The company is expected to send material from its Ashram project in Quebec to Ucore’s planned rare earths separation facility and Strategic Metals Complex (SMC) in Utah. Bench and pilot-scale testing on the feedstock’s metallurgy and metals separation metrics will then be completed.
The goal of the program will be to determine whether concentrate from Ashram is suitable as potential feedstock for the SMC. IBC Advanced Technologies will handle the bench work, and Ucore’s SuperLig®-One MRT pilot plant will take care of pilot-scale testing. A long-term supply partnership and offtake agreement are possible.
The SuperLig®-One MRT pilot plant uses a pregnant leach solution to produce carbonate salts of dysprosium, europium and terbium. IBC and Ucore formed a joint venture to deploy the SuperLig® technology in 2015. In March, Ucore entered an option-to-purchase agreement with IBC that gives Ucore the chance to buy IBC before March 2019.
Jim McKenzie, president and CEO of Ucore, said, “[i]n combination with the SMC, Ashram promises to be a key link in a self-contained North American REE supply chain.”
China currently controls over 90 percent of the global rare earths market, and Ucore is not the only company attempting to diversify global supply. In the US, a rare earths mine owned by bankrupt firm Molycorp will go to auction to determine a new owner on June 14.
A team of US hedge funds is vying for ownership of the mine, which The Financial Times calls “the only significant US source of the rare earth elements used in advanced electronics and some defense applications.” Rare earths are also used in magnets, batteries and wind turbines.
However, a Chinese rare earths company is also looking to purchase the mine. Interestingly, a recent report from Research and Markets explains that China once owned over 70 percent of global rare earths deposits, but by the end of 2016 reserves depletion had sent the proportion down to 37 percent. China remains the top producer of rare earths.
Companies outside North America are also looking to become non-Chinese rare earths suppliers. Rainbow Rare Earths (LSE:RBW) said on Monday (June 5), that it is on track to begin production at its Gakara project in East Africa in Q4 2017. The company says Gakara is “one of the highest grade rare earth element mining projects globally,” and it signed an offtake agreement for material from the project with ThyssenKrupp Metallurgical Products in 2015.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Shaw, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.