Mining REE and Processing the REE Oxides “Without the Materials Ever Leaving the United States”
December 16, 2019
USA Rare Earth LLC, the funding and development partner of the Round Top Heavy Rare Earth and Critical Minerals Project with Texas Mineral Resources Corp. (OTCQB: TMRC), is pleased to announce the opening of a pilot plant facility in Wheat Ridge, Colorado for the purpose of fully separating and purifying rare earth and other tech metals and critical minerals, leached from ore from the Round Top project, located just outside El Paso, Texas.
Aside from the significant concentration of heavy rare earths (HREE’s) and lithium, the Round Top deposit also includes uranium, beryllium, gallium, hafnium and zirconium – all of which are on the U.S. Government’s Critical Minerals List.
Pini Althaus, CEO of USA Rare Earth, commented, “Our Colorado pilot plant will be the first processing facility outside of China with the ability to separate the full range of rare earths – Lights, Mids and Heavies. Our Wheat Ridge pilot plant is the second piece of a 100% U.S.-based rare earth oxide supply chain, drawing on feedstock from our Round Top heavy rare earth and critical minerals deposit in southwest Texas. Taken together, Round Top and our pilot plant constitute essential links in restoring a domestic U.S. rare earth supply chain, extracting rare earths and processing them into individual REE oxides – without the material ever leaving the United States, thereby alleviating the current dependence on China for the both raw materials and mineral processing.
“Aside from Round Top’s potential to supply a significant amount of material for U.S. defense as well as commercial applications, we believe our initiative will reinvigorate advanced technology manufacturing in the U.S. and provide companies currently doing business overseas a viable alternative.
“We see another advantage as well, resulting from our processing method. Using continuous ion exchange and continuous ion chromatography (CIX-CIC) will not only enable processing of the ore from our Round Top project, but also enable us to explore tolling arrangements with other rare earth projects, which are currently relying on China as the sole destination for processing their materials. We are taking the view that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’, in an effort to bolster not just U.S. domestic rare earths production but also that of countries who are strategic partners with the U.S.”
Working in conjunction with Inventure Renewables, Fenix NZ Limited, Resource Development Inc., and Pro Solv Consulting, the Colorado pilot plant is being designed to extract and purify multiple elements -- including the rare earths and scandium, lithium, hafnium, zirconium, gallium and beryllium, among others. This new plant will process leach solutions from the Round Top ore using continuous ion exchange and continuous ion chromatography (CIX-CIC) to separate and purify up to a total of 26 different recoverable elements.
Round Top Indispensable to Non-Chinese/U.S. Domestic Permanent Magnet Supply Chain
“To our knowledge, no other deposit outside of China can generate the volume of all six permanent magnet Rare Earth Oxides as Round Top,” noted Mr. Althaus. In the case of Dysprosium -- where 99% of current production is in China -- leading demand forecasts predict a looming Dysprosium shortage. At full production, Round Top is projected to produce annually more than 200 metric tons of Dysprosium oxide, 23 tons of Terbium, 65 tons of Gadolinium, 65 tons of Samarium, 180 tons of Neodymium and 67 tons of Praseodymium.
“Given the importance of surety of supply, geo-political considerations and the necessity of low political risk, we believe it will matter to the U.S. Government that some rare earths companies have significant Chinese ownership, or send their rare earths materials to China for processing, or do their concentrating in non-U.S. allied countries where political risk is always present, or have deposits that simply do not host key Heavy Rare Earths in any significant volume”, said Mr. Althaus. “That is why we see Round Top as indispensable to any attempt to maintain a permanent magnet supply chain outside of China – a deposit with significant volume of the key rare earths, with no Chinese ownership, and a supply chain that will be 100% U.S.-based. it’s not enough to check one of those boxes and hope for the best on the rest. Round Top checks them all.”
CIX-CIC: A Historically Proven and Environmentally Friendly Process
The ion exchange-ion chromatographic methodology being employed will be a significant advancement of the processing method for rare earth elements. as well as numerous other technology and industrial minerals.
⮚ Ion exchange was developed initially by the Manhattan Project in the 1940’s for refining the actinide series elements, using the more benign rare earth elements as a proxy in its development.
⮚ The process subsequently was adapted to many high-volume industrial uses and came into its own with the advent of the “continuous” process in conjunction with its cost-effectiveness, simplicity of operation and versatility.
⮚ Additionally, CIX-CIC has a small footprint, significantly reducing the amounts of reagents normally used in rare earth processing.
⮚ The resins and eluent reagents used in the process are “off-the-shelf” items and are readily available from multiple suppliers.
Processing of Round Top Leach Solution
The pilot plant is being designed to continuously process the primary leach solution produced by irrigating the crushed ore from the Round Top deposit in Texas with dilute sulfuric acid to produce highly-refined end products such as individual rare earth oxides, lithium hydroxide and various other metal oxides and sulfates.
The work at the new center will build upon previous applications of the CIX-CIC process successfully demonstrating the ability to produce highly refined (99.999% purity) rare earth elements from the Round Top leach solution.
⮚ Under a Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) grant—using the CIX/CIC process—Round Top material was successfully processed into high-purity (99.99% or 99.999%) rare earths.
⮚ Industry standard REE purity is typically 99.5%.
The pilot facility in Colorado is a major advancement in the establishment of a long-sought U.S. critical mineral supply chain. The ion exchange-ion chromatographic methodology being deployed has been previously utilized by joint venture partner TMRC in the separation and purification of our rare earths for the Department of Defense, thus de-risking the basis for the new pilot plant. The development of advanced processing methods is a necessary step in re-establishing a U.S. domestic supply of these strategic metals and ending the United States dependency of China for rare earth mining and processing.