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Hunting the big North American rare earths elephant

“Amazing discovery… I keep making this point that there is a deficit of rare earths worldwide and Appia is the premier rare earths discovery in North America.” — Jack Lifton, Global Critical Materials Expert

A mineral discovery is the natural occurrence of a specific chemical compound or a mix of chemical compounds, which may be processed mechanically and chemically to isolate one or more forms of individual chemical elements, and then be purified and converted into useful forms for industrial use. If the discovery is extensive enough and the contained chemical compounds are of a sufficiently high enough grade for efficient and economical separation of them from each other and then can be further processed into forms that can be utilized industrially, then the large-scale production and concentration of the initial mineral concentrate is called mining.

How do you evaluate a rare earth discovery? The best way is to determine if it contains “valuable” rare earth elements, which can be economically and efficiently recovered in the jurisdiction in which it is located, in such quantities that the capital expended can be recovered at a profit.

The old-timers (aka, experienced exploration geologists and mining engineers) have just two simple metrics they use in first determining whether or not there is any point in answering this question: Grade and accessible tonnage.

Appia Rare Earths & Uranium Corp.‘s (CSE: API | OTCQB: APAAF) rare earth discovery at Alces Lake, Saskatchewan, meets the first of the above requirements, and the company is now in the process of a comprehensive drill program to determine if the second one is met as well.

The Appia discovery is of the mixed rare earth mineral, monazite, the most desirable rare earth bearing mineral on the planet. Monazite was the original rare earth mineral mined commercially in the late nineteenth century, not for rare earths, but for its contained thorium, which was heated, as an oxide in the form of a mixed ceramic mantle, with natural gas, to produce a brilliant white light for illuminating the stage in theatrical performances. Monazite fell out of favor as a mineral resource after World War II because of thorium’s natural radioactivity being highlighted as a danger in the early atomic age. Of course, electric lights, had by then long eclipsed the need for thorium.

In the 1950s though, thorium again became of interest when it was discovered that nuclear reactors for the commercial production of electricity could be fueled with thorium, which could not easily be used to make nuclear weapons. Anglo-American Mining in that period discovered the highest-grade thorium and rare earths deposit then known in the world in South Africa and began producing thorium for the UK’s civilian nuclear reactor program. Thorium reactors fell out of favor by the mid 1960s and thorium (monazite) mines were shut down, even though they were associated with high grade rare earths, because of the problems of disposing of the thorium and the then extremely expensive processes for separating the rare earths from each other, ion exchange, and fractional crystallization.

The discovery of a huge primary, accessible, mineable deposit of the rare earth mineral bastnaesite at Mountain Pass, California, in the late 1940s, and the development in the 1960s of the commercial application of solvent extraction to the separation of the rare earths, led to the eclipse of the use of high thorium monazites by bastnaesite as the primary mineral for rare earth mining.

The development of the rare earth permanent magnet in the late 1970s, at first using the rare earth element, samarium, and the rare earth elements neodymium and praseodymium, revived interest in monazite, because monazite contains 50% more, by weight, of neodymium and praseodymium, than bastnaesite.

However, the low thorium bastnaesite in California, because of its accessibility, became the world’s largest source of the magnetic rare earths, samarium , neodymium and praseodymium by the early 1980s. It was eclipsed by the bastnaesite recovered, more economically, as a byproduct of  iron mining in China’s Inner Mongolia by the late 1980s. The Chinese iron deposits also contained some monazite, and this was processed there also to recover the rare earths. The thorium co-produced was stored, but its radioactivity ultimately led China to bring its control under the aegis of its China Nuclear Corporation (CNC), which stored it along with any other thorium produced as a byproduct of rare earths or its own uranium minerals processing.

Today, as Chinese bastnaesite grades seem to have declined from high grading and as pollution (environmental) consciousness has come of age in China, monazite, as a source of magnetic rare earths has revived dramatically in China. And China has become the world’s largest processor of monazite. Chinese mining and processing companies already import nearly 40% of their rare earth ore needs annually. They get bastnaesite from California and CNC is licensed to process up to 5o,ooo tons per year of monazites containing up to 30,000 tons of rare earths. All monazite imported into China must first go to CNC for thorium and uranium removal, before it goes to the Chinese purchaser, which will then recover the rare earths contained. China buys monazites as ore concentrates from the USA (until very recently), Brazil, Madagascar, Australia, and Myanmar, and Chinese companies are scouring the world seeking more.

