriate extraction technique, and what’s the appropriate separation technique to separate the rare earths from the other material, and then of course, processing and refining it,” Atkins said. It is a meticulous process that will take time but the CEO is confident Ramaco can meet the challenge. The U.S. government is supporting the project through several national laboratories with some of the best and brightest minds in the nation, Atkins said. “I jokingly use the line from Hamilton: It’s nice to have Washington on your side,” the CEO said. Ramaco was already having a good year before the rare earth discovery. The company’s stock is up 155% this year and closed at $18.30 on Monday. The U.S. coal industry has gotten a lift as exports to Europe jumped 22% between August 2022 and July 2023, according to the Energy Information Agency. Exports to Europe rose as Russian coal supplies stopped after the West imposed sanctions on Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.