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Ucore Rare Metals is building its rare earths Field of Dreams with RapidSX

To misquote the famous line in the 1989 movie ‘Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come” (the actual line from the movie is he will come – referring either to Kevin Costner’s character’s father or shoeless Joe Jackson or perhaps both). Making a giant leap from that to the world we find ourselves in today, where 80% of the worlds rare earth resources are controlled by China, if you build it, or at least can process the raw materials into rare earth oxides (REOs), then arguably everyone will come. OK, maybe that was a bad segue but you’re just going to have to live with it. The point is, there are billions of dollars being invested over the next couple of years on EV battery manufacturing facilities in North America and the U.S. has recently implemented legislation (the Inflation Reduction Act), which requires that 40% of battery components be sourced from factories in the U.S. or its free trade agreement partners, and that Chinese components and minerals be phased out beginning in 2024. On-shoring is the name of the game as we transition to a lower carbon future.

There are numerous rare earth explorers pursuing processing capabilities but perhaps no one is closer to commissioning than Ucore Rare Metals Inc. (TSXV: UCU | OTCQX: UURAF). Ucore is focused on rare- and critical-metals resources, extraction, beneficiation, and separation technologies with the potential for production, growth, and scalability. Ucore has an effective 100% ownership stake in the Bokan-Dotson Ridge Rare Earth Element Project in Southeast Alaska. Ucore’s vision includes disrupting the People’s Republic of China’s control of the U.S. rare earths supply chain through the near-term development of heavy and light rare-earth processing facilities — including the Alaska Strategic Metals Complex in Southeast Alaska. And to that end Innovation Metals Corp., a wholly owned Ucore subsidiary, has developed the RapidSX separation technology resulting in the production of commercial-grade, separated rare earth oxides at the pilot scale.

Sounds promising but what exactly is RapidSX? The process combines the time-proven chemistry of conventional solvent extraction (SX) with a new column-based platform, which significantly reduces time to completion and plant footprint, as well as potentially lowering capital and operating costs. SX is the international rare earth industry’s standard commercial separation technology and is currently used by 100% of all rare earth producers worldwide for bulk commercial separation of both heavy and light rare earths. Utilizing similar chemistry to conventional SX, RapidSX is not a new technology but represents a significant improvement on the well-established, well-understood, proven conventional SX separation technology preferred by rare earth producers. As an investor, I prefer disruption of existing technology versus reinventing the wheel as it is typically more capital efficient and quicker to market, unless of course, it’s cold fusion type of disruption, in which case I’m all ears.

As for the progress of RapidSX, Ucore announced in mid-July that it had upscaled its rare earth Demonstration Plant capabilities and streamlined the RapidSX commercial deployment plan. In early 2022 Ucore received very positive results from the independent RapidSX technology evaluation, including the conclusion that a RapidSX production plant can potentially have a 2/3rds smaller footprint than a conventional SX facility with the same throughput. The team then received buy-in from all stakeholders to expand the design and construction of the Demo Plant. Ucore’s enhanced Demo Plant will be able to process: tens of tonnes of mixed rare earth concentrate on a per annum basis; many feedstock sources, including planned light and heavy rare earth element feedstocks for the Strategic Metals Complexes; and all RapidSX splits required to produce individual praseodymium, neodymium, terbium, and dysprosium. Ucore has planned product qualification trials in Q4-2022 for prospective North American metal/alloy makers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

All this is only one aspect of Ucore’s business, they are also a rare earth explorer with the advanced Bokan-Dotson Ridge rare earth deposit. Highlights at Bokan include a NI 43-101 Preliminary Economic Assessment, with a resource estimate that remains open down-dip and on-strike with further drilling planned. The project can be “near shovel ready” for construction in less than 30 months after receipt of the next stage of development funding. And the Company boasts that Bokan is the highest grade NI 43-101 HREE resource in the U.S. But we’ll save digging further into the details on Bokan for another day.

Bottom line, Ucore is very close to churning out rare earth oxide material at its Demonstration Plant which could lead to supply offtake agreements with EV manufacturers and/or other downstream customers. This could be huge for Ucore in light of the fact that on-shoring is going to be a high priority for the foreseeable future. With a market cap of C$34 million, there could be a bright future for Ucore if all the pieces fall into place.




American Rare Earths triples the Halleck Creek exploration target in Wyoming

It has become somewhat of a truism that critical minerals such as rare earths are key building blocks for renewable energy, green tech, and electric vehicle applications. And with both governments and corporations understanding the importance of diversifying the supply of these critical minerals to include domestic sources, once again American Rare Earths Limited (ASX: ARR | OTCQB: ARRNF) is in the news with its announcement of the upgrading of its exploration target at Halleck Creek.

On September 1st, American Rare Earths announced a 328% increase to its JORC-compliant Exploration Target outlining between 1.01 and 1.27 billion tonnes of rare earth element (REE) mineralization with projected TREO (Total Rare Earth Oxides) grades ranging between 2,245 ppm and 2,807 ppm based on surface sampling and drilling data. This more than triples the previously reported exploration target at Halleck Creek of between 308 to 385 million tonnes of REE mineralization.

