InvestorIntel Special Report: Rare Earth Industry Leaders on U.S. Bill HR 4883

HR4883August 13, 2014 — Tracy Weslosky, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of InvestorIntel, speaks to leaders from the rare earths sector in the United States to gauge their support for HR Bill 4883. On June 17 of this year, US House Representative, Steve Stockman, introduced Bill HR 4883 “to provide for the establishment of a National Rare-Earth Refinery Cooperative, and for other purposes. The Bill was referred to the House Committee on Armed Services. The Bill intends to reduce the United States’ reliance on Chinese rare earths by encouraging an increase in US production by facilitating the processing of thorium-bearing rare-earth concentrates as residual unprocessed and unrefined ores. The general point of the law is to encourage the US defense department to purchase rare earth minerals from domestic sources.

Anthony Marchese, the Chairman for Texas Rare Earth Resources Corp (OTCQX: TRER) says that he has spoken to Congressman Stockman, who is from Houston. Anthony says that the Bill “neither helps not hurts us but it is very important in that it focuses the US Congress on the problem of trying to stimulate a domestic rare earth program, especially for defense.”

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Jack Lifton the Founding Principal of Technology Metals Research LLC considers HR 4883 as “the right idea but they’re going at it the wrong way.” Jack is concerned about the emphasis on thorium because “this is something that is not going to happen in any reasonable amount of time.” The main problem is that pegging the advancement of rare earth refining in the United States to an eventual adoption of thorium based nuclear reactors is “simply too long a shot…and thorium is not going to be a good driver for the future of rare earths.”

Jim McKenzie, the President and CEO for Ucore Rare Metals (TSXV: UCU | OTCQX: UURAF), suggests that while it is a commendable effort to encourage the US rare earth industry — Bill 4883 ‘is a little misguided”. In the case of Ucore’s Bokan project, it “just doesn’t apply”, as it has negligible amounts of thorium or uranium bearing ores. Jim advises the public to consider HR Bill 1600, sponsored by Senator Murkowski of Alaska, as it applies to both thorium rich and thorium free rare earth resources.

James C. Kennedy, President of ThREE Consulting has worked on the development of HR 4883. James believes that the rare earth market is neither a ‘free market, a level playing field or the lowest cost producer”. James says that the Bill comes down to an effort to correct the current “legislative and regulatory disadvantage for US and Western producers of rare earths.”

Kevin Cassidy, the CEO for US Rare Earths (OTCBB: UREE), supports any effort to encourage the mining and processing of rare earths in the United States. He says HR 4883 is clearly aimed at allowing “less dependency on China and more self reliance on North American production.” It also encourages manufacturers to return and invest in the United States.


  1. Great job Tracy.

    One comment regarding Jack’s statements; Under H.R. 4883 the centralized refinery comes first. The Thorium Bank can be funded by the RE Cooperative and store thorium for decades if necessary. The alternative is that Ucore, Texas RE and U.S. Rare Earths will ship all of their RE concentrates or oxides to China for processing (this is what Molycorp does now).

    It is unrealistic to believe that any of these firms can independently develop a fully integrated value can that can replicate China’s rare earth value chain that spans 2 cities and includes hundreds of private, government supported or government owned RE technology companies.

    The alternative is that the U.S. becomes locked into being a low value resource supplier to China (Breaking the cycle will only get more difficult over time).

  2. Hi Tracy,
    Long time no chat! I’m glad you did this piece which takes the time to air all sorts of views.

    I think your readers should know that I’ve spoken to various government bodies, both Canadian and US to talk about this whole focus on government involvement in the rare earth market and critical metals. The big problem is that before anyone can make a solid decision on how to better to truly strengthen the positions of both governments, they need to make informed decisions based on true facts and a lot of people are misinformed.

    It’s sad to think that there are people out there who would want to try and get money from their own government knowing that it could be disastrous for tax payers. Building an industry on subsidies and government assistance is almost guaranteed to fail. It’s also sad that these people try and do this while not disclosing their true agendas and economic interests.

    Lastly, I’m assuming that the people involved in this Bill weren’t aware or weren’t told, rather… that there is already a centralized refinery in the works and it’s what we’re doing at Innovation Metals Corp. We are considering US but a final decision won’t be made until we complete the lab scale pilot plant program that we are involved with which is being funded by the US DoD. This funding is a great example of how governments can assist in bringing key technology home but limit their exposure and allow a company to operate in a free market that is not dependent on subsidies. So a centralized refinery is in the works and there’s no need for a government to establish one. It’s going to be like the oil and gas industry where you don’t see junior oil and gas companies building their own refineries, the industry will see that it’s much more cost competitive to ship their concentrate to a facility like ours for processing which will be at a rate much lower than their cost of capital to build one and with much greater economies of scale.

