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By Shane Lasley
Metal Tech News 

A critical minerals week for Energy Fuels

Rare earths, uranium, vanadium shipped from White Mesa Mill Metal Tech News - April 13, 2022

 

Last updated 4/19/2022 at 12:33pm

Energy Fuels White Mesa rare earths, uranium and vanadium mill in Utah.

Energy Fuels Inc.

Energy Fuels' White Mesa Mill in near Blanding, Utah produces advanced rare earth carbonates, vanadium, and uranium.

Over the course of one monumental week, Energy Fuels Inc. shipped a trifecta of mineral products critical to the production, storage, and use of low-carbon energy in the United States from its White Mesa Mill in southern Utah.

"This week, our vision of Energy Fuels as 'America's Critical Mineral and Clean Energy Hub' tangibly advanced, as our White Mesa Mill in Utah sent three shipments of advanced materials containing a total of fifteen critical elements," said Energy Fuels President and CEO Mark Chalmers.

These 15 elements include 13 rare earths, many of which are used in the powerful magnets that allow electric vehicles and wind turbines to operate more efficiently; vanadium used in high-strength steel alloys and redox flow batteries that can store large quantities of renewable energy; and the uranium used to generate low carbon power in the U.S.

Chalmers said the shipment of these critical mineral products to the feed supply chains that support multiple facets of America's envisioned green energy future is historic and a testament to the hard work and dedication of the Energy Fuels team.

"We believe we are moving faster than any other company in the U.S. on restoring low-cost, domestic critical material supply chains," he said.

Lightning speed rare earths

The speed at which the company is moving in the low-carbon critical minerals space is reflected in the company's ability to produce an advanced rare earths carbonate just two years after coming up with the idea of leveraging its White Mesa Mill to establish a U.S.-based REE supply chain.

This supply chain begins in Georgia, where Chemours Company produces titanium and zirconium from heavy mineral sands and upgrades that pair of critical metals into a broad range of products. These sands also contain monazite, a mineral that is rich in the suite of 15 rare earth elements.

Unlocking the individual rare earths from the monazite, however, is a complex process that first involves producing a carbonate with a mix of rare earths and then secondary processes to separate the notoriously interlocked rare earths into individual elements that can be used by the high-tech and other sectors.

Last year, Energy Fuels began shipping mixed rare earth carbonates to Neo Performance Materials Inc.'s Silmet rare earths separation facility in Estonia for further processing.

Because monazites typically contain uranium, a facility such as White Mesa Mill is an important link in the rare earths supply chain.

"Monazite is an excellent and rich source of rare earths, particularly the magnetic rare earths that are highly sought for new electrification applications. Yet, monazites derived from heavy mineral sands have historically not been favored due to the naturally occurring radioactive elements they normally contain," Neo Performance Materials CEO Constantine Karayannopoulos said earlier this year. "Energy Fuels provides the missing link in solving this challenge. They extract valuable uranium from monazite and put it to good use while also recovering monazite's rare earth content."

The White Mesa Mill is also producing increasingly advanced rare earth products.

Utilizing a solvent extraction circuit already in place at the Utah facility, Energy Fuels is now able to remove most of the lanthanum, the lightest and one of the least valuable rare earth elements, to produce a more advanced REE carbonate with roughly 32 to 34% neodymium-praseodymium and 1.8% terbium and dysprosium.

All four of these rare earths, especially the neodymium and praseodymium, are used in the powerful permanent rare earth magnets used in EVs, wind turbine generators, hard drives, speakers, and an enormous variety of other products.

Although the White Mesa Mill still needs to ship the advanced rare earth carbonates to Estonia for further processing, this marks the first commercial-scale REE separation in the U.S. since at least the early 2000s.

"I could not be more proud of what our team is doing at the White Mesa Mill on rare earths," said Chalmers. "It is hard to believe, but we are currently producing commercial-scale quantities of a rare earth material that is more advanced than any other company in the U.S."

This is only the beginning of Energy Fuels' plans to install added separation circuits that will allow for the production of even more advanced rare earth products at White Mesa moving forward.

A lab-scale pilot program launched by the company in 2021 has already produced a high-purity mixed neodymium-praseodymium oxide. A sample of this product is being sent to Neo for further evaluation with the intent to sell this product and other separated oxides to the owner of the Estonia facility or others in the future.

Energy Fuels also expects to submit permit applications with the state of Utah for commercial REE separation infrastructure at the White Mesa Mill by early 2023 and plans to be positioned to initially produce up to 10,000 metric tons of light REE oxides, which includes neodymium and praseodymium, by 2025 or 2026.

If confirmed, Energy Fuels expects to be among the lowest cost REE producers in the world while also recovering uranium and possibly thorium. The company is also evaluating the production of heavy REE oxides, including dysprosium and terbium, which could occur by 2027 or 2028.

"We have been able to move at 'lightning speed,' because we have existing licenses, expertise, and infrastructure, along with dedication and hard work," Chalmers said.

Two more critical products

While Energy Fuels is particularly excited about the lightning fast rare earth advancements, the company's historic week also included commercial shipments of uranium and vanadium, which are products traditionally produced at White Mesa.

Natural uranium concentrates were shipped from the southern Utah mill to the Metropolis Works facility in Illinois for conversion into uranium hexafluoride, which will be enriched and used as fuel for the production of clean, carbon-free nuclear energy.

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the price of uranium has risen to around $63.25 per pound, about 50% higher than at the beginning of 2022.

As the largest uranium producer in the U.S., Energy Fuels had approximately 700,000 lb of U3O8 (triuranium octoxide) in inventory going into 2022 and expect to add around 100,000 lb this year.

Rare earth carbonates being shipped to Neo Performance separation facility.

Energy Fuels Inc.

Loading bags of mixed rare earth carbonates produced at White Mesa to be shipped to Neo Performance Materials' REE separation facility in Estonia for further processing.

The vanadium pentoxide from the White Mesa Mill was shipped to the Bear Metallurgical Company in Pennsylvania for conversion to ferrovanadium, which will be sold into the steel and specialty alloys industries.

Given its increasing use in large-scale batteries, the price of vanadium is also on the rise. Vanadium oxide is currently selling for around $11.60 per lb, which is around 33% higher than at the start of the year.

With all three of these critical mineral products being shipped out in one week, White Mesa is showing its potential as a critical link in America's critical and clean energy metals supply chains.

"I believe the week of April 4, 2022 will go down as one of the most important weeks in company history," Chalmers said of the three critical mineral product shipments.

"At Energy Fuels, we don't just talk about restoring critical domestic supply chains. We innovate, invest, and work hard to actually do it, all to the highest environmental, human health, and human rights standards in the world," he added.

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Metal Tech News

With more than 14 years of covering mining, Shane is renowned for his insights and and in-depth analysis of mining, mineral exploration and technology metals.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 907-726-1095
https://www.facebook.com/metaltechnews/

 

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