The release also reported the potential grade ranges at Halleck Creek, indicating that between 2.8 and 3.56 million in situ tonnes of TREO might exist at Halleck Creek. There are also estimated between 692,000 and 865,000 tonnes of total Magnetic Rare Earth Oxides (MREO) and from 641,000 to 801,000 tonnes of Neodymium and Praseodymium (NdPr) in situ tonnes at the project.

The technical team at American Rare Earths have developed conceptual volumetric models to estimate the volumes of REEs in various zones of the Halleck Creek project. Their team used surface sample data points as guidelines for the exportation target extents.

This news confirms the potential of the project to become one of the largest rare earth projects in the United States, and one of the very few to exceed one billion tonnes worldwide. In releasing the target Managing Director/CEO Chris Gibbs observed that the “Halleck Creek project is shaping up to become a world class asset.”

The company’s drilling campaign at Halleck Creek is getting closer to completion in the short-term, and the data collected from this drilling will be used to prepare detailed geological models of the area. Additionally, they are beginning metallurgy test work on Halleck Creek ore by Wood & Nagrom, that are based in Western Australia. These models and tests will give further underpinning for the exploration target upon the Halleck Creek project.

American Rare Earths is planning to release the results of its first JORC resource at Halleck Creek in the first quarter of 2023, which should give a better idea of the actual exploration target. It is worth reminding investors that ARR already has a sizeable rare earths and scandium (Sc) resource on its La Paz Project in Arizona.

One should note that American Rare Earths is financially well-positioned with a recent successful placement under its belt allowing it to move quickly in advancing this project in the mining-friendly jurisdiction of Wyoming. A most timely move, having acquired the Halleck Creek Rare Earths property in the first half of 2021. Of course, no one will know for sure how much of a contribution that Halleck Creek will make to regaining US independence in rare earth supplies until mining is underway. However, the groundwork is being laid for American Rare Earths to become a major player in the critical minerals sector in the near and foreseeable future.




Rare earths expert Alastair Neill on Vital Metals

“Overall Vital appears well on the way to producing commercial quantities of rare earth concentrate, a first in Canada.” — Alastair Neill, President, Critical Minerals Institute

Vital Metals Limited (ASX: VML | OTCQB: VTMXF) is an Australian listed company whose subsidiary, Cheetah Resources, is developing the Nechalacho project in the Northwest Territories of Canada. The deposit was previously owned by Avalon Advanced Materials Inc. (TSX: AVL | OTCQB: AVLNF), and they sold the rights in 2019 to Cheetah for the material 150 meters above sea level. Avalon retained the rights to the basal zone deposit which is underground. The deposit is reported to have 94.7 million tonnes at 1.46% REO (0.1% Nd/Pr cutoff). The mineral hosting the rare earths is bastnaesite, which is good as this mineral has been processing successfully for many years.

Vital raised A$45 million recently through a targeted share placement at A$0.04 per share. According to their press release the funds will be used for:

  • Finalisation of construction activities and undertake commissioning, ramp-up and operations at its Rare Earth Extraction Facility in Saskatoon, which will produce a rare earth carbonate product
  • Accelerated development of Tardiff deposit at Nechalacho, Canada, including mining studies

A strong balance sheet for ongoing working capital requirements

This project is the most advanced rare earth project currently in Canada. The initial focus is the North T zone which has a resource of 101,000 metric tonnes at 9.01% contained Total Rare Earth Oxides (TREO). Based on tests run at their Saskatoon rare earth extraction plant they can get a 75% recovery to produce a 43.7% concentrate. Based on this, the deposit would produce 6,825 metric tonnes of TREO which would contain 1,600 tonnes of Neodymium (Nd) and Praseodymium (Pr).  Tests have been done using X-ray Transmission (XRT) to sort the ore as the ore is hosted in quartz, which is white, and the rare earth mineral which is red. This is a simple way to upgrade the TREO content at site.

There is an offtake agreement with REEtec, a Norwegian company that is developing a new rare earth separation process. The agreement is for Vital to deliver 1,000 tonnes per year (TPY) of TREO (excluding Cerium (Ce)). Based on that Ce will be eliminated before shipping the concentrate to Norway. This is a step that has been done before by Molycorp in the 1980s. It reduces the material handling by 50% and obviously the size of downstream processing equipment. The North T zone will provide 3,400 of the 5,000 tonnes which means Cheetah will have to open the Basal zone to meet the balance of the supply contract.

Looking at today’s prices on Shanghai Metal Market (SMM) the separated value of this contract is over US$286 million. Assuming Vital gets 1/3 of the value for the concentrate this would produce revenues of over US$95 million of which US$92 million would come from Nd/Pr. Details of the agreement are not revealed so REEtec may be a toll arrangement which could produce more revenue for Vital though I expect the initial target would be to sell La, Nd and Pr in Europe as there are customers in Europe.

Interestingly the extraction plant is located beside the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) which has announced that they will be building a rare earth separation facility to process monazite by 2024. SRC has two rare earth experts from China on staff. SRC is also putting in an Nd/Pr metal facility which takes the oxide to the next level in the supply chain.