    What’s really shocking is not really what’s in the Bill, it’s what’s not in the Bill like any reference to having the technology needed for a centralized separation plant. It’s a good thing we do!

    But seriously, what I think would be a really good idea is to have an open, online debate and I’d be more than happy to debate anyone on this topic of a centralized separation plant and government involvement. The government is a big corporation and it’s very likely that not everyone has had the same information so if anyone is up for a good debate and if there are those who are interested in hearing the truth come out, then I’d be more than happy to participate and those who turn down an invitation to join in this discussion should be questioned for their authenticity.

    If anyone wants to contact me directly or has questions or comments, please feel free to reach me at pwong@innovationmetals.com. But be careful, I will be the first to tell you that I’m biased because we’re actually building an actual centralized facility but at least I will be able to back up what I saw with facts and I’m willing to debate anyone publicly :)

    Oh, and Tracy, email me and I will send you some pictures of our really cool lab scale pilot plant that is almost finished. We plan on commissioning it in the first week of September.

    Cheers,

    Pat Wong
    CEO, Innovation Metals Corp
    http://www.innovationmetals.com

    • Wong again Pat. Obviously you have not read the bill but are an expert on its content. The bill does not use government funds, loan guarantees or pass losses on to taxpayers.

      Regarding your internationally unknown refinery, it is just one more oxide facility. Like all want-to-be experts you are oblivious to the criticality of the value chain that drives technology and large scale investment related to locating manufacturing facilities (the place that jobs occur).

      Thanks for the misdirection.

      • Since there are only 2 refinery outside of China and none in the US than you have a problem bringing back the Supply Chain to North America. Look at Avalon, the refinery demand first right to all the rare earth they want first to keep all the jobs in Europe.

      • Jim, you’re a funny guy! As if I haven’t heard my last name used in that fashion before!

        Instead of trying to respond with further impudent insults, let me try and explain what a centralized separation plant does. We will in fact, produce not only the separated high purity oxides that end users need but metals as well. This is the part of the value chain that is needed outside of China and the technology required is not that simple.

        Junior mining companies that only produce a mixed REE concentrate are doomed to fail as there are few buyers of such a product. In the current market, chinese companies wouldn’t even buy the concentrate at any price as there is a glut of inventory in the market right now. More importantly mines who are hoping to raise capital off of offtake contracts will not be able to do so unless they produce the products that are connected to these offtake contracts so we will be helping our consortium producers get exactly that and help with offtake contracts.

        The processing and separation of rare earth concentrates is a chemical process that earns a return much less than the cost of capital all junior producers face. To raise money at a high cost of capital to build a separation plant that will earn just 15-20% is a sure way to destroy shareholder value.

        I look forward to having you participate in a public online debate… hopefully Tracy will be able to organize something like this.

        In the absence of debating you in a public forum, I guess proof is ‘in the pudding’ so I invite you to watch for more press releases as we work towards producing a high purity Dy oxide for the DoD program.

        Kind Regards,

        Pat Wong
        CEO, Innovation Metals Corp
        http://www.innovationmetals.com

        • Pat thank you for telling me what I told the DoD and Congress back in 2008 (margins on mining, concentrates, oxides, metals, etc).. I also warned the DoD that post-Molycorp (and Lynas) new private capital will be impossible. Regarding high end uses like yttrium crystals, metals, alloys magnets and components China has two entire cities dedicated to these processes (literally hundreds of highly specialized value-add technology companies). Small stand alone facilities outside China have little prospects for success as technologies and applications change and China ultimately controls the market.

    • If it wasn’t for your company’s announcement I wouldn’t have known to what stage we are at in creating a central processing station. I just sent my reply to Greg Rickford where I stated Canada does not know what it is doing by this simply question: If a central processing plant is built than what do we do next? Your participation in the DOD initiative to do research in Canada does not mean you will have the right to use this technology to build a plant.

      • Hi Daniel,
        I’m glad I was able to introduce to you our centralized separation plant project. With regards to government involvement, Dr. Gareth Hatch, president of IMC is also involved with CREEN.

        This is an industry issue, not a government one. The question of what to do next after a centralized separation plant is a bit confusing because our products will be sold directly to End Users who will also be invited to buy refining capacity to secure their long term needs.

        Think of it as the oil and gas industry where you have producers of ‘crude’ that feed a centralized refinery and End Users buy product from the refinery. In our case, we will be also bridging offtake contracts with producers and End Users. I hope this answers your question, if you have further questions please don’t hesitate to email me.

