On the threshold of a significant disruption to the domestic rare earths supply chain

In 1992, then Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping pointed at Beijing’s objectives saying: ‘The Middle East has its oil; China has its rare earths.’ This warning bell has been a wake up call in the midst of the current US-China trade war, especially given China now supplies 81% of the world’s rare earths.

The US is now on a rapid search to find a secure source of rare earths outside of China, ideally in the USA.

Central to this rare earths supply problem is Heavy Rare Earth Elements (HREE), indispensable to a host of American industries including defence systems and artificial intelligence.

Ucore Rare Metals Inc. (TSXV: UCU | OTCQX: UURAF) is a well-funded development-phase mining company focused on establishing rare metal resources with near term production potential of heavy rare earths from their project in Alaska, USA.

Ucore’s three key projects include:

  • Bokan-Dotson Ridge Rare Earth Project in Alaska (Heavy Rare Earths – Dysprosium (Dy), Terbium (Tb) & Yttrium (Y)).
  • Ray Mountains Project in Alaska (REE, Sn, W, Zr ± Nb, Ta heavy minerals).
  • The SuperLig®-One pilot plant (an environmentally friendly, cost efficient separation technology for each individual rare earth element).

Bokan-Dotson Ridge Rare Earth Project

Ucore’s primary focus is the 100% owned Bokan-Dotson Ridge REE property in Alaska. The Project is located 60 km southwest of Ketchikan, Alaska.

Approximately 40% (by weight) of the rare earth elements contained on the Dotson Ridge property are heavy rare earth elements, including the critical elements Dysprosium, Terbium and Yttrium.

The Bokan-Dotson Ridge REE Project has the following benefits:

  • The highest grade heavy rare earth deposit in The U.S. (NI-43-101 compliant).
  • Excellent logistics: Only REE deposit worldwide with immediate deep water access. Accessible labour and prospective power.
  • Anomalous skew towards Dy, Tb, Y which are among the most critical high demand HREE’s.
  • Located in Alaska, one of the world’s leading mine friendly jurisdictions.
  • Advanced metallurgy and separation regimes already established.
  • Excellent local, state and federal support. In 2014 Ucore received unanimous support from the Alaska State Legislature authorizing the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) to issue up to US$145 million in bonds for the infrastructure and construction costs of the Bokan-Dotson Ridge Rare Earth Project.

Ucore’s M3 Plan of Action

Ucore’s M3 Plan to satisfy the needs of an independent American REE supply chain comprises three primary initiatives and commencing immediately:

  • Mine– Advancing the HREE mine at the Bokan-Dotson Ridge Rare Earth Project to “shovel-ready” status.
  • Metal– Developing the associated engineering for the individual REE and co-products processing and separation plant, the Alaska Strategic Metals Complex. Planned to be the first physical component of the mine, the Alaska SMC will be designed to process REE concentrate not just from the Bokan HREE Mine, but from other U.S. and U.S. allied-nation sources, into individual REE oxides for the burgeoning North American REE market.
  • Market– North American market development and cultivation of the customer base for non-Chinese REE products in the Western World.

Jim McKenzie, President & CEO of Ucore, stated: “Current international events suggest that the U.S. is now on the threshold of a significant disruption to the domestic REE supply chain.”

The longer term vision for Ucore is also to become a leading advanced technology company that provides mineral separation products and services to the mining and mineral extraction industry.

The US needs to establish a safe rare earths supply source

Rare earths, and heavy rare earths in particular, are now among the most valued, sought after, and hard to obtain metals at a world level, especially outside of the China supply chain. No other naturally occurring materials are of greater strategic importance to the U.S. in terms of competing today at an international level with China. Industries that span all manner of high-tech applications, from national defense to AI, supercomputing, energy provision, transportation, and many more are heavily reliant on rare earth materials to enable the US industry to maintain leadership and a competitive edge with the rest of the globe.

Ucore’s Latest news

Just in mid October Ucore announced: “The Company has finalized a project-specific advisory team for the purpose of designing its heavy rare earth element solvent extraction plant and processing capabilities in Southeast Alaska (the “SX Plant”), and with respect to its forthcoming anticipated proposal for near term U.S. Government funding……The Defense Production Act (DPA) Title III office this year released a request for information on potential HREE separation in the U.S., which Ucore responded to in July 2019.”

All of this means that Ucore is now firmly on the US Government’s radar and increases their chance to attract further project funding. Ucore is already well advanced and has a strong chance to progress to becoming a US rare earths supply source.

