EDITOR: | December 8th, 2014 | 24 Comments

Chinese chemistry history versus the global rare earth separation technology revolution of today

| December 08, 2014 | 24 Comments

Lifton-Jack-1The creative destruction of today’s solvent extraction and ion exchange technologies as used for the individual separation of the rare earths from each other is underway in North America and in Europe.

Why did the creative destruction of these traditional rare earth processing technologies come about in North America and Europe rather than in China?

China developed its rare earth mining and processing industry after the end of its cultural revolution in the late 1970s. Its development gained favor with the central government and became supported financially in 1986 because Deng Xiaoping, who, after a brief inter-regnum, followed Mao Zedong, looked favorably upon the development of a rare earth industry as a wealth creating gift of nature to China. He famously remarked that the Middle East has Oil and China has the Rare Earths.

At first, between 1978 and 1996 Chinese mining engineers simply adopted mass production processing and refining techniques for the separation and purification both of mixtures of ,and then of the individual, rare earths that had previously been developed and proved by experience in Europe and the USA after World War II. Chief among these were separation by repetitive solvent extraction and purification by ion exchange. The principal large installations for the separation of the individual rare earths in 1986 were at Mountain Pass, California (light and mid range rare earth separation) and at La Rochelle, France (total separation of all of the rare earths, light, mid-range, and heavy, from each other). There were also many other much smaller installations for solvent extraction separation and purification of the rare earths in the USA, Europe, and even in the Soviet Union and Empire. Multiple non-Chinese companies at the time in the USA, Europe, and Japan also utilized ion exchange to highly purify small amounts of the individual rare earths. The Chinese benefited from the fact that many of these non-Chinese companies set up processing operations in China to take advantage of raw material availability, low construction costs and the low cost of skilled labor.

China then used this situation to rapidly “acquire” the skills and technologies needed to process and refine rare earth ores and minerals into high added-value downstream products. The first such “Chinese” installations were in Inner Mongolia at Bayanobo where the Chinese developed the largest light rare earth “mining” and refining operation in the world and from where the Chinese rare earth processing industry spread.

When the first “learning” period ended in 1998 China emerged as a rare earth powerhouse. Molycorp, as a bellwether of the changing of the guard, which had been the world’s premier producer/refiner of light rare earths as recently as 1984 shut down its mining operations in 1998 and its solvent extraction based separation operation in 2002. Both shutdowns were due to an inability to compete economically with Chinese vendors of the same products and services that Molycorp had helped China to master.

Between 1996 and 2006 Chinese chemical engineers and metallurgists spent a lot of time and money on the development of specialized solvent extraction (SX) systems by researching and developing optimal operating parameters for the quantitative separation of the rare earths and their associated chemical elements from each other. This work involved not just chemistry and chemical engineering but also computer simulations and the control programs for managing solvent extraction systems that came from those simulations. The same was true of ion exchange technologies used to purify rare earths.

By 2006 the State Key Laboratory for Separation Chemistry at Peking University under Professor Chunhua Yan, who began his career as a student there in 1976, had hundreds of graduate students and more than 100 PhDs studying rare earth separation! The total number of such dedicated specialized researchers in the entire non-Chinese world outside of Peking U did not add up to the same number in total. Software for programmable controllers and related equipment for the solvent extraction operations were one specialty at Peking U; the other was selective extractants.

It was, however, only in 2007 that I became aware that there was a revival of interest in producing and processing the rare earths outside of China, and it seemed to me then that it was specifically driven by the idea of re-starting the world’s formerly largest partially integrated rare earth operation in southern California, USA. This meant not only restarting a mine but, more importantly, restarting a solvent extraction facility that had been closed in 2002 and that had NOT benefited from the then occurring advances in processing technology, in particular for operational technology, for such plants that had been developed in China before or during the shut-down period.

