Man Bought a Coal Mine for $2 Million and Found out It Had $27 Billion Treasure Inside

By: Sam Watanuki | Published: Dec 07, 2023

Randall Atkins, a former banker, unexpectedly discovered a treasure trove of rare-earth elements in a once-quiet coal mine.

“I didn’t know the difference between rare earths and rare coins,” Atkins recalls, reflecting on the serendipitous find worth billions.

A Discovery in Wyoming

Atkins’s $2 million coal mine investment turned into a potential $37 billion rare-earth element deposit, the largest unconventional find in the U.S.


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Government researchers confirm the staggering value, marking a dramatic shift in fortune for the old Brook Mine.

Pioneering a New U.S. Rare-Earth Mine

The discovery could lead to the first new rare-earths mine in the country since 1952, changing the game for Ramaco Resources, Atkin’s company.


Source: Brücke-Osteuropa/Wikimedia Commons

The company, primarily a coal miner, now stands on the cusp of a significant expansion into the rare-earth sector.

A Personal Mission for Atkins

The potential rare-earth discovery offers personal fulfillment for Atkins, whose father’s legacy included both business success and scandal, having built a global energy conglomerate that was involved in the Watergate controversy.


Source: Randall Atkins/LinkedIn

This discovery could be a redemptive chapter in the Atkins family story, with Atkins aiming to build a legacy beyond his father’s.

The Global Race for Rare Earths

The U.S. seeks to catch up with China in securing rare-earth supplies critical for modern technologies, from electric vehicles to military hardware.


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Atkins’s mine potentially positions the U.S. in a stronger stance in this strategic race, with a particular impact on national security and tech industries.

Retaliatory Measures and Global Politics

China’s recent export restrictions on key minerals highlight the geopolitical tensions surrounding rare-earth elements.

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The move, affecting important components for various high-tech applications, underscores the strategic importance of Atkins’s discovery.


A Rich Deposit in the Powder River Basin

Ramaco’s site is part of a rich mineral basin, with an estimated 1.1 million metric tons of rare-earth oxides.

Source: James St. John/Wikimedia Commons

This is where data and AI intersect to uncover hidden natural wealth, a researcher at the Energy Department’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) explains — the AI essentially predicting the possibility of what might be found inside the mine.


A Breakthrough in Coal Bed Research

Coal beds, an unconventional source, house a wealth of rare-earth elements, offering a new perspective on old resources.

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Kelly Rose of NETL sees Ramaco’s experience as a potential model for others to discover critical minerals in unexpected places.


Collaborative Efforts with National Labs

Atkins partners with top national labs to refine the project’s direction, focusing on sustainable and efficient extraction methods.

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Discussions about separation techniques and magnets could advance the project from extraction to application of the recovered materials.


The “Mine to Magnets” Strategy

Ramaco’s vision extends beyond mining to manufacturing essential components for the green-energy transition.

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Atkins outlines a comprehensive plan that hopes to mine rare-earth elements, process them, and manufacture items needed for the transition to green energy.


The Challenge of Rare-Earth Refining

With China dominating rare-earth refining, Ramaco’s ambitious plan includes building a processing plant on-site.

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The company’s self-refinement strategy aims to keep the entire production chain within U.S. borders, a pioneering and costly initiative, but one that could lead to significant rewards.


Investor Enthusiasm and Analytical Caution

The discovery has excited investors, but analysts await concrete plans for the processing approach and its financial feasibility.

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Ramaco’s shares have surged, but the details of the processing and costs will determine the true value of this find.