Elk Creek deposit proves to be rare earth
Vast store of REEs with mine project's other critical minerals Metal Tech News - May 20, 2022
Last updated 7/1/2022 at 12:06pm
An updated feasibility study for developing a mine at Elk Creek confirms that the proposed niobium-titanium-scandium mine in Nebraska also boasts one of the richest stores of rare earth elements in the United States.
According to the new report released by NioCorp Developments Ltd. on May 19, Elk Creek hosts 632,900 metric tons of total rare earth oxides, 970,300 metric tons of niobium oxide, along with 11,337 metric tons of scandium oxide and 4.2 million metric tons of titanium oxides in the indicated resource category.
Including the 15 individual rare earth elements, this unique deposit hosts 18 of the 50 minerals deemed critical to America's economic wellbeing and national security.
"Given recent geopolitical events and the world's ongoing global energy transition, we feel a strong imperative to produce more of the critical minerals that America and the Western world need to meet these challenges," said NioCorp Developments Executive Chairman and CEO Mark Smith. "The updated feasibility study shows that the Elk Creek deposit contains an abundance of critical minerals, including rare earths, and we are working very hard to ensure America can benefit from the full range of the critical minerals our deposit could economically deliver."
The feasibility study outlines an underground mine at Elk Creek that would produce an estimated 170,409 metric tons of niobium, 431,793 metric tons of titanium, and 3,677 metric tons of scandium over 38 years of mining.
This operation is calculated to generate an after-tax net present value of US$2.35 billion and internal rate of return of 27.6%.
It is expected it will take roughly 2.7 years to pay back the estimated US$1.14 billion in upfront capital needed to develop the Elk Creek Mine.
"The results of this updated feasibility study are very good news, and they validate our belief that the Elk Creek ore body represents one of America's largest indicated rare earth resources," said Smith.
These robust economic figures do not consider the potential recovery of the vast quantities of rare earths found in the same rocks that carry the niobium, titanium, and scandium.
"The updated feasibility study shows the rare earths are distributed fairly uniformly within the mineral resource, which makes them well suited for by-product production," NioCorp Developments Chief Operating Officer Scott Honan explained.
These rare earths include those used in the powerful permanent magnets used in electric vehicle motors, wind turbines, computer hard drives, high-fidelity speakers, and an array of other high-tech devices. The magnet rare earths found in the Elk Creek deposit include 98,900 metric tons of neodymium, 26,900 metric tons of praseodymium, 9,100 metric tons of dysprosium, and 2,300 metric tons of terbium.
"With the addition of the magnetic rare earths, the Elk Creek project will stand out from virtually every other greenfield project in the U.S. in terms of its potential ability to produce multiple critical minerals that are essential to electrified transportation, renewable energy production, green mega-infrastructure projects, and many other applications that are in increasing demand around the world," said Smith.
NioCorp is studying the potential process for recovering the rare earths at Elk Creek. If successful, this process could not only add rare earths to the payable metals recovered at the operation but also streamline and optimize the recovery of niobium, titanium, and scandium.
In March, the company reported that bench-scale testing of this process was successful, and the testing is being scaled up to a demonstration-scale plant. If this testing confirms that this optimized process will be technically and economically feasible for Elk Creek, NioCorp will incorporate the rare earth capturing optimized recovery process into an updated technical report for the Nebraska operation.
Honan says the positive results of an updated feasibility study and the confirmation of the rare earths resource that comes with it provide a platform for advancing the project toward development.
"These results will help to accelerate our work to finalize the metallurgical, engineering, and economic feasibility of expanding the commercial critical mineral products we plan to make in Nebraska to include rare earths once financing is secured," he said.