A great deal of time and money was spent on the California mine and facility, after its acquisition by a group of financiers and a trading company in 2007, to, in my opinion, re-invent the wheel, so to speak. Simultaneously Chinese SX facilities were separating into those that were modernizing and those that were simply going forward as before. While the non-Chinese investment community was focused on California’s restart the actual producing rare earth industry in China was evolving into a modern innovative group and a traditional group. Non-Chinese financiers myopically watched and used only the traditional Chinese refiners as a benchmark and gleefully awaited the completion of the California restart as a bigger, better, and, of course, the right-kind of producer (“our” kind). The Chinese government and Chinese finance in the meantime were beginning to worry that the operations of a key industry were becoming chaotic and threatening to have an impact downstream all out of proportion to the industry’s financial footprint due to the critical need for and use of small amounts of the rare earths in an already very large and still growing variety of industrial and consumer goods.

In the first phase of the redevelopment of a total rare earth supply chain outside of China a clever marketing scheme promoted the idea that the most important use of the rare earths was as key materials for the security of the US Military’s ability to have smart weapons. No one seemed to notice that the Chinese military was not part of this promotion. No one at the time said that they (The Chinese) would have “smart weapons” and we wouldn’t. The promoters only said that we wouldn’t have them (smart weapons) if the Chinese had the ability to disrupt our supply of the key (critical) rare earths used to manufacture them.

American news media could visualize an American military failing due to the lack of a raw material but could not even remotely consider or report upon the launching of Chinese nuclear powered submarines or an orbiting space station, since, of course, the USA had already done both.

Absolutely no notice whatsoever was taken between 2007 and 2012 by the burgeoning junior rare earth mining industry outside of China or its pundits or promoters of the fact that China was vastly overcapacitized in light rare earth separation facilities. The same was true for the even more astounding surplus capacity for separating the mid-range and heavy rare earths. In August 2013 at a conference in GanZhou at which I was an invited speaker another presenter showed a chart listing 38 local separation facilities for mid-range and heavy rare earths with a combined capacity of more than 60,000 mt/year, or 4 times the global production of the mid-range and heavy rare earths! The average size of the Ganzhou area SX plants was 1,500 tons per year of output capacity.

The North American and European chemical processing industries have taken note of the revival of interest in the mining and refining of the rare earths and have reaped rich rewards researching methods of beneficiating rare earth “ores,” extracting the desired metal values from the beneficiated ores, and separating the nuisance metals, particularly the radioactive ones, from the solutions to create mixed solutions that contained the concentrated the rare earths.

The mining engineering support companies are bastions of tradition and apostles of cost containment, so it was and has been unlikely that any of them would do research on their own (VERY expensive) or propose such costly work to and on behalf of clients. Research on separation technologies has mostly been done in academic settings and its implementation at scale has always been an economic issue.

However it is also true that the global mining industry’s processing innovation has come mainly from large corporations and governments driven by the necessities both of maintaining markets and supplying materials for war (defense as it has been called for the last two generations).

Recently, the majority of junior rare earth miners have realized to their despair that traditional methods of processing the rare earths into ultimate raw materials for downstream products were very expensive, time consuming, and needful of operating experience, and, that, worst of all, they are necessary in order to bring a mining operation into profitability.

Two solutions to this dilemma have been put forward:

  1. Finding or creating a toll processing facility that could obviate the need for the spending by small junior rare earth mining companies of huge amounts of capital to build a facility that would need years to bring into efficient operation, or
  2. Finding a processing technology that is lower cost and faster to bring into efficient operation.

All of the attention of the punditry and the press has been on the first option above, but fortunately for the non-Chinese junior rare earth miners a number of entrepreneurs in North America and Europe have been studying technologies well known in the metals and materials refining industries to see if they can be applied to the separation of the rare earths individually from each other more efficiently and/or cheaper than solvent extraction and ion exchange.

Academic and academically oriented scientists have also been looking at some new unproven (by experience) technologies to do the same thing.