        Cheers,

        Pat

        • Hi Pat.
          I’ll respond to both your post in one.
          I have read Gareth Hatch articles and find them informative. This is not an industry issue because there is no industry. The mines in North America(heavies) are not in production and there are no End Users in the Supply Chain.
          You propose to make alloys. Are you going to buy a current alloy company from say MCP for a billion plus or are you going to create your own without any track record.
          This is why its a government problem. There is a market failure. Capitalism fails because little capitalist do not have the vision needed to create a supply chain. I’ll give you credit for the initiative you have proven but not for assuming you could create an alloy producer without any experience.
          So back to my question, how do you get there?

      • Pat I cannot think of a worse analogy of the ‘rare earth industry’ than what you have proposed.

        The crude oil business is based on generally homogenous types of crude passing through refineries that make a standardized product.

        If you know anything about end-uses for rare earths you would know that their is nothing standardized about them.

        There are literally THOUSANDS of specific applications.

        Daniel said it best: “this is not an industry because there is no industry”. Bravo.

        • Hey Thanks Jim.
          Just a note DOD is looking specifically for yttrium. A more comparative industry would be refining gold/silver because its that important.
          I think the key is access to new capital markets in Shanghai but then we still run into continental geopolitics. Offtake would only work in Europe and France is decades ahead holding the monopoly outside of China. If the US can make a bargain in US/EU free trade agreement we can form a collaboration with end users.

    • Thank you Pat. I apologize for not responding sooner than later. I would be interested in hearing more, and will call you this week or next. The photos would be of great interest as well. The debate on this piece has been excellent, I just wish that Printus had aired his views. He told me that he did not want to be seen in video because of his future career intentions….

  3. HR4883 & SR2006 , at best, says that the Thorium Storage facility chartered by the bill ( which would have to pay for it self as well as the implementation of the bill itself – nearly the only bill to ever do so ) would be ALLOWED to fund some research in Thorium as a fuel source ,as well as an alloy, a source for medicines, a source for lighting and electronics etc etc.
    At it’s base, the bills just create a very very safe repository to store Thorium and other byproducts from Rare Earth production ( at no cost to the government or users ) – how is that controversial in the least!?!?!

    • Have they ever settled on a location for that repository for spent nuclear fuel? This was supposed to happen a generation or two ago. Last I remember seeing it in the headlines, people in Nevada didn’t want it to be located in some place deep in their mountains. If they have settled on a location, then I would guess it to be not too difficult to make room for thorium also. If they haven’t settled on a location, good luck finding one.

      • Two states have passed resolutions stating that they want to host the RE Cooperative and Thorium Bank (with corresponding city governments that have put themselves forward as the host location). A number of other states are working on similar resolutions.

        • I wouldn’t doubt that it could happen. But, like the spent uranium storage facility that was to have been built decades ago, I’ll believe in it when I see it. Legislation affecting REEs shouldn’t be held hostage to thorium plans.

          The simpler the legislation, the easier it is to pass it and implement it. One A Day could add thorium to their daily vitamin pills, and there would still be significant opposition to storing thorium near where people live. People get emotional about issues. Look at climate change (f/k/a global warming). The climate has always been changing. Mankind has the unique ability to quickly affect it, but the glaciers have been melting since the height of the last ice age, fifteen thousand years ago. Are people going to believe geologists when they tell them that we are probably just in a relatively brief (measured in thousands of years) warm interval between longer episodes of glaciation? Of course not. Similar to climate change, people can get emotional about some issues, and thorium is one of them. Don’t hold REEs hostage to the general public’s bad opinions about thorium.

          • Fred, H.R. 4883 does not prevent, delay or obstruct the development of existing or future RE projects, nor does it kill off alternative legislation. What the bill does is assure creation of a domestic value chain that could process REs for any RE operation in the world. The bill requires the cooperative to offer tolling services so Texas RE, Ucore, U.S. RE, and other RE producers are not forced to sell their concentrates / oxides to China.

            This proposal is inclusive and is designed to put U.S. Economic an National Security concerns first.

            You, Chris and others are making arguments that assure China’s continued control over this space.

  4. I’m curious about what Randy Scott / REE has to say regarding either bill that has been addressed in this conversation, given their refining proprietary process currently being scale tested & patent process ongoing @ this time. Thanks Tracy, great job !