The Chinese had the use of monazites as a source of magnetic rare earths to themselves until 2017, when Australia’s Lynas Rare Earths (ASX: LYC) went into commercial production and separation of the individual rare earths from its massive monazite mine at Mt. Weld, Australia. Then. in 2020, the only privately owned licensed uranium ore processor and thorium storage facility in the USA, Energy Fuels Inc. (NYSE American: UUUU | TSX: EFR), began a project to process monazite for its rare earths and to stockpile and sell the uranium recovered and store the thorium. Energy Fuels is and remains the sole such facility in the Americas. Its business plan is to become vertically integrated by building, on-site, a separation facility, and a rare earth metals and alloys operation also.

Energy Fuels has acquired domestically produced American monazite from the heavy mineral sands operations of The Chemours Company, and is actively seeking additional materials both domestically and internationally. Energy Fuels has already produced and sold commercial quantities of mixed rare earth carbonates cleaned of uranium and thorium.

Now, at last, we come to Appia and Canada’s entry into the rare earths’ mining and processing arena.

Australia’s Vital Metals Limited (ASX: VML | OTCQB: VTMXF) is now mining bastnaesite just outside of Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territory from a high-grade deposit discovered by Avalon Advanced Materials Inc. (TSX: AVL | OTCQB: AVLNF) and licensed to Vital. The ore concentrate will be first sent to an operation being built by the Saskatchewan Resource Council (SRC), a Crown Corporation, where the uranium and thorium will be removed and a mixed rare earth carbonate produced for use in further downstream processing. The first such production has already been pre-sold to both American and European processing customers.

But the SRC has plans to construct not only a cracking, leaching, and radioactive recovery and storage system (Saskatchewan is Canada’s largest uranium mining and processing province, so the business there is well established and understood), but also a rare earths separation system in the form of a dedicated solvent extraction facility, the first of its kind in Canada.

Now we come to Appia Rare Earths & Uranium Corp., a Canadian company, originally exploring for uranium in Saskatchewan’s world-famous Athabasca Basin. About 5 years ago its then geologist discovered a dramatically high-grade sample of monazite on the company’s Alces Lake Property in Saskatchewan. He soon found that the sample had come from an outcrop showing extensive monazite veining. He continued to explore the area and predicted that the monazite field was extensive.  Analysis of samples he took showed that it was also the highest grade neodymium rich monazite ever found in North America.

I was a speaker that year at a Metal Events’ Rare Earth Conference in Henderson, Nevada, and the Appia geologist, James Sykes, was an attendee. I had never met him, but we shared a cab to the airport, and he excitedly told me the Alces lake, monazite, story. I was intrigued, but I had reservations about the thorium and uranium that would be present in such a high-grade material. I thought of the highest grade rare earths deposit ever worked, Steencompskraal, in South Africa, which was actually worked as a thorium mine with no interest (in the 196os) in the rare earths contained. I didn’t then know of the monazite project in China or CNC’s role in it. I listened politely to Mr Sykes and wondered what anyone would do with this discovery if it were confirmed to be extensive enough to qualify as a NI 43-101 resource.

Did I mention that James Sykes also said that he believed the extended discovery to be near surface, so that a quarrying operation would obviate the need for underground operations?

It is now the Spring of 2022, and Appia has raised approximately $15.5 million in the last year. This funding is for a drilling program which is underway to prove a resource.

Energy Fuels is processing monazite, the Saskatchewan Resource Council has approved $31 million to acquire monazite, and other rare earth ore concentrates, and build a first of its kind in Canada cracking and leaching and separation facility dedicated to rare earths, and Canada’s Ucore Rare Metals Inc. (TSXV: UCU | OTCQX: UURAF) has begun construction of a Strategic Metals Center in Alaska for the central processing of critical metals, beginning with rare earth mixed carbonates from a variety of sources including Canadian and Australian monazites.

Appia’s drilling results so far are very encouraging, and have been extensively reported.

I think we may see the highest grade neodymium-rich monazite in the America’s flow from Alces lake before 2025. If so, It will certainly be in high demand.

Did I mention that the Appia monazite discovery contains 1% of xenotime, the hard rock mineral source of yttrium, dysprosium, and terbium? A one-stop-shop for magnet makers?

The stars and this planet are coming into alignment for this one. Monazite is back.