For the last several years I have been closely following rare earth separation technologies of three types involving the:

  1. Acceleration and improved efficiency of traditional methods, or the
  2. New Application of technologies successful for other metals and materials to the separation of the rare earths, or
  3. New technologies never before tried at scale for the separation of the rare earths.

I have had many discussions with scientists, engineers, and industrial managers; many visits to laboratories and production facilities all over the world (including China), and I have read reams of scientific and engineering reports (and drivel).

My principal metric is cost and that cost must include both CAPEX and OPEX and include total processing time and environmental costs.

Here are the innovations for rare earth separation being tried today:

  1. Accelerated solvent extraction (USA and Europe) including novel extractants,
  2. Continuous Ion Exchange (USA),
  3. Chromatographic systems (USA, Canada, Europe, and Japan) including not only from liquids but also from fractionation of vaporized salts,
  4. Electrolytic separations (USA, Canada, Europe) including from solution and also from molten non-aqueous salts, and
  5. Molecular Recognition Technology (USA)

Each of the above innovative (for rare earth separations) technologies has been demonstrated in the laboratory. Two, perhaps three, that I know of are in process of going to pilot plant operation.

All of them show, on paper, an improvement in cost over solvent extraction as today practiced.

I do not see the Chinese REE processing industry changing over because it has achieved the lowest cost globally for SX and IEX based separation and has literally billions of dollars invested. Nor do I see existing SX plants outside of China with their large unamortized costs being scrapped.

What I do see and believe is that no more large scale general purpose SX plants will be built outside of China. I think that the only reason that Chinese companies such as MinMetal are planning large new SX facilities is that they are among the innovative Chinese companies and will be using accelerated SX or new extractants to improve efficiency and cut costs.

At this moment I am impressed with the streamlined (many less stages and better extractants) SX developed by Innovation Metals Corporation for separating the components of xenotime into individual 99.99% oxide form. I have visited IMC’s kilogram size pilot plant which is running near Toronto, Ontario.

I have also seen bench scale SX operations in Europe to demonstrate streamlined operations for the recovery of the rare earths in magnet scrap.

I am certain that the MRT system designed and built by IBC Advanced Technologies for Ucore’s production of high purity mixed rare earth concentrates works, and I look forward to soon seeing pilot plant results and cost. IBC has built many full scale MRT installations over the last 20-30 years for the extraction and separation of minor metals from large mining and refining operations including some in China that are in operation now. I expect that I will see an IBC MRT pilot plant for the separation of the individual rare earths from each other into high purity forms very soon.

I am also impressed by the Continuous Ion Exchange results that I have seen in the USA successfully applied to rare earth mixtures with high levels of nuisance ions such as aluminum, iron, and fluorine all of which are inimical to SX separation. This work has resulted in low cost preparation of mixed rare earth concentrates ready for SX, or, I think, ready for further individual separation at high purities by further CIC stages.

I have not seen any systems yet requiring prohibitively exotic extractants or too expensive resins.

To summarize at this point let me say that the junior rare earth mining industry was blocked from advancing by 2012 by the lack of affordable separation.

At the beginning of 2015 there are several candidates to replace large scale SX with right-sized lower cost tailored separation operations. Some of these candidates will be successful and they will enable not only tailored right-sized separation facilities but also central facilities that can accept a variety of feed stocks and tailor them to fit the plant.

I will continue to report on each of the state-of-the-art separation/ purification technologies for the rare earths as I get access to information about them.

Institutional investors wake up! A revolution is occurring. Stop looking backwards. The winning teams are on the field; they just need the equipment to do the job.

