Harnessing Waste to Obtain Rare Earths: A Transformation Project

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The world is facing a shortage of rare earth minerals, which are critical for powering the green revolution of electric cars and wind turbines. To address the looming crisis, a group of six projects and companies are taking steps to extract these valuable elements from waste or by-products.

Leading the global production is Iluka Resources Ltd., an Australian firm that has established two processing plants and aims to launch the third, a refinery, in 2025. With this, the company becomes Australia’s first rare earth separation plant producing NdPr oxides, the rare earths most in demand. They will initially treat a huge stockpile of material at Eneabba in Western Australia, though they plan to use feedstock from other operations in the future.

Joining the quest to produce rare earths are U.S. companies Phoenix Tailings, who have developed technology to process the minerals from the tailings of old mines, and Energy Fuels Inc., who have signed offtake agreements with a Chemours plant to extract the rare earths from monazite found in mineral sands. Phoenix Tailings plans to launch operations with waste from an iron ore mine in New York in 2026 and produce an estimated 2,589 tonnes of NdPr oxides a year, while Energy Fuels is aiming to open its own rare earth oxides separation plant and produce 1,500 to 3,000 tonnes of NdPr oxide annually come 2024.

Rainbow Rare Earths Ltd., is taking another approach by reprocessing stockpiles leftover from phosphate mining since the 1950s. They are working with U.S. company K-Technologies on their new system, which they expect to produce 1,850 tonnes a year of NdPr oxides by 2026. On the other hand, VHM Ltd., another Australian company getting involved in rare earth production, is at the Goschen mineral sands project, an operation that will produce rare earths. They have agreed on an offtake agreement with China’s Shenghe, and plan to produce around 850 tonnes of NdPr oxides in 2027. Finally, state-owned Swedish iron ore producer LKAB has been tasked with extracting rare earths from waste material from two existing mines, which they plan to send to a refinery at Norway’s REEtec to be separated. They will produce 2,000 tonnes of TREOs containing around 400 tonnes of NdPr oxides each year starting 2027.

Person mentioned:
Jan Harvey is a journalist who is the credited editor of the article that focuses on six projects which plan to extract the critical mineral rare earths from waste or byproducts. Her job is to curate the content in the article to adequately summarize the important points.

Company Mentioned:
Iluka Resources Ltd. is a leading Australian firm in the production of rare earths. It has established two processing plants with the third, a refinery, expected to launch in 2025. The company is initially treating a huge stockpiled of material located at Eneabba in Western Australia, and ultimately looking to use feedstock from other operations.