Ucore to tap into Appalachian coal with KRP to access and process rare earths

Ucore Rare Metals, Inc has announced that the company has entered into an MOU to form a joint venture with Kentucky River Properties LLC of Hazard, Kentucky, (KRP), for the purposes of accessing and processing rare earth elements (REE) and strategic metals from the Appalachian Coal Region (ACR).

KRP was formed in 1915, and is a major owner of coal bearing properties in the Appalachian Coal Basin and the Illinois Coal Basin of the United States. The company’s land holdings comprise a broad portfolio of producing coal mines, and undeveloped coal seams. The company has mineral holdings in three States (Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois), with nearly 400,000 acres of mineral properties.

The majority of KRP’s holdings reside within the ACR, considered by the USDOE to be one of the most prospective undeveloped REE enriched regions in the United States. Recent studies by the USDOE National Energy Technology Lab (NETL) have discovered REE concentrations of 300+ ppm from representative samples, considered a material threshold of REE concentration necessary for the profitable and economic development of a domestic rare earth resource. NETL has since initiated a number of research initiatives to accelerate the development of REE resources in the ACR under the Rare Earth Elements Program (REEP). In 2017, Ucore garnered a $1 million grant for REE beneficiation research under REEP.

“Rare Earth Elements are vital to the development and manufacturing of high-tech devices such as computers, cell phones, and our national defense systems,” said US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry. “The current difficulties and high expenses associated with REE extraction has left the US dependent on foreign REE imports. Supporting innovative research and development to establish efficient, cost-effective REE extraction methods is critical to our country’s energy and national security.”

“Kentucky River Properties has long operated under the primary mission of delivering responsible and sustainable development to the US coal sector,” said Stephen G. Barker, President, CEO, and General Counsel of KRP. “With this in mind, the company has embraced green technologies wherever possible as a means of developing our extensive land portfolios. KRP’s efforts to explore solar energy and high efficiency biomass cultivation are examples of our company’s diversification initiatives in the energy sector.  Ucore’s platform for the recovery of REE minerals critically important to US clean energy technologies is consistent with and builds upon our long-term vision.”

“We’re excited to be partnering with KRP, a company with an important ongoing role in the economic success of the American coal sector,” said Jim McKenzie, President and CEO of Ucore. “The significant magnitude of KRP’s land holdings and critical metals content spanning their coal mines, is the domestic REE resource that the US has been actively seeking in recent years.  The USDOE has already invested heavily in the study of this significant REE mineralisation, setting out the ACR as an American asset prospectively capable of liberating the US from dependence on China for critical REE. We look forward to developing this remarkable feedstock and furnishing it to American growth industries in a timely and efficient manner.”

Under the JV, KRP and Ucore will form a US based Limited Liability Company (LLC). KRP will make its properties containing REE and strategic metals feedstock available to the joint enterprise, consultative services and data management regarding the resource, as well as access to a number of potential sites for the construction a regional REE and strategic metals refinery (Strategic Metals Complex or SMC). Ucore will provide REE and strategic metals processing and refining technologies, plant engineering, design, construction and maintenance services, in addition to downstream offtake relationships for the purchase of high purity output products (REE oxides, chlorides, metals and alloys) by the US military, automotive, alternate energy and high technology sectors.

The site for the SMC, as well as the principal site management personnel have yet to be selected, and will be dependent upon factors such as proximity to critical concentrations of target minerals, logistical considerations including permitting metrics, access to industrial facilities, transportation corridors, available workforce, as well as taxation and locational incentives. The JV is currently reviewing multiple locations for the centralised REE processing facilities from competing alternatives in Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois.