Texas tech metals deposit critical to US
Round Top offers domestic source of 22 US critical minerals Metal Tech News - December 13, 2021
Last updated 12/28/2021 at 2:05pm
The proposed list of 50 critical minerals unveiled by the U.S. Geological Survey in November shined a light on how dependent the United States is on foreign countries for rare earth elements and a broad array of other technology metals vital to electric vehicles, clean energy, high-tech, and other industrial sectors. The enormous Round Top deposit in the West Texas desert hosts nearly half of the minerals and metals deemed critical to America's economic wellbeing and national security, which could make America a little more self-reliant for the mined materials critical to its high-tech future.
The USGS draft list of critical minerals is dominated by elements that have risen to prominence due to their use in 21st-century technologies – rare earths needed for EV motors and a wide array of high-tech applications; battery materials such as cobalt, graphite, lithium, nickel, and vanadium; and technology metals such as beryllium, gallium, indium, niobium, tantalum, tin, and zirconium.
Further details on the USGS draft list of critical minerals can be read at And then there were 50 critical minerals in the Nov. 10, 2021 edition of Metal Tech News.
Being advanced toward production under a joint venture partnership between USA Rare Earth LLC (80%) and Texas Mineral Resources Corp. (20%), the Round Top deposit about 85 miles southeast of El Paso, Texas hosts 15 of the rare earths deemed critical to the U.S. plus seven other critical metals – beryllium, gallium, hafnium, lithium, magnesium, manganese, and zirconium.
"Our project is a geologically unique and diverse deposit that will help bolster U.S. critical minerals production," said USA Rare Earth President Thayer Smith.
A preliminary economic assessment completed in 2019 outlines plans for a mine at Round Top would produce 2,212 metric tons of rare earths per year, including healthy supplies of all six of the REEs used in the permanent magnets used in EVs, wind turbines, computer hard drives, speakers, and a long list of other high-tech products. The annual Round Top rare earth production is slated to include 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 a mine there reaches full production.
In addition, the mine summarized in the PEA would produce about 10,000 metric tons of lithium per year, which would help meet explosive demand being driven by the rapid expansion of EV production in the U.S.
Adding to the rare earths and battery metals, Round Top hosts 36,500 metric tons of gallium, making it the single largest known domestic deposit of this semiconductor metal critical as an ingredient in next-generation smartphones, 5G networks, LEDs, thin-film solar cells, and medical devices.
Read more about gallium and potential North American sources of this high-tech metal at Techy gallium overshadowed by rare earths in the Critical Minerals Alliances magazine.
"USA Rare Earth will bring into domestic production nearly half of the critical minerals identified by the USGS, including gallium, which tops the new critical minerals list. The list establishes that Round Top is a national strategic asset for supply chains essential to the U.S. economy," said Smith.
And the Round Top deposit is not just a short-term domestic feed into the front end of America's tech-metal supply chains.
At the mine production rates considered in the 2019 PEA, the Round Top deposit is large enough to offer a domestic supply of rare earths, lithium, gallium, and other critical minerals for more than a century.
To advance this project towards supplying nearly half of America's critical minerals, USA Rare Earth raised US$50 million to complete a prefeasibility study that will further refine the economic and design parameters outlined in the PEA; finish testing at the company's pilot rare earths separation plant in Colorado; and build a demonstration-scale plant at Round Top.
The demonstration plant, which includes test heap leach pads and an upscaled version of the continuous ion exchange processing being piloted in Colorado, is expected to support a definitive feasibility study and permitting, as well as produce representative materials for evaluation by prospective customers.
"This will enable us to expedite bringing Round Top into production and provide the necessary materials for EVs and advanced manufacturing, including the essential materials for chipsets, semiconductors and 5G, all of which are hosted at Round Top and are the focus of President Biden's recent (American Supply Chain) executive order," USA Rare Earth CEO Pini Althaus said in June.
While the separation of rare earths in Texas will be a major step for an all-American REE supply chain, USA Rare Earth is advancing another link to connect Round Top to the EV and other high-technology manufacturers that utilize the powerful rare earth permanent magnets.
Last year, USA Rare Earth purchased neodymium-iron-boron permanent magnet manufacturing equipment from Hitachi Metals America that was briefly used at a magnet plant in North Carolina.
USA Rare Earth is installing the equipment in a new plant capable of producing 2,000 metric tons of high-performance neodymium-iron-boron magnets per year, which is slated to be fully operational in 2022.
"USA Rare Earth is developing a fully domestic mine-to-magnet supply chain, while the lithium at Round Top will also support the manufacture of battery electric vehicles. These are two essential components to the future of electric transportation," said Smith.
At the same time, providing a domestic source of many of the minerals deemed critical to the U.S.