  5. A few comments:

    There are indeed numerous product and quality specifications for the finished REE products used by the supply chain. Once the bulk processing of REE feedstocks has resulted in standard high-purity, separated REE solutions such as chlorides, or compounds such as oxides, finishing or conversion operations are simply applied to produce material with the right final composition, REE and non-REE impurity levels, particle size distribution, moisture content and the like. Yes, these have to be tailored to each specific customer order, but this isn’t rocket science – these are basic, straightforward, industrial materials-handling processes, which would be part of the Innovation Metals facility. It will hardly be “just one more oxide facility”, as Jim disparagingly calls it.

    What isn’t so basic is the processing route to get to the standard separated products (prior to their being finished to customer specifications); that’s where solvent extraction (SX) comes in. While SX is being commercially used in the USA for the separation of light REEs, there is no commercial-scale production of heavy REEs underway. Without the ability to develop and to test the appropriate process-flow diagrams (PFDs) and mass-balance calculations for heavy REE separation, and to optimize them to meet the needs of future feedstock providers (be they in North America or elsewhere), the concept of a centralized refinery is just that – a concept. As my colleague Pat Wong has already stated, Innovation Metals has developed these PFDs and has started the piloting process using a lab-scale facility funded by the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL).

    Again – without understanding and developing the actual processes required for a centralized facility, there is no facility. The junior mining sector is littered with the consequences of blithely assuming that if you can draw a box on a piece of paper and call it a process, then you have yourself a process. If only it was that simple…

    As for going beyond oxides and into metal making, it is a logical progression for a REE separation facility to consider such a step – but we don’t need to pass a bill in Congress to do that. By taking a look at traditional REE metal-making processes, as well as evaluating those more recently developed, there is no technical reason why such capabilities could not be added to the services provided.

    There are also a number of promising new ways to do SX and other separation processes which could be applied to the production of REEs. If proven out at scale, these could significantly reduce the cost of separation, and give a competitive edge against the Chinese producers. Some of these processes are being evaluated as part of the ARL-funded project in which Technology Metals Research and Innovation Metals are involved.

    Obviously all of this has to make sense economically, before being put into operation; having end-use customers in place is also an obvious necessity. I reject the notion, however, that there needs to be a full blown “re-shoring” of, for example, the magnet or other downstream sectors, before an upstream, centralized processing facility can be successfully developed in the USA, Canada or elsewhere.

    I further reject the notion that the above is not possible without US Government intervention on the issue of thorium-bearing mineral feedstocks – or that going the HR 4883 route assures the “creation of a domestic value chain”.

    Given the deterioration of the tone of the comments on this article, I will probably leave it at that. At the end of the day it is doing, not talking, or simply stating that something will be done, which will move the sector forward.

    • So Gareth, how do you avoid simultaneous concentration of Thorium with concentration of the rare earths and subsequent product separation? The claim that you can do so at a cost comparable to current refining operations would be a claim of extraordinary technology and to quote Carl Sagan, “extraordinary claims warrant extraordinary evidence.”

      • Thank you Gareth for your commentary as your expertise and professional perspective is always genuinely appreciated by our audience. As well, I would like to thank Cavan for his questions and feedback…and for using his real name. Now this is the start of an extraordinary relationship. Thank you to everyone involved in this debate as I for one, have learned enough to know — that I know nothing.

    • Gareth if you are correct then you should be taking a huge long position in Molycorp and Lynas. You should also short every other want-to-be RE company because MCP and LYC have infrastructure in place to produce over 50% of global demand…

      Now if we turned this into a math problem you would see that we have a problem on many levels. I am not going to do the work for you, but you need to consider a few things:
      1) the worlds largest producer is the worlds largest consumer
      2) this same mystery country has an official installed capacity equal to 3 times global demand
      3) if production and demand don’t match up funny things happen (you know this …? )
      4) If MCP and LYC run at full capacity why do we need any new Jr. RE companies
      5) considering the stellar performance and fun-time prospects for MCP and LYC who is going to invest the billions necessary to develop another RE mine

      • Hello Jim

        1) is from intentional manipulation of REE markets. If Japan realistically wanted to continue producing REE end products, in order to to keep China from playing with their supply chain, it had to move production to China, thus adding to Chinese demand. I think most ROW countries would not find this a strategically satisfying solution, and hopefully at some point will attempt to remedy the situation.

        2) would have to be broken out into individual elements in order to be successfully analyzed. And then you get into the issue of how realistic the numbers are, when much of Chinese production is black market.

        3) is the obvious, but how well can you analyze shaky numbers?

        4) It’s because you have to analyze each REE separately. MCP and LYC are particularly blessed in REEs that are currently not being prized highly. The junior REE miners are focusing on those REEs that are more highly prized.