In addition to the Nechalacho project, Vital has a project in Tanzania called Wigu Hill. Vital has signed a project development and option agreement with Montero Mining & Exploration Ltd. (TSXV: MON), to acquire and develop the Wigu Hill project. The Wigu Hill project is a light rare earth element deposit and consists of a large carbonite complex with bastnaesite mineralization with a NI 43-101 Inferred resource estimate of 3.3Mt at 2.6% light REOs. This is also a bastnaesite mineral.

Overall Vital appears well on the way to producing commercial quantities of rare earth concentrate, a first in Canada. Questions that do need to be answered are what are the costs of operating an open pit mine in Northern Canada and the costs to transport material to Saskatoon.




Iluka Resources looks to join exclusive club of rare earths producers

Iluka Resources Limited, (ASX: ILU) an Australian mineral sands company, is poised to add rare earth elements to its portfolio of products. The company’s main products are zircon, titanium, plus iron and carbon materials from its processing plants in Australia. It also has recently announced the de-merger of its Sierra Leone company, Sierra Rutile Holdings Limited, to end up with two ASX listed companies.

The plan announced by Iluka is to start concentrating monazite and xenotime in the second half of this year from its mineral sands operation in Western Australia. Cracking and leaching will begin next year followed by separation to produce rare earth oxides in 2024 at Eneabba, Western Australia, which is a 3 hour’s drive north of Perth. According to public company information, the planned output is 17,500 tons per year of Total Rare Earth Oxides (TREO). They note the plant will have a full capacity of 23,000 TPY of TREO with all circuits fully utilized. It is reasonable to assume that they are looking for additional monazite to fill their plant as the capacity is more than they can produce themselves.

Based on the feed rate of 17,500 TPY TREO Iluka expects to produce 4,000 TPY of Nd/Pr plus 500 TPY of Dy/Tb. Typically, Dy:Tb ratio varies from 2:1 to 5:1. At today’s pricing of $135/kg USD for Nd/Pr oxide, Dy oxide at $362/kg USD, and Tb4O7 at $2.056/kg USD, Iluka’s annual revenue could be in the range of US$1 billion.

The projected capital costs are AU$170-200 million for the cracking and leaching, and AU$320-390 million for the separation and finishing. Additional costs include plant and infrastructure AU$110-140 million plus indirect costs, contingency, commissioning and miscellaneous costs of AU$400-470 million for a total of AU$1-1.2 billion. According to the company, there will be support from the Australian government in the form of a loan from the government’s Critical Minerals Facility fund and a risk-sharing agreement that would include non-recourse debt, royalty payments to Iluka, and flexibility in repayment schedules.  This is what is necessary to get these projects off the ground – government support and vision to see that risk sharing is very important.

Raising this amount of capital in the markets today is a challenge and also very dilutive as their current market cap is AU$3.8 billion.  An advantage Iluka has over many other planned entrants into the rare earth space is their existing cash flow from current operations, as it will take time to generate revenues from this operation after construction begins this year and until the first output is expected to be seen in 2025.

Source: Iluka Company presentation, April 4, 2022

Based on using their existing stockpile at Eneabba, Iluka could produce 12,400 TPY TREO with an operating cost of AU$13/kg or about US$10/kg which is competitive with Chinese costs. I am assuming they put no value on the feed material as it is in a stockpile.  They have not included any transfer costs from other sources in their expanded production estimates with other sources of feed. The stockpile feed would produce 2,700 TPY of Nd/Pr or about half of the capacity of 5,500 TPY of Nd/Pr. This stockpile would be exhausted in 9 years, so they are actively looking for other sources to fill the plant.

One question that is not clear is whether they will take a Molycorp plant design approach or the Lynas approach.  Molycorp originally designed a single train 20,000 TPY TREO capacity. Lynas built four 5,500 TPY TREO trains so that if supply or demand changed, or there was a problem in one train, they did not lose all their production.  This came to light over the COVID era when demand dropped.  This is a major consideration of any new plant design as economies of scale are limited or offset by potential operational problems.

Overall this may well be one of the players to cross the finish line in the race for more production of rare earths outside China.




America’s Energy Fuels offers investors a way to make the “green” revolution happen in the USA

This decade is all about converting our society from fossil fuels to green energy and establishing locally sufficient and secure supply chains. If we agree that nuclear is the best form of base-load electricity to get us off of fossil fuels, then that makes uranium the key green energy source. Solar and wind will also play an important role in future years but are at best intermittent sources of electricity so that they require that lithium-ion and vanadium batteries be used for energy storage. Our motor vehicles will increasingly be powered by electric motors of the permanent magnet type, the best of and most efficient of which are those made from the magnet rare earths (Nd, Pr, Dy, Tb) and “fueled” from  rechargeable storage batteries onboard the vehicles,

To make the “green” revolution happen in the USA a local supply chain must be developed to supply the key and critical materials to manufacture the electricity required and the batteries required to store that electricity until it is needed. This is why late last month the White House released a fact sheet: “Securing a made in America supply chain for critical minerals.

We can see by the price action below (for the full year 2021) how demand for key metals is pushing up prices:

  • Uranium oxide – Up 38%.
  • Neodymium-Praseodymium oxide (NdPr) – Up 112%.
  • Vanadium oxide – Up 62%.

