RapidSX REE separation making headway
Innovation Metals plans to have tech license ready next year Metal Tech News – October 7, 2020
Last updated 10/6/2020 at 2:46pm
Innovation Metals Corp. said it is on pace to have a pilot plant ready to demonstrate RapidSX rare earth element separation technology by mid-2021.
RapidSX, a proprietary technology developed by Innovation Metals is being commercialized for the cost-effective bulk separation and purification of rare earths, as well as the critical battery metals lithium, nickel, and cobalt.
Rare earths are a group of 17 elements – 15 lanthanide elements that occupy their own row near the bottom of the periodic table, plus yttrium and scandium – that are used in a wide array of modern technologies, including renewable energy, electric vehicles, computers, and smartphones.
These REEs, however, have similar physical and chemical properties that make it difficult to separate them into the individual elements needed for this wide array of high-tech applications.
Solvent extraction, which involves the use of various extractants capable of separating rare earths into groups and then individual elements, has long been the preferred method of REE separation.
While this process has been the standard for rare earth separation over the past 40 years, it is a long and complex process that often takes hundreds of stages of breaking down the REE bearing solution into the oxides and salts.
RapidSX takes the time-tested solvent extraction method to a new level by utilizing an innovative column-based platform that significantly reduces the time and footprint of the facility needed to separate REES.
Innovation says RapidSX "reduces the number of process steps required in each SX circuit by up to 85 to 90%" to go from 17 elements all locked up in a rare earth soup into individual oxides that are used in thousands of high-technology, renewable energy, electric vehicle and military application.
Innovation Metals CEO and Chairman Gareth Hatch and COO Kurt Forrester are working with leaders at Ontario-based Kingston Process Metallurgy to optimize and commercialize RapidSX.
This work currently involves a laboratory scale program that is expected to be completed by early next year, which will be scaled up to pilot-scale demonstration plant to be ready by mid-2021. At this point RapidSX should be ready for commercial adoption and implementation via licensing agreements with Innovation Metals.
Ucore, which acquired Innovation earlier this year, also hopes to use this technology for its planned Strategic Metals Complex, a rare earths and critical minerals separation facility the company plans to build near the Southeast Alaska port town of Ketchikan. Ucore plans to use this facility to separate rare earths from concentrates produced at its Bokan Mountain rare earths mine project, which is about 30 miles from Ketchikan, as well as other non-Chinese feedstocks.
More information on Ucore's plans for establishing a rare earths separation facility and develop a mine at Bokan Mountain can be read at Ucore unveils Alaska2023 rare earths plan in the current edition of Metal Tech News.
"We are grateful to Ucore for providing the financial backing required in 2020 for the continued advancement of RapidSX, and IMC is particularly pleased with the RapidSX development work completed since May 2020," said Hatch. "Additionally, IMC continues to work extensively with US-allied commercial REE feedstock suppliers and several active and near-term REE producers outside of China, who have expressed interest in potentially incorporating the RapidSX technology into their operations."
In addition to the technical work, Ucore and Innovation have been working with J. A. Green & Company, a Washington D.C.-based government relations firm led by well-known strategic-materials advocate Jeff Green.
Hatch is an advisor to J.A. Green & Company and has been working with Green for more than 10 years.
Ucore and Innovation are encouraged by President Donald Trump's Sept. 30 executive order that declares America's heavy reliance on adversarial nations for critical minerals a national emergency that threatens the security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.
"I am extremely pleased that the U.S. federal government is making explicit efforts to create a secure, long-term U.S. supply chain for critical minerals," said Ucore Rare Metals Chairman and CEO Pat Ryan. "For too long the United States has failed to address the risky trade-off between supply dependency and lower costs."
Rare earths were among a handful of critical minerals specifically named in the Trump executive order.
"Ucore believes that this executive order could potentially support the mine development of Bokan Mountain, in addition to our ongoing RapidSX REE technology development work for the commercial-scale separation of both heavy REEs and light REEs on U.S. soil," said Ucore Rare Metals COO Michael Schrider.