Energy Fuels acquires rare earths project
Brazilian project to provide rare earths to White Mesa Mill Metal Tech News - February 13, 2023
Last updated 2/14/2023 at 5:40pm
In a move that secures high-quality feedstock for its growing rare earths product line, Energy Fuels Inc. has paid $21.9 million to acquire Bahia, a large heavy mineral sands project in Brazil.
"Energy Fuels has achieved yet another important milestone for our expanding rare earth business through our acquisition of the Bahia project," said Energy Fuels President and CEO Mark Chalmers.
Monazite concentrates produced from the heavy mineral sands at Bahia will be shipped to the company's White Mesa Mill in Utah.
Energy Fuels says these monazites contain high concentrations of four of the most important rare earths critical to electric vehicles and renewable energy – neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium, and terbium.
Neodymium and praseodymium are the primary ingredients in the powerful magnets that go into EV motors, wind turbines, and countless other high-tech devices and consumer goods.
Dysprosium and terbium are heavy rare earths that increase the durability and heat resistance of these magnets.
In addition to rare earths, Bahia is also expected to produce large quantities of high-quality titanium and zirconium, critical minerals that are also in high demand.
Because White Mesa Mill's primary job is to be the largest domestic producer of uranium, Energy Fuels has an advantage over others when it comes to producing rare earths from monazite – the uranium that could be a liability for others is a welcome byproduct for Energy Fuels.
"As the largest U.S. producer of uranium, Energy Fuels recently sold 300,000 pounds of uranium into the newly established strategic US uranium reserve where we earned total gross proceeds of $18.5 million, and we have nuclear utility contract deliveries beginning this year," said Chalmers.
Building rare earths segment
Energy Fuels began building a rare earths segment in 2021 when it arranged to produce rare earth carbonates from monazite shipped from U.S.-based Chemours Company's heavy mineral sands plant in Georgia.
Monazite concentrates from heavy minerals sands such as the Chemours project in Georgia and Energy Fuel's newly acquired Bahia project in Brazil contain roughly 50% rare earths and 0.2% uranium. The uranium content is comparable to a typical Colorado Plateau deposit in the U.S.
Unlocking the individual rare earths from the monazite 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.
While White Mesa Mill is producing the most advanced rare earth material in the U.S., the mixed rare earths carbonate currently must be shipped to Neo Performance Materials Inc.'s Silmet rare earths separation facility in Estonia for further processing. The company is rectifying this with additions and expansion of its rare earths circuit in Utah.
The rare earths circuit at White Mesa is already separating out lanthanum and cerium from the mixed rare earth carbonate, creating a product with higher concentrations of the neodymium, praseodymium, and heavy rare earths that are in high demand.
Energy Fuels is also proceeding with a three-phase program to begin producing neodymium-praseodymium oxide, or oxalate, during phase one; expanded NdPr oxide production during phase two; and dysprosium, terbium and potentially other rare earth materials during phase three.
"As we continue to build our book of monazite supply through acquisitions of projects like Bahia and other transactions, we are also moving faster down the rare earth supply chain than any other U.S. company to produce more advanced rare earth materials at our White Mesa Mill in Utah," said Chalmers. "We are currently expanding our SX (solvent extraction) separation circuit at the mill that is expected to enable us to commercially produce NdPr oxide or oxalate by later in 2023 or early 2024. Later in 2026 and 2027, we expect to increase the scale of our NdPr production and add 'heavy' REE separation capabilities, including the ability to produce Dy, Tb and potentially other products, subject to securing additional monazite supplies."
In the meantime, Energy Fuels is carrying out additional drilling to calculate an industry-compliant resource that is expected to support a plan to begin mining the rare earths enriched monazite at Bahia.
Further details on Energy Fuels and the White Mesa Mill can be read at A critical minerals week for Energy Fuels in the April 13, 2022 edition of Metal Tech News.