Jack Lifton


Jack Lifton is the CEO for Jack Lifton, LLC and is a consultant, author, and lecturer on the market fundamentals of technology metals. Technology metals ... <Read more about Jack Lifton>

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  • Daniel

    Not much news on IMC on the net so a pilot plant being built is a surprise especially with DOD awarding TMR with 1.2 mil and IMC as one of the partners. As a private company its financing is limited to private capital so if you have info from your dinner with Tracy and Gareth as to the estimated cost for the pilot plant?
    Possible new technology doesn’t change your original reasoning even if a Toll station is built outside of China for Medium and Heavy RE, Europe, Japan, China have all the down stream manufacturing supply chain. If the US(which you are promoting) does build/finance a Tolling station/new technology they can never use it to rebuild a manufacturing supply chain within the US/Canada. Let see if IMC can snap their fingers and create a multitrillion dollar manufacturing supply chain.

    December 8, 2014 - 4:55 PM

  • Daniel

    If Canada and China can reach an agreement to use their over capacity as Tolling station for Canadian rare earth with an agreement on high tech manufacturing to be relocated to Canada and other parts of the world for the greater good then the 2 year Obama time frame of opportunity would be very interesting.

    December 8, 2014 - 5:14 PM

  • Lid

    Mr. Lifton,
    I do enjoy your speech, If my memory serves me right, in 2012, You and Dr. Richard F. Hammen co-authored a representation about SPE(Solid Phase Extraction), you made as same claim as you made today. Theoretically speaking, except the physical micro structure of the risen, SPE and MRT is same. More than 2 years has gone, I am still wondering about that SPE, according Dr. Richard F. Hammen, They are still doing researching and moving SPE forward, but no time table is laid out about when SPE will be commercially available. Would you please shed some light on that, Thanks ahead. No matter what people call it, selective separation, molecular recognition, they all can be classified into molecular engineering. From a Britain doctor first time figured out why scorpion toxin was attracted to certain brain tumor about 100 years ago till today, this branch of science has been moving steady, slowly and forward. I do wish science and technology is magic wand like many people do, but I do understand science and technology need time to develop. Would you please estimate how long it will take MRT (or SPE) become commercially available again? Thanks.

    December 8, 2014 - 7:54 PM

  • Jack Lifton


    The contract, only a small part of which was awarded to TMR. from the Army Research Laboratory is for the purpose of evaluating rare earth separation technologies. IMC is not a partner of TMR or of the Army. IMC is an award recipient of a grant to build a pilot plant to demonstrate its SX technology. Gareth Hatch in fact was approached by the ARL originally to see if TMR could provide a non-academic look at the technologies being developed. He asked me for my opinion and I agreed that we should undertake such a venture for the Army and that he should propose his IMC venture as a participant. In fact there are four technologies being evaluated and at the end of the contract period there will be a publicly available report of the efficacy and costs of each technology.
    Since the inception of this work I and Gareth have each discovered several more technologies being applied to the separation of the rare earths that were not known to us when we were looking for and choosing candidates for participation in the study. And, in fact, two of those we approached originally declined to participate for (commercial) reasons of their own.
    I do not see the Chinese rare earth industry with its huge investment in traditional and improved SX jumping on the new and newly applied technologies bandwagon. Nor do i see a Canadian Federal or Provincial government investing tens of millions of dollars in any new technologies.
    I will tell you that I do see the Alaskan State Government supporting Ucore’s move into new technology.
    If I had to guess I would say it would be much more likely that Chinese investors would back one or more of these new technologies for rare earth separation as the core of a central processing operation in Canada or the USA than it would be likely for them to finance such a project in their home country.
    I asked the Chinese in August, 2013, if I could use theri excess capacity for tolling material into AND out of China. My proposal was met with open laughter.


    December 8, 2014 - 8:10 PM

  • Jack Lifton


    MRT is already commercially available and in use around the world in commercial production. It has not yet been applied at scale for the production of high purity mixed concentrates of rare earths or for their separation into high purity individual rare earth salts, but those results have been demonstrated at laboratory scale and I believe that they will be done at pilot scale within the next year.

    We will be hearing a lot more about MRT and accelerated SX and Chromatographic and Electrolytic and Continuous Ion Exchange based rare earth separation. The age of traditional SX as the only process to be considered is over.


