EDITOR: | April 16th, 2015 | 12 Comments

Don’t forget America’s rare earth potential

| April 16, 2015 | 12 Comments
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How far out into space would you get piling, one upon one, government reports that were subsequently shelved and not acted upon? Your guess is a good as mine, but it would be a very, very long way.

One such report now seemingly gathering dust was the 104-page report in 2010 from the US Geological Service entitled The Principal Rare Earth Elements Deposits of the United States – A Summary of Domestic Deposits and a Global Perspective. It was of its time: the Americans were terribly worried about their rare earth vulnerability with China controlling world supply.

There will come a time when the report gets dusted off. In the meantime, it is a reminder how much, over the past five years, the concern about rare earth supplies has changed. Also, however, it should not just be forgotten.

At the time the USGS issued its report, Mountain Pass was still closed. That mine is now in operation and some other projects are making solid progress – Bear Lodge in Wyoming, for example, is now slated for start-up in 2017.

Generally speaking, though, action has been slow. This is not surprising given that prices have crumbled and it would be hard for any company to start from scratch in the present climate. That said, the problem for the U.S. (and the West generally) has not gone way. As I reported here on Investor Intel last week, the Japanese and South Koreans seem to have been lulled into a false sense of security by the apparent easy availability of illegally mined rare earths out of China. The Europeans are, by contrast, certainly still worried about their reliance on China. The U.S. still has some focus on the issue, but it is hard to judge sitting here in Australia the degree of urgency (or not) involved. A new rare earth crunch (or crisis) cannot be discounted.

Re-reading the 2010 USGS report, one is struck by the number of projects that were identified. Many will be lower in priority if they are dominated by light rare earth elements, or have very low grades. Apart from Mountain Pass and Bear Lodge, the USGS identified 15 rare earth projects located in the United States.

But I will today just look back at just one, Pea Ridge in Missouri. The 2010 report identified a resource there of 600,000 tonnes, grading at 12% total rare earth oxides, or a contained REE quantity of 72,000 tonnes. Pea Ridge was (and is, as we shall see) an iron ore mine: it was developed in 1957 by the Bethlehem Steel and St Joseph Lead Company and operated until 2001. Immediately after that, the focus became its associated resource of rare earths and that continued to the case for most of the decade.

The USGS report said Pea Ridge, in terms of REE, was dominated by lanthanum and cerium but the breccia pipes were also “relatively enriched” in heavy rare earths, including dysprosium, holmium, erbium, ytterbium, lutetium and yttrium.

In October 2010, just before the USGS report was published, Reuters carried an item that the huge trading company Glencore International and the project’s then owner, Wings Enterprises, were going to re-open Pea Ridge, as both an REE and iron ore operation. They were also going to process the rare earths contained in the mine’s tailings lake, left there from earlier iron mining.

Then in 2012, the St Louis Post Dispatch reported that Wings has sold the project to Canadian company MFC Industrial and St Louis-based Alberici Constructors. The latest news from the latter partner is that Pea Ridge will be restarted, but as a producer of chemical grade magnetite iron concentrates. There is no mention of rare earths.

Earlier in 2010 the USGS had issued separate report on Pea Ridge as part of its minerals at risk efforts. Also in 2012, several REE projects received USGS grants; they were Music Valley in California, a search for undiscovered thorium-REE-uranium deposits in New Mexico, and a buried REE and niobium deposit in southwest Nebraska.

It is useful to be reminded, from time to time, that, in the background, work continues in the U.S. on this very important issue. And there may come a time when Pea Ridge’s REE potential is once again in focus.


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Comments

  • Steve Mackowski

    The breccia pipes of Pea Ridge are an integral component of the underground iron ore deposit. As such it would be very unlikely that the REO could be extracted without development of an iron ore operation. Processing not difficult.

    April 16, 2015 - 2:21 AM

  • Robin Bromby

    Steve – thanks very much. I was hoping that information would be forthcoming to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. Does this mean that renewed iron ore mining will involve the extraction of the REE as well, and that the latter will also end up in the tailings dam?

    April 16, 2015 - 2:29 AM

  • Robin Bromby

    If anyone has updates on the other deposits studied by USGS, please share. I assume there others like me who have lost track of some of these projects. The projects include:

    Bald Mountain, Wyoming — the state published a study 2 yrs ago at http://www.wsgs.wyo.gov/research/minerals/docs/REE_No_65.pdf.

