Tag Archives: Rare earths

Northern Minerals rare earth pilot plant keeps up thyssenkrupp REC deliveries

Northern Minerals’ Browns Range rare earth pilot plant in Western Australia has continued to churn out more product, with the company set to soon make a shipment of more than 40,000 kg to offtake partner thyssenkrupp Materials Trading GmbH.

The Browns Range pilot plant has now surpassed a new production milestone of 210,000 kg of rare earth carbonate (REC), Northern Minerals said.

A shipment of 40,406 kg of REC that contains 1,835 kg of dysprosium oxide and 233 kg of terbium oxide is ready at Browns Range for delivery to thyssenkrupp, bringing total production of REC from the pilot plant to 211,109 kg.

The REC produced to date contains a total 103,731 kg of rare earth oxide, which, in turn, contains 9,751 kg of dysprosium oxide and 1,245 kg of terbium oxide: critical elements in the permanent magnet motors used in E-mobility powertrain applications.

Northern Minerals CEO, Mark Tory, said: “Despite the operational and supply chain challenges in the past 12 months, the global trend toward electrification of transport continues to accelerate as a result of regulatory changes and bold decisions by car manufacturers in transition to fully-electric fleets.

“Browns Range is still the most strategically placed heavy rare earths operation in the western world, and we continue to apply our significant R&D learnings to successfully produce batches of REC for our European offtake partner thyssenkrupp from our pilot plant in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.”

Northern Minerals started producing rare earth carbonate through the Browns Range pilot plant in October 2018 as part of a three-year pilot assessment of economic and temporary technical feasibility of a larger-scale development at Browns Range.

The company expects to commission a Steinert sensor-based ore sorter at Browns Range in the June quarter as part of its latest R&D work at the pilot plant.

LKAB plots carbon-free pathway with direct reduced iron switch

LKAB has presented its new strategy for the future, setting out a path to achieve net-zero carbon emissions from its own processes and products by 2045, while securing the company’s operations with expanded mining beyond 2060.

Jan Moström, President and CEO of LKAB, said the plan represented the biggest transformation in the company’s 130-year history, and could end up being the largest industrial investment ever made in Sweden.

“It creates unique opportunities to reduce the world’s carbon emissions and for Swedish industry to take the lead in a necessary global transformation,” he said.

The strategy sets out three main tracks for the transformation:

  • New world standard for mining;
  • Sponge iron (direct reduced iron) produced using green hydrogen will in time replace iron ore pellets, opening the way for a fossil-free iron and steel industry; and
  • Extract critical minerals from mine waste: using fossil-free technology to extract strategically important earth elements and phosphorous for mineral fertiliser from today’s mine waste.

The transformation is expected to require extensive investments in the order of SEK10-20 billion ($1.2-2.3 billion) a year over a period of around 15 to 20 years within LKAB’s operations alone. The company said the new strategy was a response to market developments in the global iron and steel industry, “which is undergoing a technology shift”.

The move could cut annual carbon dioxide emissions from the company’s customers worldwide by 35 Mt, equivalent to two thirds of Sweden’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions, it said.

Developments under the HYBRIT project, in which SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall are collaborating on a process to enable the reduction of steel from iron ore using hydrogen instead of carbon, will be keenly observed following the miner’s announcement.

On top of this collaboration, LKAB is working with Sandvik, ABB, Combitec, Epiroc and several other industry leaders to develop the technology that will enable the transition to fossil-free, autonomous mines, it said.

Moström added: “The market for iron and steel will grow and, at the same time, the global economy is shifting towards a carbon-free future. Our carbon-free products will play an important part in the production of railways, wind farms, electric vehicles and industrial machinery.

“We will go from being part of the problem to being an important part of the solution.”

The market for steel is forecasted to grow by 50% by 2050. This growth will be achieved by an increase in the upgrading of recycled scrap in electric arc furnaces, according to LKAB. Today, the iron and steel industry accounts for more than a quarter of industrial emissions and for 7% of the world’s total carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, according to an IEA report.