    December 8, 2014 - 8:17 PM

  • Lid

    Thanks for your time, Mr. Lifton, Would you please give us a little inside information about SPE also, theoretically, SPE is good new tech, and it is better than MRT since the effective bond in SPE is more exposed than in MRT if I did not understand what you and Dr. Richard F. Hammen said in the presentation wrong, and it demonstrated at laboratory scale as well, What holds its leg to move forward? more than 2 years passed, there is still no much progress is made. Thanks.

    December 8, 2014 - 9:34 PM

  • Jack Lifton


    I have had no contact with Dr Hammen or Intellimet for more than a year. For reasons of commercial secrecy Intellimet declined to participate in the Army process evaluation plan, so the truth is I do not know where Intellimet stands in the development of its process. I would not personally characterize Intellimet’s SPE as equivalent to MRT by IBC Advanced Technologies. I do not understand at all what you mean by “effective bond” by the way.


    December 8, 2014 - 10:01 PM

  • Lid

    Thanks Mr. Lifton, what I remember in the presentation you and Dr. Hammen co-authored in 2012, one of the illustration was resin micro structure, SPE use resin with filament like exposed molecular chain to latch out REE, it compared with MRT which is using bead like structure, so the effective chemical bond counts are much less than in SPE, you and Dr. Hammen claimed that was the advantage SPE had. that caught my attention, that is what I meant by effective bond. Theoretically, SX, SPE, MRT are all using selective chemical bond, as long you can find a bond more favorite to REE, you find yourself a re-agent. say, if I find a new solvent contain a chemical bond more effective than everything we know today, I can name it SESX, super effective solvent extraction. the name of the process does not mean much, only what make it work counts, in this case, chemical bond. Thanks again, Mr. Lifton.

    December 8, 2014 - 10:33 PM

  • Chris

    Mr Lifton
    Would greatly appreciate your thoughts on some of the RE juniors current plans to produce a high purity HREE mix containing large quantitie of critical HREE to the ROW market? Would this be a viable business plan in the current market using current technology?

    If not, would using MRT to produce a high purity HREE mix make the same business plan viable?

    December 9, 2014 - 5:55 AM

  • RareEarthGorilla

    Lid, from what I’ve been told, MRT and SPE are vastly different technologies. They do share some similarities in terms of “delivery system” (a pregnant leach solution/ PLS washed through a solid phase “filter”, whether that filter is a solid phase resin, silica, or polymer beads). And yes, they are both nano scale technologies (engineered at a molecular level). But beyond this, the similarities end.

    Ucore tells me that MRT is “supra” molecular (meaning that the bonding occurs outside of the molecule and is therefore relatively easy to detach the bond when the time comes to recover the target metal).

    SPE is “intra” molecular, meaning that the bonding occurs within the molecule and has particular issues in terms of releasing the target metal.

    None of this is particularly important to the lay person. What is important is the degree to which each of the respective technologies are currently in use in mining and industrial environments. As I said in the previous thread, IBC’s MRT technology is now being used in dozens of mines on 5 continents to separate strategic metals. It’s not a theoretical or bench scale technology in terms of the mining world (unlike SPE). In this respect, it’s head and shoulders above any of the other alternatives mentioned in Jack’s article (Accelerated SX, Continuous IE, Chromatographic Systems (such as SPE), and Electrolytic Separations (such as Free Form Electropheresis)).

    There is no substitute for bulk scale experience and actual installations that can be viewed in real world industrial applications (which IBC’s MRT systems have in abundance). You appear to be fixated on theory (Dr. Hammen’s paper from two years ago), when the REE community will be much more concerned with real world proof of efficacy.

