Rare earths project reemerges in Wyoming
DOE awards $21.9 million for separation plant at Bear Lodge Metal Tech News – October 13, 2021
Last updated 10/19/2021 at 3:02pm
When China severely cut exports of rare earths following a dispute with Japan in 2010, Rare Element Resources Ltd. and its Bear Lodge project in Wyoming rose as one of the top candidates for offering a domestic supply of this group of elements critical to a wide range of high-tech, energy, and defense applications. After fading into obscurity for the better part of five years due to poor market conditions, Rare Element and Bear Lodge are back in business.
This revival of the Wyoming REE project is due to US$21.9 million in U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy funding for the engineering, construction, and operation of a rare earth separation and processing demonstration plant at Bear Lodge.
"The planned demonstration plant will produce commercial-grade neodymium/praseodymium rare earth high-purity oxide in use in producing high-strength permanent magnets utilizing our proprietary processing and separation technology," said Rare Element Resources President and CEO Randall Scott. "These high-strength permanent magnets are a key component in the manufacture of electric vehicles, solar panels, and wind turbines, among other technology uses. We believe our rare earth demonstration project is timely to meet the growing demand of these products."
The funding for the demonstration plant, however, is not going directly to Rare Element. Instead, DOE has awarded the funding to General Atomics, an American energy and defense research and technology development company that has gained a 48% ownership of Rare Element through its affiliate Synchron.
Since investing US$4.8 million to nab an initial 34% stake, Synchron has increased its ownership of Rare Elements.
General Atomics, in the meantime, has been pioneering an REE separation technology for use at Bear Lodge.
With the technology that emerged from this work, an affiliate of Syncron processed 1.1 metric tons of Bear Lodge ore averaging roughly 10% total rare earth oxide through a pilot plant in Germany to produce 13.6 kilograms (30 pounds) of neodymium-praseodymium oxide at commercial grade.
Rare Elements, which holds the patents to this technology, says the innovative process has been further optimized and involves significantly fewer steps in a closed cycle that offers environmental and cost advantages over other REE separation technologies.
Now, with the award from the DOE paying for half the cost, Rare Elements is scaling this technology up with a demonstration plant that will process roughly 900 metric tons of ore averaging around 10% rare earth oxides already stockpiled at Bear Lodge.
To pay for the other half of the $44 million facility, Rare Element has issued its shareholder's subscription rights that allow them to acquire another share of the company for each share currently held at a price of US24 cents. This would come to US$25 million if all the subscription rights are exercised.
The company anticipates it will take roughly 18 to 24 months to design and build the demonstration plant, and about 12 months to process the stockpiled ore.
While bringing this demonstration plant online, Rare Element will work on the permitting and design for a commercial-scale operation at Bear Lodge, which hosts 18 million metric tons of measured and indicated resources averaging 3.05% (1.1 billion lb) rare earth oxides.
This is enough to produce roughly 6,800 metric tons (15 million lb) of rare earth oxides annually over a 45-year mine life, according to a prefeasibility study completed in 2014.
Rare Element says optimization work identified in the PFS is being undertaken, which will support completion of a detailed feasibility study. The company also has a head start on federal permitting. A draft environmental impact statement was completed by the U.S. Forest Service in 2016 but was put on hold.
The company hopes the demonstration plant and eventual full-scale mining at its project in northeastern Wyoming will help curb America's reliance on China for the rare earths needed for renewable energy, automotive, defense, and other high-tech and industrial sectors in the U.S.
"America's dependence on Chinese rare earths poses a grave economic, energy, and technology threat and must be urgently addressed," said Scott. "We are pleased that our government has recognized this. It is our goal to play a key part in these initiatives to bring rare earth production to the U.S."