Rare Earths: Ucore looking to scale up its rare earths separation technology


Ucore Rare Metals has decided to build its first Strategic Metals Complex (SMC) for the separation of rare earths in the town of Ketchikan, southeast Alaska. This location would also serve as a proximal processing facility for its wholly-owned Bokan-Dotson Ridge heavy rare earth project, which hosts a resource of 5.8Mt at 0.6% REO, of which more than 40% is held as heavy rare earths and yttrium. The SMC is to be based on the SuperLig-One pilot plant technology, which the company believes can be scaled up to commercial levels of production. In August 2017, Orca Holdings paid Ucore US$2.5M for the SuperLig-One pilot plant and is leasing it back to Ucore over a 3-year term at an annual lease rate of 15 percent.

Roskill view: Rare earths are inherently difficult to separate because of their chemical characteristics and affinity to stick together throughout geological processes, leading to ore deposits enriched in the suite of 15 elements that make up the rare earths. In 2016, Ucore entered into collaboration with IBC Advanced Technologies to build the SuperLig-One pilot plant in Utah using proprietary molecular recognition technology (MRT) with metal-sensitive ligand compounds to separate rare earths in solution. SuperLig-One is reported to conform to higher environmental standards compared to traditional solvent extraction methods. Following stringent environmental reforms in China, which lead to prolonged closures of key processing facilities, the potential to secure rare earth compounds used in new energy and high-tech applications is at the helm of downstream producers.