The company said: “The global market price for recycled scrap is now twice that of iron ore pellets. The carbon-free sponge iron that will in time replace iron ore pellets as LKAB’s main export product is suitable for arc furnaces, allowing the company to offer industries throughout the world access to carbon-free iron.”

Moström said the switch from iron ore pellets to carbon-free sponge iron was an important step forward in the value chain, increasing the value of its products at the same time as giving customers direct access to “carbon-free iron”.

“That’s good for the climate and good for our business,” he said. “This transformation will provide us with good opportunities to more than double our turnover by 2045.”

During the transformation period, LKAB will supply iron ore pellets in parallel with developing carbon-free sponge iron.

To reach the new strategy’s goals, rapid solutions must be found for various complex issues, according to the company. These include permits, energy requirements and better conditions for research, development and innovation within primary industry.

Moström said: “Our transformation will dramatically improve Europe’s ability to achieve its climate goals. By reducing emissions primarily from our export business, we will achieve a reduction in global emissions that is equivalent to two-thirds of all Sweden’s carbon emissions. That’s three times greater than the effect of abandoning all cars in Sweden for good.

“It’s the biggest thing we in Sweden can do for the climate.”

Göran Persson, Chairman of the Board of LKAB, said: “What Swedish industry is now doing, spearheaded by LKAB, is to respond to the threatening climate crisis with innovation and technological change. In doing so, we are helping to secure a future for coming generations. This will also create new jobs in the county of Norrbotten, which will become a hub in a green industrial transformation. Succeeding in this will create ripples for generations to come. Not just here, but far beyond our borders.

“Now we are doing, what everyone says must be done.”

Lynas ready for Mt Weld rare earth concentrate boost following dryer delivery

Lynas has taken delivery of a 14-m long, industrial scale dryer at its Mt Weld rare earth operations, in Western Australia.

The use of the dryer is expected to further improve operational efficiency in the production of rare earth concentrate, it said.

“Lynas’ high grade, long life resource at Mt Weld in Western Australia is a key source of competitive advantage and the team is continually investing to enhance operations and ensure sustainable development of the resource,” the company said. “The fired kiln dryer will treat Mt Weld filtered concentrate and replace manual drying of the concentrate in the sun, making the process faster and more cost effective.”

Reducing the moisture levels before shipping creates a number of benefits for the business, including:

  • Lower concentrate freight costs;
  • Improved materials handling as the need to handle the product multiple times is eliminated; and
  • Increased productivity as the use of the dryer will reduce the time spent manually drying the product.

The Mt Weld concentrator is a flotation plant designed to process 240,000 t/y of ore to produce up to 66,000 t/y of concentrate containing 26,500 t of rare earth oxides.

Lynas VP of Upstream, Kam Leung, commented: “The use of the dryer at Mt Weld will provide a number of benefits to the Mt Weld operations, including less handling and lower transport costs. It will also result in an improved product for processing and increase opportunities for team members to focus on other projects.

“We are looking forward to seeing the benefits of reduced moisture levels and to continuing to improve our operations in line with our ongoing commitment to sustainable production.”

Pensana engages Wood Group for UK rare earth processing facility study

Pensana Rare Earths says it has appointed the Wood Group to undertake a study into the establishment of an integrated rare earth processing facility in the UK with a view to creating the world’s first sustainable magnet metal supply chain.

Having progressed the design of the Longonjo rare earths project, in Angola (pictured), to include the production of a mixed rare earth carbonate, Pensana says it now has a unique opportunity to explore the potential for it to make one further step downstream and to create additional value by establishing a rare earth oxide production facility in the UK.

“By linking a mid-stream magnet metal supply with downstream magnet manufacturing capacity there is the potential to create a sustainable magnet metal supply chain at a time of increasing concern over the provenance of these critical metals for the electric vehicle (EV) and offshore wind turbine industries,” the company said.

Following the recent resource upgrade, the Longonjo project is now one of the world’s largest known rare earth resources, according to Pensana.

