While still a long way from operation, more pieces of the puzzle are coming together for Ucore Rare Metals in its pursuit to establish both production and processing of ore from its Bokan Mountain property in Alaska. The company aims to create a new supply of rare earth magnet material on U.S. soil using a processing technology being developed by Innovation Metals Corp., now a recently-acquired subsidiary. (Photo credit: Alaska Industrial Development & Export Authority)
Ucore, which is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, announced in October that it shipped more than 1.5 tons of feedstock from its Bokan-Dotson Ridge Heavy Rare Earth Project to its Innovation Metals facility in Kingston, Ontario, Canada where it will undergo processing via IMC’s RapidSX separation technology. The processing will be a key step for Ucore in demonstrating the viability of its plan for an integrated supply chain. In Kingston, IMC occupies half of a 10,000 sq ft pilot plant owned by Kingston Process Metallurgy which provides contract research and development services to chemical, mining, and metallurgical industries.
The material will be used to produce a purified concentrate that will then be transformed into high-purity rare earth oxides using the technology to demonstrate the suitability of the Bokan material for producing commercial-quality rare earth oxides. IMC will focus on separating the highest-value elements from the Bokan feed specifically, terbium and dysprosium in addition to neodymium and praseodymium.
Bokan Mountain is located at Kendrick Bay on the southern end of Prince of Wales Island, approximately 37 miles southwest of Ketchikan where the separation plant would be sited. In 2014, The Alaska Legislature authorized the Alaska Industrial Development & Export Authority to issue bonds for up to $145 million to finance the infrastructure and construction costs of the project.
In another move, Ucore is advancing development plans for an Alaska Strategic Metals Complex in Ketchikan as the first component, according to Pat Ryan, Ucore chairman. The Alaska SMC is expected to be commissioned and in operation within three years, by the third quarter of 2023, with estimated capital costs of less than $35 million. It will be designed to initially process Tb, Dy, Pr, and Nd from US-allied-sourced feedstocks and, ultimately, feedstock from Bokan, says the company.
“Ucore is developing our heavy REO production facility in Alaska because we believe the need for Bokan to go into production is inevitable. Alaska will be a vital hub for sourcing and subsequent production. In the shorter term, Alaska will be a critical hub for the processing of ‘pre-Bokan’ feedstocks, because that is what is needed now,” stated Mike Schrider, Ucore vice president and chief operating officer. “And when we require additional secure, domestic HREE supply, Bokan will be ready to deliver.”
In May, Ucore announced that it had acquired Innovation Metals and its RapidSX metals separation technology. Now a subsidiary of Ucore, IMC is based in Toronto and headed by Gareth Hatch, CEO. Its process is designed for the low-cost separation and purification of a variety of technology metals via an accelerated form of solvent extraction. It is commercializing the approach to serve mining and metal-recycling companies. Other leaders at IMC include Tyler Dinwoodie, president, and Kurt Forrester, chief operating officer and vice president metallurgy.
“We are grateful to Ucore for providing the financial backing required in 2020 for the continued advancement of RapidSX, and IMC is particularly pleased with the RapidSX development work completed since May 2020,” said Hatch in a progress update in October. The significant contributions of Dr. Kurt Forrester, the KPM technical team and others have been invaluable to the advancement of our RapidSX technology.”
“Additionally, IMC continues to work extensively with US-allied commercial REE feedstock suppliers and several active and near-term REE producers outside of China, who have expressed interest in potentially incorporating the RapidSX technology into their operations.”
Commissioning of the demonstration plant is targeted for Q2 2021. Following the operations to validate the flowsheets and hardware configurations, a comprehensive techno-economic study will be conducted and the design of a commercial-scale REE separation facility will be finalized and is presently targeted for completion in Q4 2021. It is at this point that IMC expects that RapidSX will be ready for commercial adoption and implementation by IMC customers via revenue-producing licensing agreements. For more info, www.ucore.com, www.innovationmetals.com and www.kpm.ca.