Disclosure: Jack Lifton is a member of Appia Rare Earths & Uranium Corp.’s Advisory Board and  the Advisory Board for Energy Fuels Inc., and may hold securities or options in some of the companies mentioned in the above article.




Biden, the Chinese raw material hunt and the ‘massive’ monazite results of Appia Rare Earths & Uranium

While the Biden Administration fixates on solving the port problem in the United States, China continues to dominate the Western world’s supplies of, when it comes to the bigger picture, critical metals and materials. Literally, at the same time the US government is trying to focus on the issues right in front of it that may disrupt Christmas (heaven forbid), Chinese companies continue to seek out and lock up more of the raw materials that will drive the future. In just the last few days, Zijin Mining Group Co., Ltd. launched a C$960 million takeover bid for Canadian domiciled Neo Lithium Corp. (TSXV: NLC | OTCQX: NTTHF), while Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited (CATL), the world’s largest battery supplier and ironically already part owner of Neo Lithium, signed a battery supply deal with U.S. commercial EV maker, Electric Last Mile Solutions Inc. (NASDAQ: ELMS). Three weeks ago CATL made a C$377 million takeover bid for Canada’s Millennial Lithium Corp. (TSXV: ML). Zijin is no stranger to taking out Canadian mining companies having previously acquired Nevsun Resources (C$1.86 billion), Guyana Goldfields (C$323 million), and Continental Gold (C$1.4 billion), and those were just some of its Canadian targets.

From an investor’s perspective, I guess this takeover activity can be viewed as a good thing given that these Chinese entities are paying full value for their acquisitions. So you get your liquidity event and hopefully have made money to go off and find the next possible target. But it is disappointing to see the West talk the talk about our greener future but not walk the walk as our leaders appear to be completely oblivious as to how we’ll get there if we let China control all the raw materials. I will save that rant for another day. In the meantime let’s have a look at a company that could tick the boxes for a potential acquisition by the Chinese.

Of late it seems the flavour of the day is lithium but that isn’t the only critical material out there. The Chinese have long since cornered the market for rare earths but if no one is willing to stop them, or even slow them down, then why wouldn’t they continue to acquire everything the world will let them. One Canadian junior mining company that could fit the bill is Appia Rare Earths & Uranium Corp. (CSE: API | OTCQB: APAAF), or perhaps you know it by its former name Appia Energy Corp. but that was so yesterday (today is literally the first day trading under its new name). Appia is a Canadian publicly-listed company in the uranium and rare earth element sectors and is currently in its largest exploration and diamond drilling program in the Company’s history, focusing on delineating high grade critical rare earth elements, gallium, and uranium on its 100% owned Alces Lake property, as well as exploring for high-grade uranium, in the prolific Athabasca Basin, on its Loranger, North Wollaston, and Eastside properties. Appia has found some of the highest grade samples of neodymium rich monazite on its properties in Saskatchewan.

The Alces Lake discovery of an accessible extensive hard rock deposit of monazite is very important to the world’s demand for magnet rare earths. This is because Appia’s monazite is neodymium rich, which is the most desirable for the production of rare earth permanent magnets. Not only is it rich in neodymium (Nd) and praseodymium (Pr), but also contains 1% of xenotime, the best heavy rare earth bearing hard rock mineral. The good news is that yesterday the Company announced it has discovered new and previously unknown occurrences of massive and semi-massive monazite in the Wilson North area of Alces Lake. A total of 27 drill holes (2,460 m) have been completed at the Wilson-Richard-Charles-Bell zones (WRCB), with at least 27 holes (2,360 m) remaining. In total the Company has completed 61 drill holes (4,575 m) including drilling at Biotite Lake (13 holes – 685 m), Danny (7 holes – 430 m) and Sweet Chili Heat (14 holes – 995 m) with monazite occurrences identified in each area. One drill continues to test the continuity and depth extent of the WRCB zones, while the other moves across the property, exploring new drill targets, named Diablo and Oldman River.

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With assays pending for all 61 holes drilled to date in the 2021 program, it’s certainly exciting times for Appia. The Wilson North 21-WRC-015 drill hole showed monazite mineralization over 8.85 m from 15.74 m – 24.59 m. As noted above, three other locations also saw monazite occurrences. If the grades in this season’s drill holes match the world class grades previously announced things could get very interesting very quickly. The Company is well funded to complete this season’s drilling with plans to prepare an NI 43-101 report following the conclusion of the current exploration program later this year. With 107.6 million shares outstanding, the current market cap for Appia stands at roughly $82 million. That’s chump change given what some of these Chinese companies are throwing around for quality assets.

