The Elements of Innovation Discovered

Electrifying Elk Creek with Railveyor

Metal Tech News - May 22, 2024

Scoping study finds implementing system could significantly reduce costs, time, and footprint in one fell swoop.

In the pursuit of a domestic supply of the rare earths and other minerals critical to the United States, NioCorp Developments Ltd. has unveiled the results of a scoping study that demonstrates that the implementation of a Railveyor ore haulage system has the potential to reduce the carbon footprint, costs, and the time it takes to get to full production at its Elk Creek mine in Nebraska.

Carried out by Optimize Group Inc., the scoping study revealed that electrifying Elk Creek with a Railveyor system could result in significant reductions in the capital expenditures (CAPEX) to build the mine while also lowering the operating expenditures (OPEX) at Elk Creek when compared to the vertical mining shaft scenario detailed in a 2022 feasibility study for Elk Creek.

"This analysis points to many potentially powerful benefits of electrifying our Elk Creek Mine, both from an economic and an environmental perspective," said NioCorp CEO Mark Smith. "The Optimize study hints at some very compelling potential benefits of this technology to NioCorp, including getting our critical minerals to market sooner and potentially lowering the CAPEX and OPEX associated with our underground operations."

Railveyor system

Railveyor is a fully electric and autonomous bulk material handling system that delivers mined ore to processing facilities via a narrow-gauge light rail system propelled by low-horsepower drive stations adjacent to the rail route.

"The beauty of the Railveyor system is its simple and rugged design," said NioCorp COO Scott Honan. "It is well suited to operate in the challenging environment of an underground mine, and can be easily operated and maintained by individuals with a basic underground mining skill set."

Expanding on the conveyor belt concept, this ore transport system designed and offered by Canada-based Railveyor Technologies Global Inc. is essentially a cart system on a conveyor belt.

According to Railveyor, the haulage system utilizes a network with cars that hold approximately 1.2 metric tons of material. These cars differ from a traditional train system since they connect to create a single long trough akin to a conveyor belt. This allows for simple continuous loading like a conveyor with the haulage flexibility of a train system.

"Our TrulyAutonomous system is designed with automated safety features to ensure operational reliability, thereby enhancing the overall safety profile of the mine," said Jerome Rodriguez, EVP of Sales at Railveyor. "The compact design of the Railveyor system allows access to deeper mineral deposits and the ability to operate close to the ore body, maximizing the resource extraction potential of the mine."

In addition to the Railveyor system running on electricity, the new design would use battery-powered equipment instead of currently planned diesel-powered equipment, which the study found would significantly reduce emissions.

"We are thrilled to see NioCorp exploring the integration of the Railveyor system for the Elk Creek Mine," said Railveyor CEO Tas Mohamed. "Our technology not only provides a cost-effective and efficient material handling solution, but also aligns perfectly with the industry's move towards sustainability. By reducing power consumption and emissions, the Railveyor system supports NioCorp's goals of economic efficiency and environmental responsibility, making it an ideal choice for modern mining operations."

Railveyor Technologies Global Inc.

Optimizing Elk Creek

The study by Optimize examined the impacts of removing the Elk Creek mine's currently planned two vertical mining shafts and all required shaft infrastructure; creating a new twin ramp design to be used by the Railveyor system; determining the suitability for a Railveyor haulage system; considerations for electrification of the underground mobile equipment fleet; and a conceptual portal cut design to provide mobile equipment access through the upper soil layer from ground surface to the start of the ramp system in the underlying limestone.

The initial findings from the study suggest that this new design could result in the following benefits:

Potential significant reduction in initial CAPEX requirements due to reduced pre-development time and reduced infrastructure complexity.

Increased schedule flexibility allowing for utilization of stopes in an economically advantageous sequence.

Overall reduction in operating cost-per-metric-ton ore.

NioCorp's existing feasibility study puts full ore production at month 45 of the Elk Creek project. In contrast, according to the Optimize study, the new twin ramp scenario could achieve full production at month 40, a savings of five months due to the simplification of pre-development construction activities.

Despite this, the company notes that the scoping study was restricted to initial mine design, cost modeling, and scheduling. No work was completed on portal boxcut geotechnical, updated mine electrical distribution system, or modification to surface ventilation infrastructure.

"The Railveyor system is a tried-and-true technology that has been in operation for years in underground mines," said Honan. "NioCorp is examining this option very seriously, and we do not anticipate that choosing this technology pathway will delay an update to the feasibility study for our Elk Creek Critical Minerals Project."

With the promising findings of the scoping study paving the way for enhanced efficiency, reduced environmental impact, and accelerated production timelines, NioCorp stands poised to lead the charge in sustainable mining practices.


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