Texas Rare Earth Resources Successfully Produces Commercially Marketable Mid/Heavy Rare Earth Concentrate
- Major Rare Earth Industry Milestone
- K-Tech Process Creates Readily Marketable Concentrate from TRER Leach Solution
- TRER Plans to Produce Fully Separated High Purity REE Oxides at Bench Level in the Near Term
Texas Rare Earth Resources Corp. (OTCQX: TRER), an exploration company targeting the heavy rare earth elements, announced today that it has successfully completed the first phase of the stage 2 separation process development, using the K-Technologies, Inc. (K-Tech) Continuous Ion Chromatography (CIC) methodology. In this work, K-Tech removed the light rare earth elements, lanthanum and cerium, from the purified pregnant leach solution (PLS) feedstock in a straightforward, low cost manner. The resultant aqueous product stream can be processed to make a commercially marketable mid/heavy (MH) rare earth mixed concentrate.
Dan Gorski, CEO, remarked: “Removing the low value lanthanum and cerium at an early stage with minimal separation effort bodes well for the overall efficiency and economy of this process and also provides us the option of making a marketable, praseodymium/neodymium plus mid/heavy rare earth concentrate. We intend to examine the economic possibilities of producing and marketing such a concentrate. However, our primary objective over the short term is to use the CIC process to further refine the MH concentrate and to produce individual high purity REE products that meet all commercial specifications.”
Jack Lifton, TRER board member, further commented: “There is a good market today for clean ‘mixed’ concentrates of the critical rare earths (free of radioactivity and of separation chemistry interfering base metals). In particular the market discounts for clean mixtures of the critical heavy rare earths are small enough to warrant marketing them as soon as they are available. Current global producers are offering mixed concentrates of critical rare earths. In the case of TRER we would offer praseodymium, neodymium, terbium, dysprosium, and yttrium. In fact the discounts offered by separation providers for terbium and dysprosium mixed concentrates are so small that the further strategy of separating them into individual rare earth products, either in-house or by tolling, is not economical unless further downstream processing into, for example, magnet alloys, is the target. In my opinion, should TRER decide to directly market its concentrates of mixed critical rare earths, TRER would become the first domestic American rare earth company to join an exclusive global club of sophisticated marketers of the rare earths.”
The overall rare earth recovery process will be carried out in three stages. Stage 1 separates the rare earths as a single group from the bulk of the impurities in the PLS, which is made by irrigating the crushed ore with dilute sulfuric acid. The stage 2 section then processes the mixed rare earth solution from stage 1 to separate the rare earths as groups or product stream branches, e.g. heavies, mids, and lights. After removing the lanthanum/cerium the resultant concentrate could be marketed or further split into the mid and heavy branches. Finally in stage 3, the solution streams produced from stage 2 are further refined to separate the individual rare earths from each other to produce a selected slate of high purity products. Because of the flexibility of the CIC process, individual elements can be sequentially “campaigned” through the same equipment and resin, eliminating the need for a separate product line for each, as is the case with solvent extraction.
The Stage 1 processing, accomplished in January 2015, separated the REE’s from the pregnant leach solution (PLS), resulting in a relatively pure, concentrated mixed rare earths feedstock solution at flow rates suitable for feeding to either a solvent extraction (SX) plant or, as planned by TRER, to a CIC plant. Uranium in the sulfate feedstock solution was not detected by ICP-MS (Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry) analysis, inferring that neither it nor the chemically similar thorium sulfate is captured in Stage 1 and does not enter the REE processing plant.
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The first part of stage 2 refining has now been achieved. This involved the splitting of the feedstock solution from Stage 1 into two parts: (a) a low value branch consisting of lanthanum and cerium that could be warehoused, or sold at a discount; and (b) a high value branch consisting of the remaining rare earths profile (plus yttrium),which can be further refined.
The overall bench procedure used was to (1) produce a pregnant leach solution (PLS) by irrigating crushed ore from the Round Top deposit with dilute sulfuric acid in columns set up in K-Tech’s testing facilities; (2) process this PLS in the initial CIX Stage 1 system to remove the rare earth elements (REEs) from the PLS; (3) feed the rare earth solution to the initial step within the stage 2 ion chromatography (IC) testing system for further rare earths isolation and impurity rejection; (4) further processing to separate the contained rare earths into separate selected groups. This operation is carried out so that the first step is to isolate the lanthanum and cerium.