    Iron Hill, Colorado (with 6.9 million tonnes contained TREO, but grading at 0.4%)

    Music Valley, California.

    The USG found that “Approximately 13 million metric tons of rare earth elements (REE) exist within known deposits in the United States, according to the first-ever nationwide estimate of these elements by the U.S. Geological Survey.” A link is at http://www.usgs.gov/newsroom/article_pf.asp?ID=2642

    and that provides the full list.

    April 16, 2015 - 2:39 AM

  • Tracy Weslosky

    Brilliant detective work – thank you Robin…undoubtedly we will have answers within 72hrs. Dan Cordier or James Hedrick will know…

    April 16, 2015 - 8:02 AM

  • Jim B.

    I live in Nebraska and have been watching the Elk Creek niobium development for several years. We went ahead and purchased 10,000 shares of NioCorp last fall. May be more speculation than investing, but the cost to get in has presented a huge upside if mine is constructed.

    April 22, 2015 - 6:22 PM

  • Tim Ainsworth

    “Don’t forget America’s rare earth potential” is probably just as relevant downstream as anywhere else, as this current release from Ames screams out: “Ames Laboratory scientists create cheaper magnetic material for cars, wind turbines”.

    “Experiments performed at Ames Laboratory …….. demonstrated that the cerium-containing alloy’s intrinsic coercivity–the ability of a magnetic material to resist demagnetization–far exceeds that of dysprosium-containing magnets at high temperatures. The materials are at least 20 to 40 percent cheaper than the dysprosium-containing magnets.”

    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2015-04/dl-als042415.php

    Appears the Govt sponsored research of EU, Jap & US into RE replacements has largely confirmed the fundamental importance of LRE while dramatically reducing or perhaps eliminating the need for HRE, certainly the major commercial apps in phosphors & magnetics.

    Is this ROW response to Chinese monopoly? Far more cost efficient, broad based use of RE, developing off alt supply.

    April 25, 2015 - 3:33 AM

  • Tim Ainsworth

    Lol Bob, I very much doubt it, but how much of the ferrite & SmCo markets would be available on cost efficiency?

    Ce surplus results directly from Chinese greed, they’ll eventually sort it, same as ROW innovation appears to be sorting the HRE blackmail fairly effectively.

    April 25, 2015 - 9:18 AM

  • Tim Ainsworth

    “…. the intrinsic coercivity of (Nd 0.8 Ce 0.2 ) 2.4 Fe 12 Co 2 B melt spun ribbon and hot pressed magnets is higher than that of 5.9 wt% Dy….”

    Ce substitutes 20% Nd, perhaps not insignificant given broad acceptance on significantly lower cost base.

    April 25, 2015 - 4:34 PM

  • Bill

    Seriously Tim, all you need to do is a google search on “Cerium and Cobalt Permanent Magnets” and you will see they have been making them since 1967

    April 26, 2015 - 12:03 AM

  • Tim Ainsworth

    Really Bill, still a paid up member of the Dysy 1.01 crew? Perhaps you should get your head outta the sand and learn to read some detail:
    “Previous attempts to use cerium in rare-earth magnets failed because it reduces the Curie temperature–the temperature above which an alloy loses its permanent magnet properties. But the research team discovered that co-doping with cobalt allowed them to substitute cerium for dysprosium without losing desired magnetic properties.”

    April 26, 2015 - 2:48 AM

  • Bill

    Tim, what part of they have been using Cerium and Cobalt in permanent magnets since 1967 didn’t you understand:-

    1967:
    http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/journal/jap/38/3/10.1063/1.1709459

    1969:
    http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/journal/jap/40/3/10.1063/1.1657619

    1974:
    http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/login.jsp?tp=&arnumber=1058334&url=http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpls/abs_all.jsp?arnumber=1058334

    1957 & 1960 Patent Citations + 1967 through to 2004 numerous references
    http://www.google.com/patents/US3421889

    1970; 1973; 1974; & 1975 Patent Citations
    http://www.google.com/patents/US4144105

    April 26, 2015 - 4:05 AM

  • Tim Ainsworth
    April 26, 2015 - 11:27 AM

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