Keep in mind that for the last few years China has been buying monazite concentrates,  thrown off as residues from heavy mineral sands’ mining, from all over the world including, until recently, from the USA!  China bought 30,000 tonnes last year from Rio Tinto in Southern Africa; and up to another 20,000 tons from Indonesia, Brazil. It is logical to assume that China would have a great interest in a higher grade neodymium rich monazite deposit than Lynas’ Mt Weld especially since the Appia material has 1 percent xenotime, which is a higher grade of heavy rare earth rich, xenotime, than Lynas’ deposits at Mt Weld.

Appia may be on the cusp of an exciting future.




Canada’s entry point to a domestic North American rare earths products production center

Why is Appia Energy Corp.‘s (CSE: API | OTCQB: APAAF) Alces Lake discovery of an accessible extensive hard rock deposit of the rare earth bearing mineral, monazite, so very important to the non-Chinese world’s demand for magnet rare earths? It is because Appia’s monazite is, in fact, the neodymium rich variant, which is the most desirable for the production of rare earth permanent magnets. it is not only rich in neodymium (Nd) and praseodymium (Pr), but also contains 1% of xenotime, the best heavy rare earth bearing hard rock mineral.  

Monazites are typically up to 50% higher in contained Nd and Pr than bastnaesite, the ore mined at Mountain Pass by MP Materials Corp. (NYSE: MP) and the residual mineral from China’s Baotou region iron mining, which up until recently was the world’s most-produced source mineral for light rare earths. Lynas Rare Earths Limited (ASX: LYC) is currently the world’s largest producer of rare earths derived from monazite deposits at Mt. Weld in a remote area of northern Australia.  

Monazites are produced today as a byproduct of the processing of heavy mineral sands to recover zircon and ilmenite, respectively the ores of zirconium and titanium. Until recently processing monazite for rare earths was inhibited by the fact that monazites always contain radioactive thorium and sometimes uranium. The monazites were thus returned to the tailings from these operations and in the USA the environmental regulations required that they be returned to the worked-out deposits and distributed so that the residual background radiation was equal to or less than it was before the deposit was worked. 

In the last five years as Chinese bastnaesite deposit grades have declined and mining created pollution has become a big problem in China the Chinese rare earth industry has begun to import very large quantities of monazites from the USA, Madagascar, South Africa, Brazil, and Australia. All of this material was produced as a byproduct of heavy mineral sands processing for zircon and ilmenite. 

In order to solve the thorium/uranium problem, China requires that all imports of monazite go first to China Nuclear Corporation, which removes the thorium and uranium, and then ships a clean mixed rare earth carbonate to the Chinese refiner that ordered the material. China nuclear is licensed to process up to 50,000 tons of monazite containing up to 30,000 tons of total rare earths a year.    

In the USA the only licensed uranium mill, Energy Fuels Inc.‘s (NYSE American: UUUU | TSX: EFR) White Mesa Utah facility, has replaced China as the destination for monazite produced from its heavy mineral sands operations in Georgia by US Chemical Group, Chemours. Energy Fuels removes the uranium, which is a payable for Energy Fuels, and is storing, legally, the thorium, which has been committed to a medical radioisotope group. The first clean mixed rare earth carbonate produced by Energy Fuels from the Chemours’ monazite has already been sold to and shipped to Neo Performance Materials Inc.‘s (TSX: NEO) European solvent extraction rare earth separation facility. 

Appia is working with Canada’s and the world’s most attractive (Report’s the Fraser Institute) mining investment jurisdiction, the Province of Saskatchewan. The Province’s Saskatchewan (Mining and Refining) Research Center, the SRC, has agreed to develop a hydrometallurgy for Appia’s monazite and the SRC has already designed and begun the construction of a 3000 ton per annum rare earth solvent extraction separation facility, where the separation and purification of Appia’s monazite will be proven and piloted in what will be Canada’s anchor for a total rare earth permanent magnet supply chain. Saskatchewan is the home of Canada’s uranium mining industry and so the sale of any recovered uranium and the storage (or use) of any recovered thorium is not a problem. 

North America is well on its way to becoming a world center of monazite processing, and Appia is Canada’s entry point to a domestic North American rare earth products production center.