    -The Gorilla

    December 9, 2014 - 7:06 AM

  • Daniel

    Mr Lifton

    Thank you for your response. Informative to know you are working with Gareth. Looking forward to the publicly available report of the efficacy and costs of each technology esp since its a private/govt endeavor. Always educational to read both your analysis.
    The Canadian govt is changing its perspective that investment in innovation is the future and you will see more loans like Pratt and Whitney. With all of Canada’s RE deposits restricted from foreign ownership and implementation of creating an industry they have established the base to move forward. The capital market is too restrictive so with the new Yuan Hub we now have access to China’s savings. After the WTO ruling and consolidation of their Industry to a few player I doubt whether those who you inquired Aug 2013 are still laughing. Canada signed a Foreign Investment Protection Agreement at my request which provides some protection for investment from China in Canada. The US is asking for same. With the new Yuan Hub side agreements included a regular consultation bwn Ministers on how to shape new Institutions created by Bretton Woods and that should include a manufacturing supply chain in the integration of the Chinese and Canadian economies. The basis for consultation is to create the framework for a more fair and just world and that includes the world wide manufacturing supply chain.
    I am provoking Gareth and yourself to contribute to a better world because these meetings bwn the Canadian/Chinese government is the only way to shift the macroeconomic structure to include the West.
    Obama got a climate change deal so you should be happy. I asked for a Yuan Hub for Vancouver and set the parameters for discussion for a fair and just world for all the people of the world.

    December 9, 2014 - 1:16 PM

  • Lid

    Gorilla, fancy names do not really mean anything, looking how it works is the key. The targeted molecules are attracted to the bond but not really “bond” to it, there is no chemical reaction happening there. stronger bond can grab target more efficiently, thus harder to release after bond, on the other hand, weaker bond can not grab target as efficiently, but it is more ready to release it. so there is a sweet spot between. beware of people throw out fancy name for processing and claim magic result. What the market wants to see is the cold hard fact that proves commercial viability, not one promise after another. no matter what method is using, all these selective tech are target sensitive, working for one element does not mean working on the other, that is “selective” about.

    December 9, 2014 - 8:28 PM

  • Richard Hammen


    The reason that you have had no contact with IntelliMet is that you did not answer my multiple phone calls for a period of over 2 months in 2013. After that I gave up trying to contact you. We did have an indirect email contact in July 2013, when you recognized the final draft of the peer-reviewed paper that we presented at the COM 2013 meeting in Montreal. In that paper, we described how SPE column technology rapidly separates the subclasses of Ucore’s RE elements with closed loop and zero emission circuits.

    You made a remark that “For reasons of commercial secrecy IntelliMet declined to participate in the Army process evaluation plan, so the truth is I do not know where IntelliMet stands in the development of its process”. This is simply not true. In fact, we reported our work on REE element separations and modeling to complete the DOD project that was publicized by Ucore (http://ucore.com/us-department-of-defense-contracts-with-ucore-for-metallurgical-spe-studies). It has consistently been my desire to move the RE element separation work forward. If I had been invited to participate in the Army process evaluation plan or had been made aware of it, I would have responded with a proposal. Unfortunately, I never knew that such work was being solicited.

    Richard Hammen, Ph.D.

    December 10, 2014 - 12:23 AM

  • Bill Keenes

    Jack, you stated:

    “Why did the creative destruction of these traditional rare earth processing technologies come about”

    as if it’s a “fait accompli”

    and then this ……”I am certain that the MRT system designed and built by IBC Advanced Technologies for Ucore’s production of high purity mixed rare earth concentrates works”

    News flash for you Jack – you have been wrong in the past with many a prediction (would you like me to recite a few), so until “MRT is proven to work commercially for rare earths” – then I remain unconvinced

    December 10, 2014 - 1:21 AM

  • Gareth Hatch

    Richard – this is hardly the appropriate venue for such a discussion, but I must respectfully disagree with your assertion that you were not invited to participate in the program that Jack mentioned. I’ve sent you an email with further information – happy to take this offline at this time.


