Rainbow Rare Earths has announced that the front end of the Phalaborwa pilot plant in South Africa has successfully produced its first batch of mixed rare earth sulfate, totalling approximately 3 kg.
This major milestone has been achieved on time and within the expectations of the preliminary economic assessment (PEA) in terms of reagent consumption/costs and recoveries.
The front-end pilot plant has produced a 58% mixed rare earth sulfate product with a 65% overall recovery, in line with the PEA. The final sulfate includes all four of the most economically important rare earth elements (NdPr, Dy, and Tb) in economic quantities in line with the Phalaborwa mineral resource. These are known as the ‘magnet rare earths’ as they are used to make the permanent magnets essential to decarbonisation, via their use in electric vehicles and wind turbines.
The mixed rare earth sulfate produced by the Phalaborwa pilot plant is a commercial product that could be a standalone revenue stream for Rainbow, with an estimated 60% payability of the global price for the contained separated rare earth oxides.
The Phalaborwa front-end pilot plant is situated at the Johannesburg facilities of the Council for Mineral Technology (Mintek) and related fields, and is running for four months treating 35 t of phosphogypsum feed from the Phalaborwa project stacks to produce 350 kg of mixed rare earth sulfate. During this period, further optimisation of recoveries and reagent consumptions/costs are expected to be achieved.
The first batch of mixed rare earth sulfate will be shipped to the back-end pilot plant, situated at K-Technologies, Inc. (K-Tech) in Lakeland, Florida, US, for separation into rare earth oxides, with the first batch of separated rare earth oxides expected early in 4Q23.
Rainbow is currently exploring the option of establishing its back-end rare earth oxide separation process in the US, and has identified a potential site for a commercial scale plant. This would establish the company as one of the only producers of the four permanent magnet separated rare earth oxides in the US.
Rainbow, through its proprietary flow sheet, expects to be able to produce separated rare earth oxide products at >99.5% purity that can be sold directly to metal and alloy manufacturing capacity (which in turn feed permanent magnet manufacturing plants) currently being developed in the US and aligned countries, highlighting Rainbow’s unique position within the magnet rare earth supply chain.
George Bennett, CEO, comments:
“The production of mixed rare earth sulfate from the front-end pilot plant is a major milestone for the Phalaborwa project and validates Rainbow’s strategy to recover rare earth elements from phosphogypsum stacks. This achievement not only de-risks Phalaborwa, it also opens up exciting opportunities for the company to apply the proprietary technology to other similar phosphogypsum resources globally, including at the Mosaic Uberaba stack in Brazil.
“We look forward to our final de-risking step, producing separated rare earth oxides in early 4Q23 at the back-end pilot plant situated at K-Tech’s facilities in the US. This will enable Rainbow to capture the full uplift in value by taking our product all the way through to separated rare earth oxides, with the overall positive impact on the company’s future revenue streams and profitability.
“Given the importance of Phalaborwa, we are delighted to have recently increased our stake in the project to 85% and have a clear path to owning 100% in the near-term, as we believe this will be highly value accretive to shareholders over time.
“The US and aligned countries are looking to establish an independent and ethical supply chain of the rare earth elements that are essential to decarbonisation, defence, and other strategic products vital to the 21st century global economy, and we are expecting Rainbow to be able to play a significant role in meeting that objective.”
Source: Global Mining Review