USA Rare Earth completes Phase I separation and processing test work
USA Rare Earth LLC, the funding and development partner of the Round Top Heavy Rare Earth and Critical Minerals Project in West Texas, together with Texas Mineral Resources Corp. (OTCQB: TMRC), is pleased to announce that it has successfully completed its Phase I bench scale testing at Inventure Renewables, Inc.’s laboratory in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. This phase of work utilized feed solutions produced from pilot heap leach columns processing ore from Round Top.
This important milestone demonstrates the ability to load and concentrate rare earths (REEs) in the presence of high concentrations of non-REEs, including other critical minerals such as lithium. REE concentrations were increased more than six-fold with a commensurate reduction in impurities. Weak acid rinsing demonstrated enhanced separation of REEs from non-REEs.
“This is an important step towards USA Rare Earth’s objective to build the first rare earth and critical minerals processing facility outside China and to bring the Round Top project into full commercial production,” said Pini Althaus, CEO of USA Rare Earth. “Our Colorado pilot plant will have the ability to produce the full range of high purity, separated rare earths as well as other critical minerals such as lithium.
“I especially want to commend our team for maintaining such an aggressive development timetable, even as we all cope with the COVID pandemic,” Mr. Althaus continued.
These results provide the baseline for initiating the Pilot Plant operation at USA Rare Earth’s rare earth and critical minerals processing facility in Wheat Ridge, CO. The first of three Continuous Ion Exchange (CIX) Pilot Plant units was delivered in early March and is planned to be commissioned in early June as COVID-19-related travel restrictions are relaxed. The 30-column units readily enable rinsing, washing and solution recycling in a fully automated process that greatly simplifies the optimization of the process now that the base case parameters have been established in the laboratory.
Richard Shaw, principal of Fenix NZ, stated, “The success of this first phase of work, concentrating the rare earths and obtaining a clean separation from other minerals, is an important validation of our processing, using CIX. The ion exchange process is widely used in other industries and has been used in China and elsewhere to achieve high purity separation of rare earths. In the coming months, we expect to achieve the goal of separated, high purity rare earth compounds and other targeted metals such as lithium as we scale up towards a commercial pilot plant.”
USA Rare Earth has a three-pronged mine-to-magnet strategy to establish a resilient, 100 percent domestic supply chain for rare earth magnets, which are essential for modern manufacturing ranging from defense applications, wind turbines, electric vehicles, smartphones and in many medical devices.
“Our pilot plant is the second link in a 100 percent U.S.-based rare earth oxide supply chain, drawing on feedstock from our Round Top deposit. Together with our recently acquired rare earth magnet platform, Round Top and our pilot plant constitute essential links in restoring a mine-to-magnet domestic U.S. rare earth supply chain without the material ever leaving the United States, thereby alleviating the current dependence on China for both raw materials and mineral processing,” Althaus explained.
The next phase of USA Rare Earth’s pilot work will focus on group separation into heavy (dysprosium, terbium), middle, and light REEs (neodymium, praseodymium). The third and final phase of the pilot work will be the further separation of high purity individual REE compounds.