“To give a sense of scale, the Longonjo project could, together with the UK processing facility, produce enough rare earth oxide to supply the wind turbines at Dogger Bank, projected to be the world’s biggest wind farm, for the next 20 years,” the company said.

With Angola Presidential approval and ongoing financial backing from the Angolan Sovereign Wealth Fund, Pensana’s Longonjo project is well-placed to become the first producing major rare-earth mine in over a decade at a time of burgeoning demand for these critical metals, the company says.

The project is being developed to international standards, has established infrastructure, including the capacity to be entirely powered by hydro-electricity, making Longonjo one of the world’s most sustainable rare earth producers.

Just last week, Pensana announced that Wood and Nagrom, based on test work performed at metallurgical laboratories in Perth, Western Australia, had developed a flowsheet to produce a particularly high-grade MREC, with NdPr comprising 33.5% of the total rare earths content.

Thierry Breton, the EU’s Internal Market Commissioner, recently announced the establishment of a European Raw Materials Alliance recognising that the EU needs to establish sustainable supply and processing capacity of rare earths to support the UK government’s plans for the UK to become the Saudi Arabia of wind, Pensana said.

“Pensana is focused on this broader context and the Wood Group study will take into account sustainable development when considering the process route, preferred location, capital and operating costs, financing arrangements and government incentives relating to the UK project,” it said.

The study is currently expected to take approximately three months to complete.

Pensana Chairman, Paul Atherley, said: “The Wood Group study will look at the first and most important step in creating a sustainable mine to magnet supply chain and that is establishing rare earth processing capability in the UK.”

MineSense, Commerce Resources look at ore sorting options for Ashram REE project

Commerce Resources has started a test project initiative with MineSense as part of its ongoing collaboration with CanmetMINING.

The project with Commerce will include assessing the spectral response on 127 course analytical rejects from drill core, comprising five rock types associated with the Ashram rare earth and fluorspar deposit, in Quebec, Canada.

Of these 127 rejects, a total of 72 are from drill core within the Ashram deposit’s primary mineralised zone: the A-Zone. Based on the information collected, MineSense will be able to assess the laboratory-scale efficacy of its technology to the Ashram deposit material. If successful, a value contribution assessment may be completed as a follow up activity for the Ashram project.

MineSense specialises in digital technology solutions for ore-waste classification in real time at the mining stage (run of mine), thereby providing better grade control compared with that of the deposit block model or mine plan. It uses data analytics, combined with its trademarked ShovelSense and BeltSense technologies, to monitor mineralogical or grade changes in an orebody daily, as it is mined. This information allows for optimal ore blending, grade trend characterisation, and overall improved mine planning with resultant cost efficiencies.

The MineSense technology is based on X-ray Fluorescence sensors fitted to specific pieces of mining equipment to monitor the spectral response of the material being actively mined. The technology provides for a higher level of control compared with the typical ore sorting process which occurs at the truck scale in the process plant, Commerce says.

One of the standout deployments of ShovelSense is at Teck Resources’ Highland Valley Copper (HVC) operations in British Columbia.

The funding for the test work at Ashram is provided by Natural Resources Canada through CanmetMINING’s six-year rare earth element (REE) and chromite program (announced in April 2015), focused on developing new extraction technologies, addressing Canadian environmental challenges, and improving the knowledge of Canadian deposits, Commerce says. The company’s contribution to the collaboration is a supply of REE mineralised material from Ashram, in which several tonnes remain readily available from a bulk sample completed in 2012.

The Ashram deposit outcrops at surface, allowing for cost-effective collection of material for test work. As such, the company is actively engaging with various research and academic institutions to support the advancement of the rare earth element industry in Canada, and in Quebec specifically, it said.

The resource base at Ashram consists of 1.59 Mt of material averaging 1.77% total rare earth oxides (TREO) in the measured category, 27.67 Mt at 1.9% TREO in the indicated category and 219.8 Mt at 1.88% TREO in the inferred category. The preliminary economic assessment outlined a 4,000 t/d open-pit operation with a 0.19:1 (waste:ore) strip ratio over a 25-year mine life. Annual production averaged circa-16,850 t of REO over the life of mine.

