Ucore advances RapidSX rare earths tech
REE separation demo plant slated for completion in early 2022 Metal Tech News - December 29, 2021
Last updated 1/11/2022 at 2:26pm
In another step toward Ucore Rare Metals Inc.'s goal of producing the first separated rare earth elements at its planned Strategic Metals Complex in Alaska in about two years, a third party has carried out an independent evaluation of the RapidSX rare earths separation technology to be used at the Alaska SMC.
Developed by Gareth Hatch and his team at Innovation Metals Corp., a subsidiary of Ucore, RapidSX is a technological upgrade to the conventional solvent extraction technology that has been the standard for separating rare earths for more than 40 years.
Traditional solvent extraction, which remains the primary method of REE separation in China, involves running a mixed rare earths product through vats of various solvents that progressively separate the notoriously interlocked rare earths into individual elements – a long process that requires dozens of steps and a relatively large environmental footprint.
Utilizing an innovative column-based platform developed by IMC, RapidSX is more than ten times faster and much more environmentally sound than the mixer-settler units used for traditional SX separation.
Initial testing carried out this summer by Ontario-based Kingston Process Metallurgy confirmed these rates.
A series of follow-up extraction-rate tests was carried out by Kingston to further validate the approach being taken. A portion of this testing was observed by a third-party expert, which is preparing an independent report that is slated for completion in January.
The RapidSX rate tests utilized various mixed REE solutions, including commercial feedstocks from a U.S.-allied source.
While the source of this material was not named, Vital Metals Ltd.'s Nechalacho mine in Northwest Territories is a likely candidate. In October, Ucore entered into a preliminary deal with Vital to source a mixed rare earths product produced from ore mined at Nechalacho to be processed at the Alaska SMC.
More information on Ucore's rare earths feedstock deal with Vital can be read at Ucore secures Vital rare earths supply in the October 20, 2021 edition of Metal Tech News.
With testing complete, Ucore and IMC are ready to build a RapidSX demonstration plant, which is slated for completion by the end of the first quarter of 2022.
At this point, Ucore believes the RapidSX technology will be ready for implementation into the engineering development program for the Alaska SMC, which Ucore remains confident will be ready for production by the first half of 2024.
"Dr. Gareth Hatch and the entire IMC team have put forth a tremendous effort in recent months towards the commercial realization of the RapidSX rare earth separation technology; a technology that we believe is the critical link in reestablishing a North American rare earth element supply chain," said Ucore Rare Metals Chairman and CEO Pat Ryan. "Our belief is led by our actions, and we have supported and funded IMC's efforts for the development of RapidSX and the coordinated plan for its subsequent deployment into the first modern rare-earth separation plant in North America, the Alaska SMC – on schedule for production of individual rare-earth oxides in H1-2024."
In addition to implementing RapidSX at the Alaska facility, IMC intends to roll out a revenue-producing licensing model by the end of 2022.