Source

Note: Prices for each of these commodities have continued to show significant strength in 2022, especially uranium.

Today’s Company is the USA leader in uranium production processing, which also has vanadium production processing, and is a growing rare earths processor, which today is America’s only producer of the mixed rare earth carbonates required by the rare earth industry as a feedstock for the manufacturing of individual and blended rare earth chemicals used in the production of rare earth permanent magnets.

Energy Fuels Inc.

Energy Fuels Inc. (NYSE American: UUUU | TSX: EFR) has been very busy for the past two years. While others were talking, Energy Fuels was taking action. The Company has been building up uranium & vanadium inventory and producing and selling mixed rare earths’ products,

Financial results of a net income of US$1.5 million for 2021 are very deceptive, as Energy Fuels chose not to sell uranium and was still in the process of developing its rare earths processing capabilities and securing additional feed sources. In fact, Energy Fuels is sitting very nicely as they state in their March 2022 update:

“At December 31, 2021, the Company had a robust balance sheet with $143.2 million of working capital, including $113.0 million of cash and marketable securities, $30.8 million of inventory, and no short term (or long term) debt. At current commodity prices, the Company’s December 31, 2021 product inventory would have a value of approximately $60.6 million…….While the Company chose to not sell any uranium during 2021, it is now actively engaged in pursuing selective long-term uranium sales contracts.”

Uranium prices have almost doubled the past year

The current uranium price is US$57.25/lb, almost double that from a year ago when it sat at about US$30/lb. This means it makes sense for Energy Fuels to “actively engaged in pursuing selective long-term uranium sales contracts”. This may allow Energy Fuels to dramatically ramp up revenues in 2022.

Furthermore, if we get a uranium supply chain disruption from Russia controlled Kazakhstan (41% of supply) or Russia (6% of supply) we may see uranium prices move well above US$100/lb.

Energy Fuels would be in pole position to start selling their uranium inventory and ramping up U.S based uranium production.

Energy Fuels is the leader in U.S. uranium production used for nuclear fuel that can be used for fossil free U.S. electricity

Source: Energy Fuels website

China dominates rare earths supply

Around 85% of the global supply of rare earths comes from China. Should the USA and China have any type of “trade war” or disagreement over the current Russia-Ukraine war, China could choose to stop exporting rare earths products to the USA. Just as with uranium, this would have crippling consequences for the USA.

There are very few secure and available sources of rare earths outside of China. U.S. based Energy Fuels would suddenly become a key and critical supplier.

Energy Fuels is rapidly moving to grow their range of rare earths products. In their March update the Company stated:

  • “The Company produced approximately 270 metric tonnes of mixed rare earth element (REE) carbonate (RE Carbonate), containing 120 metric tons of total rare earth oxides (TREO) during 2021, as it commenced ramping up its REE recovery infrastructure. Energy Fuels’ RE Carbonate is the most advanced REE material being produced in the U.S. today.
  • The Company is currently in active discussions with several sources of natural monazite sands around the world to significantly increase the supply of feed for its growing REE initiative.
  • During Q1-2022, the Company began commercially separating Lanthanum (La) and Cerium (Ce) on a small scale from its RE Carbonate, using an existing solvent extraction circuit at the Mill. This represents the first commercial level REE separation to occur in the U.S. in many years.
  • The Company is planning to install a full separation circuit at its White Mesa Mill (the Mill) to produce both “light” and “heavy” separated REE oxides in the coming years, subject to successful licensing, financing, and commissioning, and continued strong market conditions.”

Energy Fuels is producing rare earths used in many electric vehicles and wind turbine electric motors

Source: Energy Fuels website

Energy Fuel CEO & President, Mark Chalmers, summed up Energy Fuels nicely, stating:

“In 2021, we believe Energy Fuels further strengthened its position as America’s leading multi-commodity, critical mineral company, as we made excellent progress on our uranium, REEs, vanadium and medical isotope initiatives. We are deploying our ‘one-of-a-kind’ licenses, facilities, and expertise to responsibly recover the critical elements needed for carbon-free nuclear energy, electric vehicle powertrains, wind generation, advanced electronics, grid-scale batteries, other clean energy and advanced technologies, and potentially cancer therapeutics.”

Note: Bold emphasis by the author.

Closing remarks

Energy Fuels offers investors a critical materials (uranium, vanadium, rare earths) growth play, as well as an investment that can outperform if either Russia (uranium) or China (rare earths) decide to punish the USA.

What a great combination! Growth as the green revolution takes off and protection from Russia and/or China in the unfortunate case that the geopolitical environment gets worse.

Energy Fuels trades on a market cap of C$1.911 billion (US$1.516 billion).




Energy Fuels is now producing uranium, vanadium, and mixed rare earths, a first in the world accomplishment

Earlier this week I discussed a rare earths and uranium ‘junior’; but today I take a look at a uranium/vanadium and rare earths ‘producer’ that continues to do well over the years by navigating successfully the market’s highs and lows and more recently expanding into rare earths processing/production.