Northern Minerals lays the groundwork for Steinert XRT ore sorter installation

Northern Minerals is set to commission a Steinert sensor-based ore sorter for use at its Browns Range rare earth pilot plant, in northern Western Australia, after gaining the relevant regulatory approvals for installation of the machine.

The ore sorting equipment concentrates ore prior to the beneficiation circuit by selecting ore and rejecting waste based on X-ray Transmission. This has the potential to double the feed grade and reduce production costs, according to the company.

Both the Western Australian Office of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation have now cleared the installation and commissioning, with construction commenced on the structural and mechanical equipment (pictured). Commissioning is scheduled for mid-2021.

The total capital investment for the procurement, installation and commissioning of the ore sorter is budgeted at A$5.9 million ($4.3 million), Northern Minerals said.

Previous trials of ore sorting technology at Browns Range, announced in October 2018, identified the potential to double the mill feed grade. This would lead to an increased production rate of heavy rare earth carbonate and a potential lowering of overall operating costs.

Once the ore sorting system is commissioned, Northern Minerals plans to run additional test work at pilot plant scale on all ore types to establish baseline data on feed grade improvements, it said. This work will also help evaluate material flow-through benefits of ore sorting on overall processing efficiencies, feeding into any future commercial, large-scale project feasibility studies at Browns Range.

Northern Minerals says it is also evaluating the economics of further downstream processing options for Browns Range ore.

To date, Browns Range has produced a mixed heavy rare earth carbonate for small-scale export to offtake partners. The options being assessed would take a further step along the supply chain to produce separated heavy rare earth oxides.

The company announced in August 2019 it had commenced a scoping study with US-based K-Technologies Inc to investigate a separation technology on intermediate mixed rare earths materials produced at Browns Range. K-Tech’s technology is focused on continuous ion exchange, continuous ion-chromatography and related advanced separation methodologies.

The study continues to progress well, with positive test results being achieved at K-Tech’s facilities in Florida albeit slower than planned because of constraints associated with COVID-19, Northern Minerals said. However, the company expects to see separated dysprosium and terbium oxides from the study before the end of this year.

Separately to collaborating with K-Tech, Northern Minerals is pursuing studies into traditional solvent extraction to produce oxides from the mixed heavy rare earth material produced at Browns Range.

Northern Minerals CEO, Mark Tory, said: “With approvals in place for the ore sorter and installation now under way, we will be in a strong position to thoroughly evaluate the flow-through benefits of that technology at a pilot plant scale.

“The results will provide a valuable input into future feasibility studies to assess the commercial viability of a large-scale heavy rare earths mining and processing operation at Browns Range.

“In addition to our investment in ore sorting to improve the mill feed grade, we are also committed to assessing opportunities to further unlock value at Browns Range through downstream processing to oxide products, which opens up a wider field of offtake and future project financing opportunities.”

Northern Minerals started producing rare earth carbonate through the Browns Range pilot plant in October 2018 as part of a three-year pilot assessment of economic and temporarily technical feasibility of a larger scale development at Browns Range.

Saskatchewan to create Canada’s first rare earth processing facility at SRC

The Government of Saskatchewan has announced C$31 million ($23 million) in funding for a rare earth processing facility in the province, delivering, it says, on a key element of its 2030 Growth Plan.

The facility will be owned and operated by the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC). It will be the first-of-its-kind in Canada and will begin to establish a rare earth element (REE) supply chain in Saskatchewan, forming an industry model for future commercial REE resource expansion in the province, the government says.

Global demand for REEs will increase significantly in the coming decade as demand for electric vehicles, renewable power generation and all forms of electronics increases, it added.

“Saskatchewan’s new rare earth processing facility will be a catalyst to stimulate the resource sector in Saskatchewan and across Canada, providing the early-stage supply chain needed to generate cash flow, investment and industrial growth of the sector,” Saskatchewan Premier, Scott Moe, said. “It will also help ensure the competitiveness of Saskatchewan as we focus on our economic recovery and grow our province over the next decade.”

