Lynas inks contract for Texas REE plant
Pentagon to invest up to $30M into light rare earths facility Metal Tech News – January 22, 2021
Last updated 2/2/2021 at 5:24pm
Australia-based rare earth elements producer Lynas Rare Earths Ltd. has secured a contract for additional Pentagon assistance in funding its plans to develop a U.S.-based rare earths separation facility in Texas.
"As the only non-Chinese commercial producer of separated rare earths products to the global marketplace, Lynas is delighted by the opportunity to develop a light rare earth separation facility in the United States," Lynas Rare Earths CEO Amanda Lacaze penned in a Jan. 22 statement.
In July, the U.S. Department of Defense awarded Lynas and its partner Blue Line Corp., a privately held chemical company based in Texas, an initial phase of funding to complete a detailed market and strategy study, plus detailed planning and design work, for the construction of a heavy rare earth separation facility in Texas.
Now, Lynas has entered into an agreement with the Pentagon to build a light rare earths separation facility alongside the heavy REE plant being planned.
The distinction between light and heavy rare earths is primarily a function of the atomic weight of each element, which designates their placement on the periodic table.
Most REE deposits contain some mixture of all 17 rare earths, which includes 15 lanthanides – the group of elements in their own row at the bottom of the periodic table – along with scandium and yttrium – a pair of elements that are commonly found in REE deposits and have similar characteristics.
Light REEs make up the first seven elements of the lanthanide series and include lanthanum, for which the series gets its name; cerium, used for polishing high quality optical surfaces; praseodymium, valued for its magnetic and optical properties; and neodymium, an extremely magnetic element.
The remaining eight lanthanides are considered heavy REEs, which are less abundant in most deposits and tend to be more valuable. This subgroup includes europium, used primarily in red and blue phosphors in televisions and computer monitors; terbium, used in high-temperature magnets and to create a green phosphor; and dysprosium, which improves the durability of magnets in electric vehicle motors and wind turbine generators.
"Rare earth materials are critical inputs to many industrial supply chains, including electric vehicles, electronics and several defense applications," said Lacaze. "While demand for rare earth materials continues to grow, COVID-19 has exposed the risks within global supply chains of the single sourcing of critical materials."
The primary bottleneck in global supply chains is largely due to the fact that rare earths are tightly interlocked and notoriously difficult to separate into the individual elements that can be used for commercial and military applications. Currently, Lynas is the only commercial producer of separated rare earths outside of China.
This production comes from its Mt Weld rare earth mine in Western Australia and a light REE separation facility in Malaysia. The company also recently secured a 334-acre (135 hectares) industrial-zoned site for its planned Kalgoorlie rare earth processing facility about 150 miles (245 kilometers) southeast of Mt Weld Mine.
China's rare earths dominance is the main reason the U.S Defense Department is interested in investing in the Texas facility to be built and operated by Lynas, a company with proven REE mining and separation expertise.
The Pentagon's funding of this REE separation plant will come from Title 3 of the Defense Production Act, which was established to ensure the timely availability of essential domestic industrial resources to support national defense and homeland security.
Lynas says the Department of Defense Title 3 funding for the light rare earth facility in Texas is expected to be capped at roughly US$30 million. Lynas will be expected to contribute approximately another US$30 million under the agreement.
Rare earth concentrates produced at Mt Weld and upgraded at the Kalgoorlie facility are expected to be sent to the future Texas plant for separation into rare earths.
Once operational, the plant is expected to produce roughly 5,000 metric tons of rare earth, including 1,250 metric tons of the neodymium and praseodymium used to make high-power REE magnets, per year.
"The Texas plant will ensure the U.S. has a secure domestic source of high quality separated rare earth materials," said Lacaze. "This secure supply will provide the essential foundation for the renewal of downstream specialty metal making and permanent magnet manufacturing in North America."