Metal Tech News - September 16, 2022
Despite snarled supply chains, Ucore Rare Metals Inc. says it remains on track to begin commissioning a plant in Canada that will demonstrate the commercial viability of its RapidSX separation technology to automakers and others that are seeking an efficient and sustainable means of producing the rare earths needed for electric vehicles, renewable energy, high-tech devices, and household goods.
A suite of 15 elements found near the bottom of the periodic table, rare earths are not as scarce as their name might suggest. Efficient and environmentally responsible techniques to separate this tightly bound group of elements into the individual metals needed for modern technologies, however, are uncommon.
Much more information on rare earths separation can be read at Making rare earths separation less rare in the Critical Mineral Alliances 2022 magazine, published by Metal Tech News on September 12, 2022.
China, which realized the criticality of rare earths long before others, established a near complete monopoly on the mining and separation of this suite of technology elements roughly five decades ago.
With the rapid transition to e-mobility driving enormous new demand for rare earths, especially for a subgroup of these elements that go into the powerful magnets that allow EV motors to efficiently transform electricity into motion, governments and automakers outside of China are looking for reliable REE sources.
Further details on magnet rare earths and their importance to modern technologies can be found at Seven world transforming rare earths in the Critical Mineral Alliances 2022 magazine, published by Metal Tech News on September 12, 2022.
This is where Ucore and its RapidSX rare earth separation technology come in.
Developed by Innovation Metals Corp., a subsidiary of Ucore, RapidSX is essentially a faster and more environmentally sound technological upgrade to the solvent extraction method that has been the standard for separating rare earths in China for more than four decades.
Independent testing has shown that the innovative column-based RapidSX platform can separate rare earths nearly 10 times faster in an area that is about one-third the size required for the mixer-settler units used for traditional SX separation.
"Ucore is in the unique position of having access to one of the world's most advanced and efficient solvent extraction-based REE separation technologies," Ucore Rare Metals COO Mike Schrider said earlier this year.
While independent testing at the lab scale has verified that RapidSX lives up to its name – quickly separating rare earths through the modernization of SX separation methods – it is a new technology that automakers and others involved in the swiftly expanding rare earths business are going to want to see in action before investing into or licensing for their own use.
To demonstrate this technology to prospective licensees, as well as create a model of its own RapidSX installations at Strategic Metal Complexes to be developed in Alaska and elsewhere, Ucore is building a demo plant in Ontario, Canada.
Taking up most of the 5,000-square-foot commercialization and development facility at the headquarters of Kingston Process Metallurgy Inc., Ucore's RapidSX laboratory partner, the semi-commercial-scale demo plant will have the capacity to process more than 10,000 metric tons of mixed rare earth concentrates per year.
Earlier this year, Ucore expanded the demo plant from 18 steps to 51, enabling the semi-commercial-scale facility to separate out four of the rare earths needed for powerful magnets – praseodymium, neodymium, terbium, and dysprosium.
"This process will demonstrate the unprecedented North American separation of tonnes (metric tons) of both heavy and light rare earth elements," said Schrider. "It will then continue with end-user qualification trials throughout 2023 for Western entities seeking diversified and sustainable metallic supply chains as Ucore transitions to full-scale commercial mode with the construction of our first SMC."
The RapidSX demo plant is on track to begin commissioning by the end of the year and is scheduled to produce 2,000 metric tons of total rare earth oxides by the end of 2024 and 5,000 metric tons by 2026.