Minister responsible for the SRC, Jeremy Harrison, said: “Saskatchewan has a globally recognised mining industry, workforce and culture with local companies already beginning to explore REE deposits both in Saskatchewan, and in surrounding provinces and territories. This facility will allow the REE industry to grow and create both immediate and long-term jobs.”

The conversion of REE ore to individual REE products is carried out in two main stages. The first is the concentration of ore to mixed REE carbonate. The second is the more complex separation stage that converts the mixed REE carbonate to commercial pure-grade REEs. The facility will address both stages of REE processing, according to the government.

The facility will be able to process both main hard rock ores (bastnaesite and monazite) and in the future, will also be capable of processing uranium raffinate concentrate, a rich source of REE from Saskatchewan’s uranium industry.

The facility is expected to be fully operational in late 2022 with construction beginning this autumn.

SRC is Canada’s second largest research and technology organisation. With more than 290 employees, C$91 million in annual revenue and nearly 75 years of experience, SRC provides services and products to its 1,500 clients in 27 countries around the world, it says.

Metso Outotec to supply rotary kiln system for Lynas rare earth plant in Kalgoorlie

Lynas Corp says it has taken a significant step towards developing its new Kalgoorlie rare earths processing plant having awarded Metso Outotec with a contract to supply the plant’s rotary kiln system following a competitive tender process.

The 110 m long, 1,500 t kiln is the largest and longest lead time piece of equipment required for the plant’s operation, according to Lynas.

The contract for engineering and supply of the kiln is valued at around $15 million, including the discharge housing, combustion chamber and burner, motor control stations and delivery to Kalgoorlie.

The kiln will be manufactured by Metso Outotec to Lynas’ own design, which improves on the design of the four 60 m kilns currently in operation at the Lynas Malaysia plant, the company says. The new kiln will provide increased efficiency and reliability, it added.

Lynas CEO and Managing Director, Amanda Lacaze, said: “The kiln is the longest lead time item for our Kalgoorlie project and placing this order is an important milestone in the development of our new processing plant in Kalgoorlie. We are making good progress on the project, and we look forward to working with Metso Outotec on the engineering and supply of the kiln.”

Stephan Kirsch, President Minerals business area, Metso Outotec, said: “We are excited having been selected by Lynas as a key supplier for the development of its significant greenfield project in Western Australia. The Metso rotary kiln system forms an integral part for the processing of rare earths.”

Metso Outotec will commence work on the kiln immediately, with components to be manufactured in Australia as well as in European countries, Lynas said.

The plant will process concentrate from the Mt Weld mine (pictured), also in Western Australia’s Goldfields region, and provide an intermediate feed for further processing to produce neodymium and praseodymium, which are key elements used in high-tech consumer electronics and green energy technologies. Concentrate is currently exported to the Lynas rare earth processing facility in Malaysia.

US Department of Energy to provide funding for coal-based product innovations

The US Department of Energy (DOE) says it intends to make approximately $122 million available to establish coal product innovation centres that focus on manufacturing value-added, carbon-based products from coal, as well developing new methods to extract and process rare earth elements and critical minerals from coal.

The DOE anticipates funding innovation centres in multiple US coal producing basins.

New and existing coalitions of private industry, academia, national laboratories, and state and local governments are encouraged to compete to establish the centres, it said.

“Once established, the public-private innovation centres will research and incubate innovative mining, beneficiation, processing, and purification technologies that are environmentally sustainable,” the DOE said. “Each centre will also provide a foundation for educating the next generation of technicians, skilled workers, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics professionals.”

US Secretary of Energy, Dan Brouillette, said: “It’s vitally important that America develop a viable domestic supply of rare earth elements, critical minerals, and other valuable products from our vast coal resources. This effort moves us closer to that goal.

“The Trump Administration has been aggressively investing in research and development for novel uses of coal that have the potential to create new markets for coal and coal by-products. Sustaining domestic coal production creates new economic opportunity for coal state economies and benefits the nation.”