Using this procedure, K-Tech has produced a mids/heavies steam with a lanthanum/cerium content of less than 8% of the total rare earths present. The rare earth elements that TRER considers economically important, i.e. praseodymium, neodymium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, and yttrium make up approximately 68% of this product stream. This low lanthanum/cerium solution could then be immediately treated to produce a marketable mids/heavies (M/H) rare earth concentrate for sale to other rare earth producers or consumers. Work continues to further improve the efficiency of this step.
Alternatively, the resulting praseodymium/neodymium plus mid and heavy product stream from the stage 2 system could then be further refined in Stage 2 and 3 to ultimately produce selected individual high purity rare earth oxides. Rare earths which are not separated to individual products could be stockpiled as a concentrate for possible future processing, based on developing market conditions, either as individual elemental products or as selected heavy rare earth mixtures.
Most importantly, the materials used in the K-Tech separation processes are non-toxic, non-flammable and readily available from multiple suppliers, in large quantities and at competitive prices, thus limiting single source risks and dependence on a sole supplier of critical materials needed for the process. The principal equipment used in the production process is also commercially available and does not require specialty engineering or manufacturing. TRER’s confidence in K-Tech’s ability to scale the process up to full commercial volumes is supported by their wide experience in the application of these same materials and processing techniques in other large-scale industrial separation processes. These include: food; fertilizer; industrial chemical; hydrometallurgical; bioprocessing; and other applications requiring continuous processing techniques using ion exchange and ion chromatography as the basis for component separations. This assertion will be borne out in subsequent pilot plant testing where much larger quantities of feedstock will be tested.
Economic Potential of the Round Top Deposit
The fortunate coincidence of potentially low mining and heap leaching costs, anticipated efficient processing from a relatively simple, low capital and operating cost CIX/CIC extraction plant, location with access to rail transportation and commercial power, the excellent West Texas labor market, and the number of potentially valuable by-products are economic advantages that speak well for the potential profitability of this mine.
As described in TRER’s Preliminary Economic Analysis of the Round Top project, published in December 2013, the deposit’s grade is similar to the Chinese ionic clay deposits, with recoveries potentially better. Due to the simple mineralogy, favorable physical characteristics of the host rhyolite and column leach testing done to date, the REEs can likely be recovered by relatively low cost heap leaching methods. Citing the 2013 PEA, the deposit contains a Canadian NI 43-101 compliant measured, indicated and inferred resource of 905,899,000 metric tonnes of mineralized rhyolite in the part of the deposit that has been drilled to date. Heavy rare earth elements (HREEs), terbium and heavier plus yttrium, comprise approximately 72% of all of the REEs in the deposit. At the planned mining rate of 20,000 tonnes per day the deposit has a projected mine life of 124 years.
Based on leach data in initial tests, the ore would initially be crushed to approximately 80% passing a 1 1/4 inch screen and stacked on the leach pad. This would eliminate the need for more expensive and energy intensive grinding and other rock beneficiation systems, which can be a significant portion of the capital and operating costs of “conventional” rare earth recovery operations. The leaching agent planned is sulfuric acid, which is relatively inexpensive, locally available and widely used in numerous chemical and hydrometallurgical processes in Texas and the Southwest. It would be applied to the crushed rock as a dilute solution at ambient temperatures. Leaching recoveries seen in testing to date are rounded to 80% for total REEs plus yttrium and 83% for heavy REE’s plus yttrium. Work is continuing to optimize overall leach recovery.
In addition to the REEs, significant amounts of potentially high value byproducts such as lithium, beryllium and uranium are also leached from the ore. TRER recently announced a uranium offtake agreement with UG USA Inc., the United States uranium trading subsidiary of AREVA, a large French multinational firm that is one of the world’s leaders in the nuclear power industry. The uranium is not extracted in the stage 1 process, but remains in the residual PLS solution; it is planned be processed in a facility downstream and physically separate from the REE plant, thus potentially mitigating the permitting procedures. K-Tech has developed specific techniques for uranium recovery from this solution using its CIX technology, and current indications are that uranium recoveries in the 98-99% range are achievable.
Other potentially marketable sulfate byproducts contained in the PLS such as iron, aluminum, magnesium and potassium will be evaluated as metallurgical research continues. The location of the deposit, approximately 3.5 miles from an active railroad yard, makes the production of high volume, low unit value by-products potentially feasible.
