The Rare Earths MMI (Monthly MetalMiner Index for Rare Earth Metals) extended its decline in July, losing another 2.8%. This is a significant move for rare earth prices and reinforces the subtle downtrend that began in April. Now more than ever, countries are frantically looking for ways to separate their supply of rare earths from China.
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Rare earth metals: All eyes are on Turkey’s ‘big find’
Back July 7eTurkey reported that he had discovered the second largest reserve of rare earth metals in the world. The site, located in central Anatolia, is estimated to contain 694 million tonnes of rare earth reserves. That would put it just 106 million tonnes behind the Bayan Obo field in northern China. If true, this would represent a shift in supply that could have a significant impact on rare earth prices.
Of the 17 elements in the “rare earth” category, the future site in Anatolia will produce ten. According to Fatih Donmez, the country’s Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Turkey will soon be able to process 570,000 tons of rare earths every year. Hopefully, the pilot plant will be operational by the end of 2022 and provide a significant supply of rare earth metals.
While the prospect of breaking China’s pseudo-monopoly on rare earths is tempting, the jury is still out on the quality of the Anatolian deposit. According to Jon Hykawy, President of Stormcrow Capital, “The old adage that ‘quality is king’ in mining still holds true. If this Turkish discovery is gigantic, but of very low quality, well, we generally call a material like this “dirt”.
Concerns also abound about whether Turkey is up to the challenges of large-scale mineral extraction and refining. For now, the market is waiting impatiently.
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£150m rare earths plant in UK draws criticism
Earlier this month rare earths company Pensanna opened the UK’s first-ever rare earths processing plant. The project began as part of an overall strategy to reduce China’s dominance in the rare earth market. According to those responsible for the £150million facility, the movement also saw renewed interest after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
British Secretary of State Kwasi Kwareng took the time to remind his fellow Europeans of the need to steer clear of Chinese teeth. “Critical minerals will become even more important as we seek to strengthen our energy security and national industrial resilience,” he said. He later added that the strategy “would also strengthen our resilience to market shocks and geopolitical events.”
That said, a recent FinancialTimes The article revealed that some industry experts are unhappy with the amount of disclosure around the project. For example, little is known at this point about executive compensation, the quality of resources, and the site’s ability to achieve its stated goals. As of this writing, the facility is expected to produce 12,500 tonnes of separated rare earths and 5% of the world’s magnetic metals by 2024.
However, Pensana’s plan relies on the supply of rare earth oxides from its Longonjo site in Angola, which has just come out of the ground. This fact is compounded by fears that the processing of Angolan ore generates large quantities of thorium, which is radioactive. In short: the market is keeping its fingers crossed, but not overly optimistic.
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North America Continues Progress Toward Rare Earth Independence
Last month, we did a lot of reporting on the United States’ reliance on Chinese rare earth supplies. A month earlier, we talked about the rare earths manufacturing plant that was to be built in Stillwater, Oklahoma. At the time, the $100 million facility was intended to create more than 100 jobs and help the United States reach a point of self-sufficiency. However, that plant is not expected to be commissioned until 2023. And depending on who you ask, that time frame could turn out to be an eternity.
In the meantime, there is good news leaving Canada. Vital Metals, owner of the rare earth mining facility in Saskatchewan, recently announced promising test results. It appears that the first feed to the DMS (dense media separation) unit at the site revealed capabilities comparable to the TREO grades seen in lab test work.
TREO Grade refers to “Total Rare Earth Oxide”. Essentially, the Vital Metals plant operates at an extraction efficiency (43.7%) very close to that obtained under laboratory conditions (44.6%). On top of that, the unit achieved 75.2% recovery during the test. This bodes very well for the site’s capacity estimates and its ability to produce high-quality products.
According to Managing Director Geoff Atkins, “The fact that we achieved laboratory test grades for total rare earths with 75% recovery with low quality raw materials is above expectations.” Of course, the site plans to continue to optimize its processes. Yet these results represent a real boost to the overall potential of the facility.
Rare earth price changes
- Neodymium fell 11.2%. Compared to the July price of $174,572.15 per metric ton, its current price stands at $154,945.66 per metric ton.
- Dysprosium oxide also fell in price. In July, prices were $367.23 per kilogram. In August, prices stood at $344.74 per kilogram, resulting in a price drop of 6.14%.
- Terbium oxide, by comparison, fell only slightly, around 0.19%. Prices went from $2,057.55 per kilogram to $2,053.59 per kilogram.
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