    December 10, 2014 - 2:34 AM

  • Jack Lifton


    Yes I have been proven wrong on many occasions. To paraphrase the American philosopher of science whose work I studied half a century ago let me say that the scientific mentality may be characterized as the tendency to believe in the truth of a proposition until evidence of an appropriate kind is introduced that refutes it. I used to believe in the proposition that solvent extraction is the lowest cost most efficient way to separate the individual rare earths from one another. I have seen evidence over the last few years that leads me to believe that the proposition just stated is false. I now believe that there are several technologies that can and, if scaled, will replace solvent extraction as practiced today.
    Please note that among these “new” technologies is accelerated solvent extraction as well as MRT and Continuous Ion Exchange. The open question is which ones of the new technologies will scale economically. I now believe that the remaining open question is “when will one or more of these new technologies go into use in mass production?”
    I note that these questions can only be answered through not just science and engineering but also necessarily through good user management and money raising skills. These last skills, management and finance, are the hardest to find especially when institutional investors focus on the short term only.


    December 10, 2014 - 4:05 AM

  • hackenzac

    So what’s the back story here? Everybody was all excited about SPE two years ago, oooh nano technology, pretty slick stuff and now it’s MRT, slicker stuff…….or so you say. This little switcheroo could stand some more explanation imo. Why not SPE? What happened?

    December 10, 2014 - 5:31 AM

  • Indigo Ridge

    Just curious Mr. Hatch… is Innovation Metal’s (IMC) commitment to a centralized separation facility, based on their comprehensive research of SX technology done in China, not a distraction in evaluating Accelerated Solvent Extraction (ASX) or Rapid Solvent Extraction (RSX) processes for the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL)? (http://www.innovationmetals.com/news/imc-participate-us-department-defense-rare-earth-project-launches-lab-scale-solvent-extraction-pilot-plant-program/) Since you are President of IMC, being evaluated, and Principal of TMR, the evaluator, would that not be a conflict of interest? It seems odd that all of the recent breakthroughs in nano technology are not being considered by the (ARL). This is in contrast with recent news from Alex King’s, Critical Material Institute, funded by the US Department of Energy through the Ames Laboratory, national research facility where significant dollars have been set aside for research on the development of ligands (https://www.internal.ameslab.gov/node/8642) separate REEs at nano scale. It is surprising that an informed group like TMR would not include technologies such as SPE, MRT, CIO, FFE and other nanoscale technologies. All of these technologies seem to be cleaner, greener, faster and more economic than SX. If the objective is to restart a secure domestic supply of REE in North America it seems odd that these were not included. I have seen a couple of comments in this thread about attempted contacts in both directions did the ‘dog eat your homework’?


    December 10, 2014 - 10:03 AM

  • Richard Hammen


    Thank you for getting to the heart of the matter. The reality is that there was no problem either with the efficacy or scalabiity or long term operating potential of SPE technology. Our operating characteristics, in my opinion, remain unparalleled to date. The reality is that since Q2 2013 we were unable to close on significant funding of projects to continue development of REE purification with our SPE technology. This was not for lack of a tremendous management level interest from other companies. Unfortunately, in multiple cases, shortly before a funding source would come in, high level pressure was applied to block any financing of our technology.

    Gareth, to reply to your respectful disagreement, we did receive a proposal at some point from an intermediate group (specific name to be unmentioned, due to our NDA with them). The proposal, which did not disclose the original source of funding, would have provided a very small level of funding to perform a challenging scope of work, with extensive reporting requirements. The proposal also required that we license our technology to that intermediate group. I hardly felt that taking on an underfunded project that ended in us licensing our technology rights to Rare Earth processing using SPE was a reasonable business path for IntelliMet, nor did it amount to our turning down US government money to develop our technology for “reasons of commercial secrecy,” as implied by Jack.

    Richard Hammen, Ph.D.
    IntelliMet/Metals US

    December 10, 2014 - 2:43 PM

  • Lid

    Dr. Hammen,
    I truly understand you position. It is very common that some so called smart management try to use a little money to hijack a piece of big new tech. Only truly intelligent people respect truly intelligent work, the second grade in this class think themselves smarter than everybody else, they don’t think they are in second grade. if you look around, it is very easy to spot one or two people like that. When I follow SPE, I find this trend also, you knew what I mean.

