After achieving a cost-effective and highly efficient (+80% recovery rates) method to produce zirconium to maximize the value of its Strange Lake rare earths deposit, Quest Rare Minerals Ltd. (TSX: QRM | NYSE MKT: QRM) has announced that it has extracted an 84% pure “heavy rare earth plus yttrium” (HREE+Y) concentrate with a 75% yttrium oxide content. Quest said that the chemistry results of the HREE+Y concentrate meet the requirements of its potential customers while it has already signed an agreement to supply zirconia filter cake material to TAM Ceramics for quality evaluation. Quest and TAM recently entered into a non-binding Letter of Intent with respect to the purchase by TAM of all of Strange Lake’s annual zirconia production, proving its ability to address increased demand for permanent magnets, phosphors and pigments.
Quest is also in discussions with potential industrial partners for evaluations of the product results obtained to date. The chemistry received from the HREE+Y concentrate addresses the ideal metal distribution requirements of one of the third parties with which Quest is currently in discussions. In an ongoing pursuit to optimize recovery from the Strange Lake flow sheet, Quest has already delivered an LREE concentrate containing lanthanum, cerium and sufficient amounts of praseodymium, neodymium and gadolinium to add significant value. Quest has been working with the Helmholtz Institute for Resource Technology in Germany and SGS in Lakefield, to review and constantly improve its metallurgical processes. Quest is also working on a forthcoming full demonstration pilot plant, which will see much higher process capacities than the already operating a mini-pilot plant while it reaches completion on the pre-feasibility study for the Strange Lake B-Zone.
Quest and its investors have two reasons to be confident in its future. The first is that it has access to what is one of the largest heavy rare earths (HREE) deposits in the world. The second, and perhaps more important reason, is that the company has spent considerable energy on developing its metallurgical processes to maximize potential, focusing on production and on the market appeal of its products, which is coherent with Quest’s plan to become a leader in the manufacturing and marketing of rare metal oxides and related minerals — banking on a long predicted mine life and proven processing technology. In other words, Quest is pursuing its path to production with the needs of the end user – that is the customer – in mind. This strategy is also valuable where the seemingly overwhelming competition from China is concerned. Chinese rare earth producers are facing difficulties, having become increasingly aware of the harmful effects that occur when environmental considerations are overlooked.
Such oversights may have helped attract business initially, but Chinese rare earth companies have already been force to operate under a stricter regulatory framework. By focusing on research and new metallurgical processes, companies such as Quest can not only deliver high quality products but also develop solutions to overcome these difficulties and eventually reach a more international regulatory framework that makes it more difficult for one power to hoard a critical resource space. One of the key drivers of improving processing techniques is the reduction of energy consumption. Mines focusing on efficient operations and efficient processing, such as Quest, will be in a position to benefit. To this effect, Quest announced that it will work with the Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology (HIF) in Germany. The Institute’s goal is to develop “innovative technologies for the economy so that mineral and metalliferous raw materials can be made available and used more efficiently and recycled in an environmentally friendly manner”.