Energy Fuels set to enter commercial rare earth business 2021
Energy Fuels Inc., known primarily for its work in the uranium sector, is poised to enter the rare earth sector through a three-year agreement with the Chemours Company in which Energy Fuels will acquire a minimum of 2.2 kt/a (2,500 stpy) of natural monazite sands, one of the highest-grade rare earth element minerals in the world.
In a statement, Energy Fuels said it expects to process this monazite at its White Mesa Mill in Utah in the first quarter of 2021, recover the contained uranium and produce a marketable mixed REE carbonate, representing an extremely important step toward re-establishing a fully-integrated U.S. REE supply chain.
Upon a successful ramp-up of this program, Energy Fuels will be the first U.S. company in several years to produce a marketable mixed REE concentrate ready for separation on a commercial scale.
“With our announcement today, southeast Utah is fast becoming America’s clean energy and critical minerals hub,” said Mark S. Chalmers, President and CEO of Energy Fuels. “Our goal is to domestically produce the raw materials needed for clean energy and advanced technologies, while creating green jobs in an economically challenged part of the country. Currently, the U.S. imports nearly all of our rare earth, uranium and vanadium requirements, despite having ample supplies here in the U.S. Importantly, in the United States we are highly regulated and operate to the highest standards, which means we produce these minerals more responsibly than many of the countries from which we currently import. Our agreement with Chemours may be the beginning of a real success story, not only for Energy Fuels, but also for local communities, Native Americans, conservation groups, the State of Utah, and the U.S. as a whole.”
Energy Fuels estimates that the amount of REEs contained in the monazite sands to be supplied by Chemours will equal close to 10 percent of total current U.S. REE demand, as contained in end-use products.
REEs are the building-blocks of a wide array of clean energy and advanced technologies. Monazite also contains significant recoverable quantities of uranium, which fuels the production of carbon-free electricity using nuclear technology.
“Our partnership with Energy Fuels to help support the rare earth supply chain in the U.S. came from a deliberate process of customer engagement and developing sustainable solutions for our critical minerals. This is consistent with Chemours’ goals of supporting advanced technologies and clean energy, and we will continue efforts to grow and diversify the domestic supply chain,” said Bryan Snell, President of Titanium Technologies at Chemours.
Typical monazite sand ores from the southeast U.S. average about 55 percent total rare earth oxides (TREO) and 0.20 percent uranium, which is the typical grade of uranium found in uranium mines that have historically fed the White Mesa Mill. Of the 55 percent TREO typically found in the monazite sands, the neodymium and praseodymium oxides (NdPr) comprise approximately 22 percent of the TREO. Nd and Pr are among the most valuable of the REEs, as they are the key ingredient in the manufacture of high-strength permanent magnets which are essential to the lightweight and powerful motors required in electric vehicles and permanent magnet wind turbines used for renewable energy generation, as well as to an array of other modern technologies.
The monazite sands will be from Chemours’ Offerman Mineral Sand Plant in Georgia. Shipments of monazite sands from Georgia to the White Mesa Mill in Utah are expected to commence in the first quarter of 2021.
Energy Fuels is also in discussions with other entities to acquire additional supplies of monazite and is working with the U.S. Department of Energy to evaluate the potential to process other types of REE and uranium bearing ores at the White Mesa Mill produced from coal-based resources. Energy Fuels has a goal to process more than 14.5 kt/a (15,000 stpy) tons of monazite and other sources for the recovery of REEs and uranium.
Energy Fuels currently has 1.5 million tons of existing capacity in its fully-constructed, state-of-the-art, 1,000-year design tailings impoundments. Therefore, the annual waste streams from monazite ore processing will represent less than 1 percent of existing tailings capacity. Even at higher levels of monazite processing, very little waste will be generated.