Ucore Wins Department of Energy Award for Molecular Recognition Technology Process

Heavy Rare Earth Forecast

Outlook for Selected Heavy Rare Earths               Source: Core Consultants’ June 2017 Rare Earth Monthly

The seventeen rare earth elements (REEs) have become an increasing necessity in the manufacture of today’s portable devices, and predictably, demand continues to climb year-on-year. Somewhat surprisingly, however, REEs are incredibly common, but they appear in such miniscule quantities that willing diggers must sift through colossal amounts of material to arrive at even small piles of concentrate, and while prices have been in decline for some time now due to massive supplies out of China, the discovery that a considerable proportion of these operations were permitting hazardous waste to enter the ecosystem has rocked the eastern supply chain and prompted a potential price recovery.

In order to survive until payday, producers must have both high-grade resources and efficient processing technologies to boost yield and reduce costs to an absolute minimum. Ucore Rare Metals Inc. (TSXV: UCU | OTCQX: UURAF) (“Ucore”) is a near-term development-phase company focused on the extraction and processing of rare metals with real potential for production, growth and scalability, and boasts ownership of the highest grade heavy REE deposit in the USA; combine this with a cutting-edge metallurgical process, and you’ve got yourself a winner.

Traditional processing methods involve large volumes of solvents that typically require multiple passes to arrive at a concentrate of sufficient purity, creating vast amounts of waste in the process, which, if not properly disposed of, results in poisoned rivers and some very sick children. The necessary chemicals can actually be disposed of fairly easily, it’s just that the illegally operating miners haven’t been doing it. Still, the costs of maintaining a supply of these materials presents a massive problem for today’s REE producer, and remaining competitive requires a technological edge.

Ucore’s pilot plant utilises molecular recognition technology (MRT), which is based on green chemistry principles and generates minimal waste. No organic solvents are used, and the few necessary chemicals are as benign as can be. Energy requirements are minimal, and crucially, a recovery rate of over 99% can be achieved with a single pass-through. As a result, operating costs are far below what would normally be expected, and the environmental impact is incredibly low.

Additionally, when compared with solvent extraction, an MRT system requires considerably less equipment and floor space, resulting in a significantly cheaper plant construction. Ucore has already built a pilot plant in Utah based around the IBC SuperLig® technology, an MRT process for which the company owns a controlling interest in the exclusive rights for rare earths and multi-metallic tailings applications in North America and associated world markets, and has even signed a MoU to process further offtake from Commerce Resources.

A discussion with Ucore’s VP of Business Development, Mark MacDonald, revealed what he is most excited about the company and its prospects:

“I am excited that Ucore is able to play a key role in securing the supply of critical metals for the North American industrial complex in partnership with the US Department of Energy.”

MacDonald was speaking following Ucore award of $1m by the US Department of Energy, as part of a consortium comprised of IBC, Equinox and PSI to source, beneficiate and separate rare earths using the company’s MRT technology process.

Ucore’s own high-grade Bokan project is located in the mining-friendly jurisdiction of Alaska, and has the unanimous support of the Alaska State Legislature. Having a world-class deposit in addition to intensely competitive metallurgy makes this company well-poised to ride the REE recovery and enter the supply chain with a responsible product at minimal cost, and as such represents a safe investment for both the short and long-term.

Izatt on how the SuperLig technology (and molecular recognition) is critical to green technology in the mining industry

IBC_UcoreMay 24, 2016 — Ucore Rare Metals Inc. (TSXV: UCU | OTCQX: UURAF) partner IBC Advanced Technologies, Inc.  is a privately held corporation headquartered near Salt Lake City in American Fork, Utah. IBC was founded in 1988 by, and named after, three distinguished professors, Reed M. Izatt, Jerald S. Bradshaw, and the late James J. Christensen who possess prominent international reputations and experience in macrocyclic chemistry, selective metal ion separations, and Molecular Recognition Technology (MRT ).

Large-scale MRT separation systems incorporate SuperLig® solid phase particles (~0.5mm) such as silica gel or polymer substrates to which the selective ligand has been chemically attached. The SuperLig® beads are packed into fixed-bed columns that are built in skid-mounted modular form, and are fully automated for continuous operation. The feed solution is passed through the column and the target specie is removed selectively from the solution.

In this presentation at the CleanTech and Technology Metals Summit, held in Toronto on May 10-11th, Steven R. Izatt of IBC outlined

  • Development and use of molecules with structure-specific interactions of high selectivity.
  • How these can strip off selected elements, e.g. dysprosium, and then the rare earth elements go to another column where another element is selected
  • Why this science is critical to green technology
  • And IBC’s relationship with Ucore Rare Metals Inc. (TSXV: UCU | OTCQX: UURAF)

Disclaimer:  Ucore Rare Metals Inc. is an advertorial member of InvestorIntel.