The Company is Energy Fuels Inc. (NYSE American: UUUU | TSX: EFR). Energy Fuels is the number one uranium producer in the U.S. and has the potential to become one of the lowest-cost, non-Chinese rare earth producers in the world. In its latest move the Company is looking at commercially developing a newly applied (to rare earths) technology to produce rare earth metals and alloys, a step down the supply chain and higher up the value-add chain.

Below is their stock price chart which is quite impressive given the uranium bear market from 2014 to 2021, when many uranium miners went out of business.

Energy Fuels 5 year stock price chart

Source: Yahoo Finance

Rare earths processing business

In the past year, Energy Fuels has expanded to also become a processor/producer of commercial mixed rare earths. Energy Fuels is buying U.S sourced rare earths’ ore and then processing it to produce a mixed rare earth carbonate using its existing, operational, White Mesa Mill. The Company states: “Because our product is ready for separation into individual rare earth oxides without further processing, we are currently producing an intermediate rare earth product in a more advanced form than any other U.S. company. We will be receiving additional shipments of natural monazite sand in…. 2022, and we are in advanced discussions with several monazite suppliers around the world to secure a diverse supply of feed for this exciting initiative.”

MOU for the development of a novel technology for the production of rare earth element metals

As announced on December 15, 2021 Energy Fuels has executed an MOU with Nanoscale Powders LLC  (NSP) for the development of a newly applied technology for the production of rare earth element metals. The release stated: “We believe this Technology, which was initially developed by NSP, and will be advanced by the Company and NSP working together, has the potential to revolutionize the rare earth metal making industry by reducing costs of production, reducing energy consumption, and significantly reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Producing REE metals and alloys (REE Metals) is a key step in a fully integrated REE supply chain, after production of separated REE oxides and before the manufacture of neodymium iron boron (NdFeB) magnets used in electric vehicles (EVs), wind generation and other clean energy and advanced technologies…… Energy Fuels’ initial investment in the Project is intended to advance the Technology to allow for: (i) the continuous, pilot-scale production of 10 kilograms per hour of neodymium-praseodymium (NdPr) metal that meets typical specifications for NdFeB magnets at TLR Level 7; (ii) the separate build of a batch reactor able to produce key minor magnet metals (e.g., dysprosium, terbium); and (iii) the demonstration of samarium-cobalt alloy production…..The MOU contemplates a phased development of the Project to scale-up to the production of 1,000 metric tonnes of one or more REE Metals per year. Energy Fuels will have the right to earn up to a 100% interest in the entity and Technology.”

Note: Bold emphasis by the author.

Existing uranium and vanadium business

Energy Fuels has the largest uranium resource portfolio in the U.S. among producers, with an ability to rapidly scale up low-cost U.S. uranium and vanadium production if needed.

With the recent tight supply situation for uranium, Energy Fuels is now looking at entering again into long term uanium supply contracts. The Company states: “We believe this new dynamic could create opportunities for Energy Fuels to enter into long-term supply contracts for a portion of our production with nuclear utilities at prices, quantities and other terms that generate sufficient project cashflow, all while keeping the majority of our production leveraged to further potential increases in uranium prices.”

Energy Fuels White Mesa Mill and a list of their businesses

Source: Company presentation

Closing remarks

The smartest mining companies these days are able to quickly adapt to price swings in the commodity markets as well as bring on new products. Even better to be able to sell value-added products and form an integrated supply chain in the USA.

In the case of Energy Fuels, they now offer investors so much more than a year ago, including:

  • Uranium/vanadium production that can rapidly scale when needed from their existing mines and Mill.
  • Mixed rare earths carbonate production using the White Mesa Mill.
  • Potentially, in the near future, rare earth metals production using a novel production technology with their agreement to buy 100% of Nanoscale Powders LLC. If successful, Energy Fuels believes “Nanoscale’s metal-making technology could be orders of magnitude safer and less expensive than the current established technology.”

Finally, if we do happen to get a Russian invasion of Ukraine there is also the possibility we may get interrupted supply of Russian sourced uranium if sanctions are applied. That could potentially send uranium prices higher.

2022 looks set to be another good year for Energy Fuels. Their market cap is US$1.03 billion after a recent dip, so worth a look for investors wanting to gain U.S exposure to uranium, vanadium, and rare earths.




Neo Performance Materials becomes the West’s First Profitable Total Rare Earths’ Supply Chain Company

Investors love companies that under promise and over deliver. Today’s company is a classic example as it continues to grow its highly valuable global advanced materials business that includes rare earth alloy powders and magnets.

Neo Performance Materials Inc. (TSX: NEO) (“Neo”) is a profitable processor and manufacturer of advanced industrial materials including rare earth metals, alloys, and “bonded” rare earth permanent magnets, specialty chemicals, technology metals, and alloys. These are all critical to the performance of many everyday products and emerging technologies such as the high-powered magnets used in electric vehicles and in direct drive wind turbine electric generators. Neo operates globally with sales and production across 10 countries including Japan, China, Thailand, Estonia, Singapore, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, and South Korea.

Neo is the only company in the world that operates dual supply chains inside and outside of China for rare earths, rare earths separation and the commercial production of rare earths advanced materials. Neo owns and operates the only operating commercial rare earth separation facility in Europe.

