Geomega, USA Rare Earth recycling pact
US, Canadian companies sign LOI for recycling REE magnets Metal Tech News Weekly Edition – July 22, 2020
Last updated 7/22/2020 at 4:32am
Already involved in nearly every facet of the rare earth supply chain, from mining these technology elements to manufacturing powerful REE magnets, USA Rare Earth LLC has cut a deal with Geomega Resources Inc. to recycle these metals.
Under a letter of intent signed by the companies on July 15, Quebec-based Geomega would recycle rare earth-containing waste from producing neodymium-iron-boron permanent magnets at a facility New York-based USA Rare Earth is planning to build in the U.S.
These powerful rare earth magnets are used in a wide variety of applications – high-performance motors in electric vehicles, wind turbines and generators, medical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and high-fidelity speakers are just a few of the applications.
Currently, these rare earth magnets are not produced in North America, which means U.S. and Canadian manufacturers must import the neodymium magnets they need for high-tech and other devices.
"We see this collaboration with Geomega as an example of the kind of cooperation called for by the U.S. and Canadian governments, in the area of critical minerals and rare earths in particular," said USA Rare Earth CEO Pini Althaus.
Earlier this year, USA Rare Earth bought state-of-the-art neodymium-iron-boron permanent magnet manufacturing equipment from Hitachi Metals America, which used the equipment to produce magnets in North Carolina for two years ending in 2015.
USA Rare Earth, which was already endeavoring to establish a complete rare earths mines-to-magnets supply chain in the United States, decided to pick up the manufacturing equipment put up for sale by Hitachi.
"We did not want the United States to lose this key equipment, so when it became clear that was an imminent possibility, we moved quickly to ensure that this essential part of the critical minerals supply chain remains in the U.S.," Althaus said in April.
The plant was designed to produce more than 2,000 metric tons of neodymium magnets per year, or roughly 17% of current U.S. demand.
The process of manufacturing and machining sintered (compacting powder into a solid mass) neodymium magnet blocks generates up to 30% magnet chips and scrap, which needs to be recycled.
"Every rare earth magnet factory produces waste; it is just the nature of the business because it is a difficult material to work with," said Geomega Resources President and CEO Kiril Mugerman. "When Hitachi operated this plant, the waste was sent to Asia."
A neodymium magnet manufacturing facility that takes advantage of the full capacity of the equipment acquired by USA Rare Earth would generate somewhere around 600 metric tons of waste annually, which Geomega plans to recycle back into the North American REE supply chain.
"By working together, we will make sure that these rare earths remain here and are used again and again to make rare earth magnets for the North American market," said Mugerman.
Geomega will use its proprietary ISR technology to extract the rare earths from the magnet scrap produced. The company said ISR is inexpensive and is more environmentally sound than traditional solvent extraction rare earth recycling techniques.
"It will be a great opportunity to show global magnet manufacturers that there are rare earth recycling innovations that don't harm the environment and produce less greenhouse gases than the methods that were established decades ago when this industry was born," the Geomega CEO said.
In addition to pulling together the pieces to manufacture and recycle neodymium magnets, USA Rare Earth is working in partnership with Texas Mineral Resources Corp. at the front end of an emerging American rare earth supply chain. This includes advancing towards developing a mine at the Round Top rare earths and critical minerals project in Texas and an associated REE separation facility being piloted in Colorado.
According to a preliminary economic assessment published in mid-2019, a mine at Round Top would produce 2,212 metric tons of rare earths per year, including healthy supplies of all six permanent magnet rare earth oxides. This includes more than 200 metric tons of dysprosium, 180 tons of neodymium, 67 tons of praseodymium, 65 tons of gadolinium, 65 tons of samarium and 23 tons of terbium once the mine reaches full production.
In addition, the mine outlined in the PEA would produce about 10,000 metric tons of lithium per year, which would help fill the expanding electric vehicle battery market.
As there are currently no facilities in North America capable of separating the tightly interlocked rare earths, and only one outside of China, USA Rare Earth and Texas Mineral are piloting such a processing plant in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.
The letter of intent with Geomega lays the groundwork for USA Rare Earths and Texas Mineral Resources to add a circular component to their mines-to-magnets supply chain and a potential means of generating cash even before the Round Top mine at the front end of the chain goes into production.
"With more than 60% of the materials coming out of our Round Top deposit being used in clean tech, green tech and renewable energy applications, we see recycling magnet waste as a natural way to be economically efficient and environmentally responsible," said Althaus "Geomega's process to recycle waste and bring it back into our magnet feedstock reconfirms our readiness to innovate at every point in our mine-to-magnets strategy. It is also part of our strategy to accelerate revenues from our U.S.-based neo magnet production ahead of mine production from the Round Top project."