US uranium mining company Energy Fuels announced that it has entered into a three-year supply arrangement with US chemical company Chemours to acquire a minimum of 2,500t per year of natural monazite sands, one of the highest-grade rare earth minerals in the world.
Energy Fuels is set to begin processing the monazite at its White Mesa Mill starting in Q1 2021, recovering the contained uranium and producing the marketable mixed rare earth carbonate. According to Energy Fuels, the supply arrangement represents an important step towards re-establishing a fully-integrated US rare earths supply chain.
Successfully ramped up, Energy Fuels will be the first US company in several years to produce a marketable rare earth concentrate ready for separation on a commercial scale. The company estimates the amount of rare earth minerals contained in the monazite sands to equal close to 10% of current US demand.
These are fundamental to an array of clean energy or otherwise advanced technologies, from wind turbines, electric vehicles, cell phones, and military defence systems. Monazite also contains significant recoverable quantities of uranium, which has uses in carbon-free electricity generation through nuclear power.
“With our announcement today, southeast Utah is fast becoming America’s clean energy and critical minerals hub,” said Energy Fuels CEO and president Mark Chalmers. “Our goal is to domestically produce the raw materials needed for clean energy and advanced technologies while creating green jobs in an economically challenged part of the country.
“Currently, the US imports nearly all of our rare earth, uranium and vanadium requirements, despite having ample supplies here in the US. Importantly, in the United States, we are highly regulated and operate to the highest standards, which means we produce these minerals more responsibly than many of the countries from which we currently import. Our agreement with Chemours may be the beginning of a real success story, not only for Energy Fuels, but also for local communities, Native Americans, conservation groups, the State of Utah, and the US as a whole.”
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Earlier this year, Chalmers explained the potential of his company’s White Mesa Mill in developing US domestic production of rare earths – these minerals are overwhelmingly controlled by China, and as tensions between the two nations have escalated in recent years, concerns have been raised about the need to blunt Chinese dominance in this area.
President of titanium technologies at Chemours “Our partnership with Energy Fuels to help support the rare earth supply chain in the US came from a deliberate process of customer engagement and developing sustainable solutions for our critical minerals. This is consistent with Chemours’ goals of supporting advanced technologies and clean energy, and we will continue efforts to grow and diversify the domestic supply chain.”
The monazite sands will be sourced from Chemours’ Offerman Mineral Sand Plant in Georgia, with shipments from the plant to White Mesa beginning in Q1. Energy Fuels is also in discussions with other entities to acquire further supplies of monazite and is working with the US Department of Energy to evaluate the potential of processing other types of rare earth elements and uranium-bearing ores at the White Mesa Mill. Its target is to process at least 15,000t of monazite and other sources of ore per year for the recovery of rare earths and uranium. Energy Fuels has touted its existing White Mesa Mill as a cost-effective, environmentally sensible means to build US rare earth production, as using its existing facilities avoids the time and costs required to license and develop new facilities.
“This is a proud moment for Energy Fuels, as we deploy our unique capabilities to benefit both the environment and our shareholders,” Chalmers said. “Energy Fuels already produces uranium, which is the fuel for clean, carbon-free nuclear energy. And we periodically produce vanadium, which is used in the production of steel, aerospace alloys, and advanced grid-scale batteries used to store renewable energy. The responsible production of rare earths and uranium from natural monazite sand ores is an important clean-technology addition to those programs.
“We are also seeking to help the US Environmental Protection Agency and Navajo Nation address historic, government-sponsored uranium mines, a project to which I am personally deeply committed.”