        5) Again, grouping all of the REEs together as generic REEs produces questionable analysis.

    • Gareth Hatch
      At least you analyze your own comments, “Obviously all of this has to make sense economically, before being put into operation; having end-use customers in place is also an obvious necessity”
      I disagree with both you and your colleague Pat Wong, lab scale pilot processing is only a drawing of a box. After fifty years of refining an actual Central Processing Plant then we have something to talk about. You need to coordinate the output from the juniors to form the input for the Tolling assuming we get to that stage. Thinking beyond that stage is key to structuring the Plant by looking first at demand AND THE Supply Chain:” Yes, these have to be tailored to each specific customer order, but this isn’t rocket science – these are basic, straightforward, industrial materials-handling processes, which would be part of the Innovation Metals facility. It will hardly be “just one more oxide facility”, as Jim disparagingly calls it.”
      I disagree, you are drawing a box in a multi trillion dollar supply chain that is only workable in a authoritarian state with central strategic planning.
      Market Based Capitalism is a failure. If you cant compete then it is more evolutionary to accept the change.

  6. Yup, and an evidence-based approach is what we shall take. Initial results are very encouraging but there is work to be done.

    As for thorium – the feedstocks that we will be using are high-purity mixed REE precipitates, with the thorium and uranium removed by the producer. Without getting into proprietary information, there are a number of projects under development that are are capable of producing such feedstocks, and have done so in pilot and demo hydrometallurgical plants (or so the chemical analysis would tell us(.

  7. I would have more questions about where you are getting these mystery thorium free precipitates. Either it takes place in a country that has a thorium enhancement friendly policy (read China) and the thorium separation happens post F-block & Yttrium concentration or it takes place in a Thorium regulated country and the Thorium separation occurs pre F- block & Y concentration when you have plenty of ore body in your stream to dilute the thorium. In the former case, your upstream supplier is a state controlled monopoly with designs to move in on your business. That seems like a huge business risk to me, unless of course your harvest plan is to get bought out by said state-controlled monopoly. Also by US law, you cannot be a part of the DoD supply chain whose risks H.R. 4883 is designed to address.

    In the latter case, unless you have some really extraordinary chemical engineering going on, we are talking high volume, high separation factor (Thorium relative to the rare earths), high cost chemistry to maintain the legally required Thorium dilution without losing too much product.

    I suspect though that due to your company’s desire to maintain proprietary secrets you cannot discuss this and thus, cannot provide the general public at this time with the extraordinary evidence needed to justify your extraordinary claim. So when you use this claim to argue against the need for H.R. 4883 whilst simultaneously claiming proprietary secrets, in this state, you are not making an evidence-based argument, you are making a faith-based one because your claims of proprietary knowledge force us to take it on faith that your claims of a viable alternative are true.

    • Plenty of info in the public domain on which projects (all located outside of China) are at the pilot / demo stage. What is proprietary is who we are talking to, not the fact that such companies have completed the work.

  8. As for your characterization of HR 4883 as government intervention, I get it, every business’s first instinct anytime the government tries to change the rules is to loudly scream “government intervention,” so long as the business in question is not benefiting from that government intervention. As far as government entanglement in rare earths is concerned, the damage is already done. It’s been there since the 1980′s classification changes of Thorium as a source material and the desire to regulate Thorium out of proliferation concerns, as ill-founded as they may be, is practically speaking, not going away anytime soon. You’d have as much luck shutting down the federal reserve as you would completely annihilating all government interest in Thorium. Innovation Metals funding by the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL) is evidence of this continued interest.

    its current form, this interest and ongoing intervention creates a market failure, one that at the expense of the most economically efficient producers of rare earth products, favors China and benefits Innovation Metals. HR 4883 performs harm reduction on the already ongoing government intervention. It creates a centralized location that not only grants economy of scale to the bean counters counting every gram of Thorium but it also does so in a manner that has less of a cost footprint on the Rare Earth’s business. Everybody wins, government gets to keep its eye on the Thorium and on the rare earth industry end, the Thorium becomes someone else’s problem. And I know people are going to try to Reductio ad Obama on this, but there is absolutely nothing in this bill that forces anybody to have to go through the central repository. If you like your industry killing thorium regulations, you can run your own refinery with with those industry killing regulations and soon go out of business, just like your predecessors before you with the same exact business plan.

    • Innovation as the only contractor for ARL in Canada is highly doubtful. The process for industry/academia was established in Canada linking the training to create a research alongside manufacturing base that required a single idea to move it along, a central processing plant.
      ARL as part of the DOD 1 billion dollars annual budget can bypass Congress to set this up using the foundation in place.

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