Ucore secures Vital rare earths supply
Cuts deal for Canada made REE carbonates to feed Alaska SMC Metal Tech News – October 20, 2021
Last updated 10/26/2021 at 2:37pm
On the heels of a deal to sell more rare earths carbonate to Norway-based REEtec, Vital Metals Ltd. has entered into a separate agreement to sell some of this midstream REE product produced in Saskatchewan to Ucore Rare Metals Inc, a company advancing the development of a rare earths separation facility in Alaska.
"This agreement is an important and exciting entrance into the North American downstream rare earth supply chain," said Vital Metals Managing Director Geoff Atkins. "We are particularly excited that, similarly with REEtec's position in the European market, Ucore represents the most advanced new rare earth separation company entering into the North American market."
Under its Alaska2023 business plan, Ucore is focused on building the Alaska Strategic Metals Complex, a commercial-scale rare earths separation and purification plant in Southeast Alaska, by 2023. This facility commonly referred to as the Alaska SMC, will use proprietary RapidSX REE technology developed by Ucore subsidiary Innovation Metal Corp. to separate light and heavy rare earth elements.
RapidSX is not so much a new technology as an enormous upgrade to the conventional solvent extraction technology that has been the standard for separating rare earths for more than 40 years. While effective, traditional solvent extraction sometimes takes hundreds of stages to extract all the rare earths from a solution containing the notoriously interlocked elements.
Utilizing an innovative column-based platform developed by Gareth Hatch and his team at Innovation Metals, RapidSX is much faster and more environmentally sound than the traditional solvent extraction techniques popularized in China.
Under its Alaska2023 plan, Ucore intends to begin commissioning the Alaska SMC by the end of 2023 and be producing individual rare earth oxides in early 2024. The separation plant is expected to start off with a 2,000 metric ton per year total rare earth oxide separation and purification capacity, which is expected to be expanded to 5,000 metric tons per year by 2026.
This business plan took a major step forward earlier this month when Ucore entered into an agreement with Alaska's Southeast Conference for the evaluation and potential establishment of a Natural Resource Development Complex that would host the Alaska SMC.
As the state of Alaska's regional economic development organization for Southeast Alaska, Southeast Conference has a mission "to undertake and support activities that promote strong economies, healthy communities, and a quality environment in Southeast Alaska."
And, as the federally designated economic development district for the region, Southeast Conference has access to federal grant funding for economic development activities.
Ucore's agreement with Southeast Conference is a major milestone for achieving its Alaska2023 goals. Cutting a preliminary deal with Canada's first and only rare earths producer adds further momentum to its plan.
Under a nonbinding memorandum of understanding signed by the two parties, Vital will sell to Ucore a minimum of 500 metric tons of rare earths oxides, not counting cerium, to Ucore by 2024 and will expand its Canadian operations to supply at least 50% of Ucore's planned 5,000 metric ton per year capacity at Alaska SMC by 2026.
"This partnership with Vital is an integral step in the development of the Alaska SMC, as Ucore continues to cultivate relationships with potential like-minded upstream and downstream partners in the evolving Western world market; with the ultimate goal of ensuring that original equipment manufacturers transforming to an electrified economy continue to have access to a comprehensive North American raw material and finished goods supply chain," said Ucore Rare Metals Chairman and CEO Pat Ryan.
Cheetah Resources Corp., Vital's Canada-based subsidiary, began mining rare earth ore from a small but high-grade open pit at its Nechalacho project in Canada's Northwest Territories earlier this year. After being upgraded with x-ray transmission (XRT) sorting technology, this ore is being shipped to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where Vital is building a facility that will upgrade this ore to rare earths carbonate ready to be separated into the individual rare earths used in a broad range of high-tech and industrial applications.
In February, Vital cut a deal to supply rare earths carbonate from the Saskatoon plant to REEtec, a Norway-based company that has developed an efficient and environmentally sound technology to separate rare earths into individual elements. On Oct. 18, Vital and REEtec amended the deal to up the quantities of rare earth carbonate to be delivered to at least 750 metric tons of praseodymium and neodymium within 2,000 metric tons per year total rare earth oxides, a 50% increase over the previous arrangement.
In anticipation of expanded delivery of rare earth carbonates into the European and North American markets, Vital is building its Saskatoon plant with 50% more throughput capacity than was originally planned and with the installation of equipment to easily double the capacity.
By entering into a nonbinding memorandum of understanding with Ucore, Vital is further fostering a complete North American rare earths supply chain.
"To reach this agreement to ensure Ucore's Alaska SMC has a guaranteed supply of rare earth feedstock to service the North American market is an important milestone in delivering Vital's business plan," said Atkins. "This agreement, together with our binding off-take agreement with REEtec, will help position Vital as a critical supplier of rare earth feedstock into both the European and North American markets."