Furthermore, Neo’s Magnequench unit is the global leader in bonded neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) alloy powder based magnets and their applications. Its powders and magnets are used in high-performance components for the OEM automotive, factory automation, high-efficiency motors, residential appliances, and in many other applications.

Neo Performance Materials global operations that manufacture advanced materials that incorporate rare earths and other rare element metals

Source: Company presentation

Establishing a new Western rare earths supply chain incorporating USA and Europe

As a reminder, in July 2021 Neo announced the commencement of commercial shipments of mixed rare earth carbonates produced from monazite from which the uranium and thorium had been removed by Energy Fuels Inc. (NYSE American: UUUU | TSX: EFR) in the USA, to Neo’s rare earth separations facility in Estonia, Europe. This first shipment was a landmark for establishing a new non-Chinese Western rare earths supply chain. Energy Fuels has been sourcing ore from third parties such as from Chemours’ (NYSE: CC) heavy minerals sands operations in Georgia, USA; then processing the monazite residue at their White Mesa Mill in Utah, USA, to extract the rare earths, remove the radioactive elements, and then process the rare earths  into a solid mixed carbonate form ready for delivery, in this case, to Neo’s operation in Estonia according to its specification. The news stated:

“This new supply chain will initially produce rare earth products from monazite that is processed into mixed RE Carbonate at Energy Fuels’ Mill in Utah. This RE Carbonate is then further processed by Neo at its Silmet rare earth processing facility in Sillamäe, Estonia (“Silmet“) into separated rare earth oxides and other value-added rare earth compounds. Neo is the only commercial producer of separated rare earth oxides in Europe.”

Neo’s CEO, Constantine Karayannopoulos, stated: “This innovative U.S.-to-Europe supply chain will supplement Neo’s existing rare earth supply from our long-time Russian supplier. It will enable Neo to expand value-added rare earth production in Estonia to meet growing demand in Europe for these materials.”

Neo’s financials keep getting stronger

As announced on August 12, 2021, Neo produced another stellar financial result in Q2, 2021. Highlights included production volumes increasing 59.6% YoY, revenue reaching US$135.1 million and up 99.5% YoY, adjusted EBITDA of US$22.2 million massively up YoY (an increase of $21.0 million), and adjusted net income of US$14.1 million, or US$0.37 per share. The chart below highlights the financial improvement in Neo’s financials over the past year.

Neo’s consolidated revenue and adjusted EBITDA keep rising due to a very strong operational performance

Neo’s revenue by segment and geography is led by Magnequench and China

Source: Company presentation

Neo’s CEO, Constantine Karayannopoulos, stated: “We had an outstanding second quarter that exceeded our expectations, with record revenue and robust profitability, while our plants operated at near-record output…….With the organic growth we are seeing across all business units, the significant macro tailwinds boosting the entire rare earths sector, and a number of strategic growth opportunities on the radar screen, we remain confident in the sustainability of our long term vision and growth strategy.”

Looking ahead to the rest of the calendar year 2021 analyst’s forecasts remain strong with CY2021 revenue forecast at US$503 million, net income US$39 million, and 7.82% net profit margin. These estimates may soon need to be increased given Neo has already achieved US$266 million in H1 2021. In terms of multiples, they are also appealing with Neo trading on a 2021 PE of 16.7x and an EV/Revenue multiple of 0.92x.

Closing remarks

Neo is currently riding a wave of demand for its advanced materials as we move to a greener economy, especially for the high-value rare earth alloy powders and magnets made with neodymium. These magnets are key to achieving greater power and efficiency from electric motors, the demand for which in the large drive motors for electric vehicles is surging.

Neo Performance Materials trades on a market cap of C$670 million and a very reasonable 16.7x PE. One to definitely consider.




Imperial Mining is set to announce a Resource Estimate that will Highlight Significant Grades of Scandium and Related Technology Metals

Imperial Mining Group Ltd. (TSXV: IPG | OTCQB: IMPNF) (“Imperial”) is due to shortly release a 43-101 preliminary Resource Estimate for their 100% owned Crater Lake Scandium-Rare Earth Project in northeastern Quebec, Canada. What can investors expect?

The Crater Lake Project consists of 57 contiguous claims covering 27.8km2. The Project has ~14 km of potential mineralized horizon (only 1/4 drill tested) spread over several zones, some of which have drill tested high-grade scandium and some rare earths deposits, including and yttrium. There is also potential for niobium and tantalum.

Imperial Mining’s Crater Lake location showing excellent infrastructure nearby

Drilling has defined several mineralized zones of over 600m in total strike length and from surface to a vertical depth of up to 200m.

Source: Company presentation

Excellent drill results at Crater Lake continue in 2021

Past drilling has shown some excellent long length, high-grade, scandium oxide results ranging from 0.0235% to 0.056% (235-506 g/t).

For example, in April 2021 the Company announced excellent drill results at Crater Lake that included 92.5 m @ 291g/t scandium oxide (Sc2O3). Elevated levels of total rare earth oxides plus yttrium of up to 0.42% were also found. There is also a parallel niobium target showing grab assay results of between 0.20% and 1.42% Nb2O5 which sits 250m west of the scandium target.