Examples of US coal basins, which could host an innovation centre, include: the Appalachian basin (Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia), the San Juan River-Raton-Black Mesa basin (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico), the Illinois basin (Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee), the Williston basin (Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota), the Powder River basin (Montana, Wyoming), the Uinta basin (Colorado, Utah), the Green River-Wind River basin (Colorado, Wyoming), the Gulf Coast-Black Warrior basin (Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas), and Alaska, covering 22 states.

The funding for the innovation centres will be provided from the new Carbon Ore, Rare Earths, and Critical Minerals (CORE-CM) Initiative, which is sponsored by DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy. This will be made available through one or more Funding Opportunity Announcements issued this summer by DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), it said.

Steven Winberg, Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy, said: “These planned innovation centres and other efforts supported by the new CORE-CM initiative will build on the amazing work that NETL and our partners have been doing for years on rare earth elements, critical minerals, and value-added products from coal.

“We’re excited about our path forward and the economic opportunity it creates for coal producing regions of the country and the United States.”

Ucore partners with Kingston Process Metallurgy to demo RapidSX technology

Ucore Rare Metals’ wholly-owned subsidiary, Innovation Metals Corp (IMC), has executed a binding agreement with Kingston Process Metallurgy Inc (KPM) that will see Kingston become IMC’s long-term laboratory partner for the commercialisation of the RapidSX™ technology.

The news follows a strategic update from earlier in the month when Ucore said it was evaluating various location opportunities for a “commercialisation-phase” facility where RapidSX was intended eventually to operate at demonstration scale, using a number of customers’ feedstocks.

IMC’s proprietary RapidSX technology is being developed for the cost-effective, bulk/commercial separation and purification of rare-earth elements (REEs) – including both heavy REE (HREEs) and light REEs (LREEs) – for the production of REE oxides (REOs), in addition to other critical metals, such as lithium, nickel and cobalt for lithium-ion battery materials.

IMC developed the RapidSX separation technology with the assistance of $1.8 million in funding from the United States Department of Defense, resulting in the production of commercial-grade, separated REOs at the pilot scale.

“The technology combines the time-proven chemistry of conventional solvent extraction (SX) with a new column-based platform, which significantly reduces time to completion and plant footprint, as well as potentially lowering capital and operating costs,” the company said. “SX is the international REE industry’s standard commercial separation technology and is currently used by 100% of all REE producers worldwide for bulk commercial separation of both HREEs and LREEs.”

The latest agreement has seen IMC secure the premises for the RapidSX Commercialisation and Development Facility (CDF) in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. This will see the RapidSX CDF occupy half (5,000 sq.ft (465 sq.m)) of the KPM pilot facility.

With more than 40 employees, KPM specialises in commercial process development and optimisation, with techno-economic and process modelling in parallel. It has the demonstrated expertise, multidisciplinary skills, and fundamental knowledge to develop concepts and solve unique challenges for its clients, Ucore said.

IMC CEO and Ucore CTO and Director, Dr Gareth Hatch, said: “IMC is thrilled to partner with KPM in the commercialisation of RapidSX. KPM has an accomplished track record of metallurgical process development and commercialisation, with a particular emphasis on clearly establishing the techno-economic feasibility of processes and appropriate unit-operation selection early on in the commercialisation process.”

Pat Ryan, Chairman and Interim CEO of Ucore, said: “The development of an individual REE separation and purification plant is Ucore’s targeted first commercial development component of our strategy.

“In order to meet this critical objective and in the shortest timeframe possible, our planned Alaska Strategic Metals Complex (SMC) will be designed to have the ability to produce REOs from commercially available, US allied-sourced REE feedstocks, addressing US security of supply for the most critical and highest-value REEs, specifically, praseodymium, neodymium, terbium, and dysprosium.

“We expect the Alaska SMC to operate at a commercial scale utilising pre-Bokan mixed REE concentrate feedstocks while the Bokan HREE project continues to be developed.”