About Texas Rare Earth Resources Corp.
Texas Rare Earth Resources Corp.’s primary focus is exploring and, if warranted, developing its Round Top rare earth minerals project located in Hudspeth County, Texas, 85 miles east of El Paso. The Company’s common stock trades on the OTCQX U.S. tier under the symbol “TRER.”
Cautionary Note to Investors
The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) limits disclosure for U.S. reporting purposes to mineral deposits that a company can economically and legally extract or produce. This press release uses certain terms that comply with reporting standards in Canada and certain estimates are made in accordance with Canadian National Instrument NI 43-101 (“NI 43-101”) and the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (“CIM”) – CIM Definition Standards on Mineral Resources and Mineral Reserves, adopted by the CIM Council, as amended (the “CIM Standards”). NI 43-101 is a rule developed by the Canadian Securities Administrators that establishes standards for all public disclosures an issuer makes of scientific and technical information concerning mineral projects. This press release uses the terms “resource,” “measured and indicated mineral resource,” and “inferred mineral resource.” We advise U.S. investors that while these terms are defined in accordance with NI 43-101 such terms are not recognized under the SEC’s Industry Guide 7 and are normally not permitted to be used in reports and registration statements filed with the SEC. Mineral resources in these categories have a great amount of uncertainty as to their economic and legal feasibility. “Inferred resources” have a great amount of uncertainty as to their existence and, under Canadian regulations, cannot form the basis of a pre-feasibility or feasibility study, except in limited circumstances. The SEC normally only permits issuers to report mineralization that does not constitute SEC Industry Guide 7 compliant “reserves” as in-place tonnage and grade without reference to unit measures. Under SEC Industry Guide 7 standards, a “final” or “bankable” feasibility study is required to report reserves, the three-year historical average price is used in any reserve or cash flow analysis to designate reserves and all necessary permits and government approvals must be filed with the appropriate governmental authority. The PEA is not a definitive feasibility study and our Round Top project currently does not contain any known proven or probable ore reserves under SEC Industry Guide 7 reporting standards. The results of the PEA and the recommended mine plan disclosed in this press release are preliminary in nature and include inferred mineral resources that are considered too speculative geologically to have the economic considerations applied to them that would enable them to be categorized as mineral reserves and there is no certainty that the results of the PEA will be realized. Further testing and refinement of the processes described herein is required to determine their economic viability. U.S. investors are urged to consider closely the disclosure in our latest reports and registration statements filed with the SEC. You can review and obtain copies of these filings at http://www.sec.gov/edgar.shtml. U.S. Investors are cautioned not to assume that any defined resource will ever be converted into SEC Industry Guide 7 compliant reserves.
This press release contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of the U.S. Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and U.S. Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, including, but not limited to, statements regarding potential precipitation to produce a commercially marketable mixed concentrate; the potential efficiency and economy of the process for leaching and subsequent separation; further refinement of MH concentrate to produce individual high purity REE products; the ability to successfully market products; the existence of economical markets for products; the completion of Stage 2 bench and Stage 3 pilot plant test work; the ability to upscale bench and pilot tests to actual production; the potential development of the Round Top project; the mine plan and economics from the PEA; the delivery of Uranium if and when the Round Top project is developed and begins production; the potential commercial viability of the Round Top Project; the monetization of other expected byproducts from the Round Top project; and resource estimates. When used in this press release, the words “potential,” “indicate,” “expect,” “intend,” “hopes,” “believe,” “may,” “will,” “if, “anticipate,” and similar expressions are intended to identify forward-looking statements. These statements involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors which may cause the actual results, performance or achievements of the Company to be materially different from any future results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by such statements. Such factors include, among others, risks related to the economics of upscaling processing methods, risks related to the mine plan and economics in the PEA, risks related to the PEA being preliminary in nature, risks related to changes in future operating costs and working capital balance, risks related to mineral estimates, risks related to mining results not matching preliminary tests and risks related to the ability of the company to successfully monetize its non-rare earth resources, as well as those factors discussed under the heading “Risk Factors” in the Company’s latest annual report on Form 10-K, as filed on November 12, 2014, and other documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Except as required by law, the Company assumes no obligation to publicly update any forward-looking statements.
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