Then in May 2021, Imperial announced:

  • “Assay results from the first four drill hole continue to return impressive intercepts of 111.9 m (367.0’) grading 298 g/t scandium oxide (Sc2O3), including 40.5 m (132.8’) grading 336 g/t Sc2O3and 34.77 m (114.0′) grading 321 g/t Sc2O3.
  • Elevated levels of total rare earth oxides plus yttrium (TREO+Y) of up to 0.38 %.”

More recent drill results announced in June 2021 included:

  • 99.8 m (327.3’) grading 299 g/t scandium oxide (Sc2O3), including 24.2 m (79.4’) grading 331 g/t Sc2O3 and 77.3 m (253.5′) grading 313 g/t Sc2O3.
  • Elevated levels of total rare earth oxides plus yttrium (TREO+Y) of up to 0.46% characterize the scandium-bearing intercepts.”

Crater Lakes’ critical minerals mean a 10MT resource can potentially be very valuable

Imperial’s ‘target’ at Crater Lake is to define a scandium-REE mineral resource of a minimum of 10 Mt, sufficient for a 25-year operating model. What some investors miss is that a small relatively shallow resource-rich in valuable metals such as scandium, niobium, and rare earths can be highly valuable. The chart below highlights this by expressing the results as 6.5 to 12.0 g/t ‘gold equivalent’. If Imperial Mining was able to achieve 10MT of ore at say 6.5 g/t Au equivalent (lower range) that would be equivalent to 65 million grams (2.1 million troy ounces) of gold in terms of value. If the grade was in the higher range then the gold equivalent would be almost double. Of course, the 10MT is a ‘target” and not yet a reality, as we will have to wait to see what the upcoming resource estimate is.

The Crater Lake TG Zone drill results are equivalent to 6.5 to 12.0 g/t gold equivalent

Source: Company presentation

Once a resource is grown the other important issue is the extraction method and recovery rates. In June 2021 news Imperial announced that they had developed a “high-recovery extraction process for scandium and rare earth elements for Crater Lake mineralization…..as part of its current Phase 3 Hydrometallurgical Development Program.” Scandium extraction was at 84-87%, and total rare earth elements, including yttrium (TREE+Y) was 84%. This is excellent news.

Near term stock catalysts

Imperial President & CEO, Peter Cashin, stated in August: “We are now in the final stages of the surface evaluation of our Crater Lake property. In addition to delivering the inaugural 43-101 resource estimation on our TG Zone later this month, we look forward to delivering on the results of the remainder of the targets present on the Crater Lake property. We clearly believe that much additional critical metal potential remains to be evaluated on our property as we have only drill-tested one-quarter of the favourable 14-km-long mineralized horizon. We also intend to assess a high-grade niobium-tantalum mineralized area identified in 2010, north and northwest of the scandium-bearing Crater Lake Complex.”

Imperial will now embark on a Summer 2021 campaign that will include surface evaluation of additional high priority scandium rare earth exploration targets outside of the drilled TG Zone mineralized area. 50-tonne bulk samples at the STG mineralized Zone will be used in a pilot plant study to further test and optimize Imperial’s metallurgical process method. Next, a detailed assessment of historical high grade rare earth, niobium, tantalum occurrences at the Crater Lake Extension property area will be undertaken. Following this will be a pilot plant study and a Preliminary Economic Assessment.

Closing remarks

Imperial Mining trades on a market cap of a mere C$20 million. Considering the outstanding drill results over the past year, outstanding hydromet recovery rates achieved to date, and the impending 43-101 preliminary Resource Estimate due out any day now the stock looks likely to be potentially re-rated higher soon. Don’t wait too long!




Rare earths directed Appia Energy embarking on a fully funded drilling program at Alces Lake

Rare earths companies are starting to gain attention as demand for the magnet rare earths in particular is forecast to boom this decade as we move further towards renewable energy and electric vehicles. The market for magnet Rare Earth Oxides (REO) is expected to increase five-fold by 2030. Two key magnet metals, Neodymium (Nd) and Praseodymium (Pr) have seen their prices rise strongly in 2021 and notably again the past month after a recent dip.

Neodymium (Nd) oxide and Praseodymium (Pr) oxide prices have spiked higher the past month

Source: Kitco

One rare earth junior (Appia Energy) has 2nd highest average rare earth element (REE) grade in the world, at 16.65 wt% TREO, hosted in favorable monazite ore.

Appia Energy Corp. (CSE: API | OTCQB: APAAF) (“Appia”) is focused on rare earths at their 100% owned, 43,434 acre, Alces Lake Project in the Athabasca Basin area of northern Saskatchewan, Canada. They also have uranium prospects in the region as you can read here.

Appia Energy’s project portfolio in Northern Saskatchewan, Canada

Source

The Alces Lake project has ‘monazite ore’ containing valuable rare earths Neodymium (Nd), Praseodymium (Pr), Dysprosium (Dy), and Terbium (Tb). Exploration since 2017 has identified highgrade Total Rare Earth Oxide (TREO) with up to 49 wt% TREO (average grades of 16.65 wt% TREO and 3.85 wt% CREO) on or near surface. Less than 1% of the property has been explored with diamond drilling.

