Ottawa backs RapidSX rare earths plant
Metal Tech News - November 20, 2023
Last updated 11/29/2023 at 6:43am
Ucore is awarded C$4.3 million to produce magnet REEs for EVs and other high-tech uses at its demo plant in Ontario.
To support the commercialization of a technology poised to help break North America's dependence on China for rare earths critical to the clean energy and technology sectors, the Canadian government has awarded Ucore Rare Metals Inc. C$4.28 million (US$3.1 million) to demonstrate the capabilities of its RapidSX rare earths separation platform.
"We would like to thank the Government of Canada for this important funding," said Ucore Rare Metals Chairman and CEO Pat Ryan.
While rare earths are used in countless high-tech and household products we use every day, the transition to low-carbon energy and transportation is the biggest driver of demand for this suite of 15 elements.
This is because four rare earths – neodymium, praseodymium, terbium, dysprosium – are key ingredients of the powerful permanent magnets used in EV motors and wind turbines.
"China's recent announcements of increased scrutiny over the export of rare earth elements have raised concerns regarding the ongoing availability of these critical materials," Ryan added. "The development of an alternative North American rare earth supply chain is more important than ever as the world moves toward the electrification of its vehicle fleet and other green initiatives."
North American alternative
While rare earths are not as scarce as their name might suggest, economical and environmentally sound methods of separating these tightly interlocked elements into useable products are.
Around 85% of global rare earths processing takes place in China. As a result of this dominance, the country also produces 92% of the rare earth magnets needed for a wide range of green energy, high-tech, industrial, and household goods.
China's near monopoly of the rare earths sector was built upon its use of a rare earths separation method known as solvent extraction. While effective, this long and arduous process is too labor intensive and environmentally challenging to be viable in countries like Canada and the U.S.
The RapidSX technology developed and being commercialized by Ucore offers 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 within a footprint that is about one-third the size required for the mixer-settler units used for traditional SX separation.
Clean, contained, and as its name suggests, a rapid method of producing individual rare earths, RapidSX has the economic and environmental hallmarks of a process that could break North America's heavy reliance on China for this suite of technology elements.
Ucore is currently scaling this technology up to commercial readiness at its RapidSX Commercialization and Demonstration Facility in Kingston, Ontario.
Ottawa's C$4.28 million investment will support this commercialization of a homegrown rare earth separation technology.
Pentagon also investing in RapidSX
Ucore will use the Canadian government grant to produce three primary rare earth products used in the permanent magnets that go into EV motors and wind turbine generators – neodymium, praseodymium, and a neodymium-praseodymium compound.
Over the course of the C$8.31 million (US$6.1 million) project partially funded by Ottawa, Ucore plans to process 13 to 15 metric tons of rare earths feedstock from Canadian and U.S. sources over a six-month span.
In June, Ucore announced that it had secured a light rare earths feedstock from the U.S. to go along with other sources of rare earth materials it is already using to test its demonstration plant in Ontario.
Ucore says the Canadian government funding focused on neodymium and praseodymium, which are light rare earths, complements the US$4 million (C$5.5 million) invested by the U.S. Department of Defense focused on determining the RapidSX demo plant's capacity to produce saleable heavy rare earth products.
DOD's is particularly interested in seeing the capacity of RapidSX to efficiently and quickly separate out dysprosium and terbium, a pair of heavy rare earths that are used to increase the durability and heat-resistance of neodymium and neodymium-praseodymium magnets.
The high-purity magnet rare earth elements and compounds produced at the RapidSX demonstration plant will provide products for Ucore to submit to automotive, clean energy, and other manufacturers for testing. This will likely help secure customers for Ucore's planned Louisiana Strategic Metals Complex, which is where the first commercial RapidSX rare earths separation platform is slated to be installed.