    December 10, 2014 - 6:32 PM

  • Indigo Ridge

    Mr Hatch, please help me understand how come the TMR evaluation of REE separation techniques for the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL) missed all the new nano research?

    Innovation Metals (IMC), where you are President, is participating in the program and Technical Metals Research (TMR), where you are Principal, is leading the study.

    IMC is already committed to building a centralized North American REE processing facility based on an extensive research program evaluating Chinese solvent extraction (SX). This would give you a distinct bias for SX technologies.

    Shockingly, the research on the nano-technologies that are all greener, faster, more economic and with higher recovery and purity percentages, were not included in the study. Realizing 20X processing improvements through Accelerated (ASX) or Rapid (RSX) techniques would surely be supportive of your proposed centralized facility but SPE, FFE, MRT and CIX could bring attributes that improve processing metrics by up to 1000X . Quantum changes are needed to help new mines compete in this now completely Chinese industry.

    As an investor in this space and someone willing to bet on ingenuity that brings disruptive change and rewards to otherwise stagnant markets, I am amazed that your ‘conflict of interest’ is tolerated in what could be a brilliant opportunity for the sector.

    Mr Hatch, is something being done to save what looks like a disgraceful waste of research funding?


    December 10, 2014 - 7:53 PM

  • Gareth Hatch

    Hello Richard,

    We have rather different recollections of what transpired, but it’s a moot point now. I’ll leave it at that.


    December 11, 2014 - 6:36 PM

  • Hollis Howard

    Gareth! I am just reading this blog now ….please answer my questions and comments below

    #1 I had absolutely no idea that you and the most respected name in
    rare earth sciences (Jack Lifton) had partnered up!
    #1A Whew…this is going to take awhile to absorb.
    #2 . I have never had the opportunity to interview Intellimet so I
    will not offend their sensibilities….but…..
    2A How could any entity counter the word of the Royal Majesty of RE
    Info (Jack Lifton)??
    #3 I have put the fact that I needed to interview and re-interview
    some of the players mentioned in this article and had 2015 pegged
    as the year I was to do so. I am shocked afgteer reading this that
    #3A as far as Solid Phase extraction which after reading preliminary
    reports seemed to be Holy Grail #1 or Holy Grail #2 as far as
    extractions methods go. I was more than impressed by what the
    Army / Pentagon had reported the results to be.
    #4 I have had my own direct dealings with the Army having a Jim Wesa
    from the Army Arsenal call me personally to inquire about obtaining
    500,000lbs of magnesium powder that I was brokering.
    They wanted this stuff examined to the 9s, which we did and the
    Army approved the purchase. When we went back to buy the
    powder the material had already been sold. Just saying.
    #5 Keep u the good work Gareth and my new friend ..hopefully
    especially since I’m sure you will vouch for me being someone,
    Mr. Jack Lifton (The Worlds most respected authority on Rare Earth
    processing and possibly rare earths themselves.

    December 24, 2014 - 2:42 PM

    • Tracy Weslosky

      Hollis. Let me step in here and clear up a common misperception. 1. Jack Lifton and Gareth Hatch have been partners in Technology Metals Research of TMR as we all call it since 2010. 2. Gareth Hatch and Patrick Wong are also Partners, in a venture — Innovations Metals Corp., or IMC — which I think you are confused about, based on the above commentary: and is indeed something that many people are confused about as 3. Jack is NOT involved in IMC, nor is Patrick involved in TMR. Jack Lifton is a regular columnist on InvestorIntel, and has been since 2009 when it was originally RareMetalBlog.com. Gareth Hatch was one of the original writers for RareMetalBlog, along with Ian London — and Patrick Wong has done a column or two over the years. Hope this helps. Happy Holidays. Tracy

      December 26, 2014 - 9:47 AM

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