On July 15, 2021, Appia announced that they are now embarking on a fully funded ~5-6,000m drilling campaign at Alces Lake, which is as much drilling as they have ever drilled before at the Project. The first phase of ground geology and geophysics is completed and the drilling team is about to mobilize to the Alces Lake camp, where two drilling rigs and crews will be working 24/7 on this phase of the helicopter-supported diamond drilling program.

Alces Lake Project Manager, Nic Guest, commented: “The quality of the data obtained in the first phase of ground exploration is excellent. Our understanding of the various occurrences across the property has grown and we have planned our drill program accordingly. Our first phase of 2021 drilling will give us new and important information.”

Appia President, Frederick Kozak, stated: “Approximately 5,700 metres of drilling has been planned to test the near-surface and down-plunge extents of new and existing rare-earth targets. More than 4,000 metres will be dedicated to identifying the depth potential of the WRCB zone (cumulatively the Wilson-Richard-Charles-Bell discoveries) and help complete the understanding of this significant discovery.”

The Alces Lake Project has excellent local infrastructure including mills, power, labour, highway, air strips, and well established summer and winter access routes. Appia has even recently built a winter camp site to help with all year round operations.

Highlights of Appia Energy’s exciting Alces Lake Project

Source: Company presentation

Closing remarks

Appia is sitting on a super high grade REE monazite ore deposit at Alces Lake. A huge summer drilling campaign has just begun and will help the Company potentially build up a Resource estimate. Rare earths expert Jack Lifton has also agreed to join the Appia team as a Strategic Adviser.

Appia is currently trading on a market cap of C$83 million after a recent stock price dip. For those who missed out on buying Appia earlier, now looks to be a good time to take a second look. We will let you know the drill results as they come in during the following months. Stay tuned.




MP Materials: It is Rare Earths Deja Vu All Over Again.

As we know, MP Materials Corp. (NYSE: MP), successfully closed the business combination with Fortress Value Acquisition Corp. in mid November 2020, amid a wild ride for shareholders. The share price has rocketed to more than a quadruple for initial investors in the $200 million PIPE. Current market capitalization is approaching US$7 billion – it looks like the stock is set for yet another record high today (February 16, 2021).

The company will be releasing Q4-2020 results after the markets close on March 18, 2021. The company had a profitable third quarter 2020 ($14.6 million Net Income and $11.6 million Adjusted EBITDA) and outside the accounting adjustments for contract changes with Shenghe Resources, should show annual results consistent with the quarter.

The company’s Mountain Pass mine and associated processing facilities are in California, just off the Nevada border at Mountain Pass. Production started about 70 years ago in the only rare earths mining and processing site of scale in the Western Hemisphere. By management’s estimates, MP Resources currently produces approximately 15% of global rare earths content. Recall that the mine was restarted in 2017, with mining and processing currently exceeding levels achieved prior to the current management team taking over.

The company has an offtake agreement with Shenghe Resources (Singapore) that was modified in mid-2020. MP Materials is now free to sell to whomever they choose, (are there other buyers?) but will still be repaying the Shenghe Offtake Advance (currently $78 million). Management of MP Materials has estimated that this would be approximately four years from the date of the modification of the offtake agreement, putting it sometime in 2024.

As reported in MP Material’s Q3-2020 Form 8-K (page 12) “The completion of our Stage II optimization plan and any development of Stage III is expected to be capital intensive. We expect to invest approximately $170 million to complete our Stage II optimization plan….”. While the company has stated that it has completed process redesign and engineering for Stage II, we all recall the problems Molycorp had trying to get Project Phoenix to work as designed and arguably being one of the elements that caused Molycorp to go bankrupt. MP Materials has a strong balance sheet, but rare earths processing is not easy – it appears that a North American rare earths supply chain (as far as MP Materials is concerned) may just have to wait.

MP Materials closed the business combination with Fortress Value Acquisition Corp. in November 2020 with the stated objective of the merger to fund MP Materials’ Mountain Pass mine Stage II optimization plan. The company “expects to become a fully integrated provider of separated rare earth oxides, with a focus on Neodymium-Praseodymium, one of the most crucial inputs for magnetics, by 2022.” There is substantial mining and processing infrastructure in place at Mountain Pass with a comprehensive plan developed to even become a downstream magnet producer (Stage III, 2025-ish)

Is this possible? There are numerous detractors who think that this is an unachievable game plan, but clearly the market disagrees. The company also announced on November 18, 2020, that the company had been awarded a Defense Production Act Title III technology investment agreement to establish domestic processing for separated light rare earth elements. Under the TIA, the US Department of Defense will contribute $9.6 million towards MP Materials’ Stage II optimization efforts.

According to the most recent update in the Q3-2020 results presentation, the Stage II Project remains on track for 2022. The front-end engineering design (FEED) is complete, all circuit designs are complete, long-lead procurements were expected to be complete by December 2020 with initial civil mobilization also expected the first week of December 2020 and full mobilization expected in January 2021. An update on these items in March or sooner will be important.

As I said before – it continues to look promising so far, but hang on, with the history at this site and the fast money in the markets right now, let’s hope history does not repeat itself.