Energy Fuels Inc. entered into a three-year supply agreement with The Chemours Company to acquire a minimum of 2,500 tons per year of natural monazite sands, one of the highest-grade rare earth element (REE) minerals in the world.
Energy Fuels expects to process this monazite at its 100%-owned White Mesa Mill starting in Q1-2021, recover the contained uranium, and produce a marketable mixed REE carbonate, representing an important step toward re-establishing a fully-integrated US REE supply chain.
Upon a successful ramp-up of this program, Energy Fuels will be the first US company in several years to produce a marketable mixed REE concentrate ready for separation on a commercial scale. Energy Fuels estimates that the amount of REEs contained in the monazite sands to be supplied by Chemours will equal close to 10% of total current US REE demand, as contained in end-use products.
REEs are the building-blocks of a wide array of clean energy and advanced technologies, including wind turbines, electric vehicles, cell phones, computers, flat panel displays, advanced optics, catalysts, medicine, and national defense applications. Monazite also contains significant recoverable quantities of uranium, which fuels the production of carbon-free electricity using nuclear technology.
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.—Mark S. Chalmers, President and CEO of Energy Fuels
Typical monazite sand ores from the southeast US average about 55% total rare earth oxides (TREO) and 0.20% uranium, which is the typical grade of uranium found in uranium mines that have historically fed the White Mesa Mill.
Of the 55% TREO typically found in the monazite sands, the neodymium and praseodymium oxides (NdPr) comprise approximately 22% of the TREO. Nd and Pr are among the most valuable of the REEs, as they are the key ingredient in the manufacture of high-strength permanent magnets which are essential to the lightweight and powerful motors required in electric vehicles and permanent magnet wind turbines used for renewable energy generation, as well as to an array of other modern technologies, including, mobile devices and defense applications.
The monazite sands will be from Chemours’ Offerman Mineral Sand Plant in Georgia. Shipments of monazite sands from Georgia to the White Mesa Mill in Utah are expected to commence in the first quarter of 2021. Energy Fuels expects to recover uranium from the monazite and produce a commercially salable mixed REE carbonate containing ~71% TREO (dry basis). This REE product will be ready for REE separation, which is the next step in producing usable REE products.
The company is also in discussions with other entities to acquire additional supplies of monazite and is working with the US Department of Energy to evaluate the potential to process other types of REE and uranium bearing ores at the White Mesa Mill produced from coal-based resources. The company has a goal to process 15,000+ tons of monazite and other sources of ore per year for the recovery of REEs and uranium.
The company also believes this project may, in time, result in among the lowest-cost REE production in the western world, since the company is obtaining monazite from existing mining facilities in Georgia (and potentially elsewhere) and utilizing its existing White Mesa Mill processing facility in Utah.
Utilizing existing facilities avoids the significant time and cost required to license and develop new facilities. In addition, since monazite sands are currently being separated from other mineral sands in Georgia and elsewhere, the Company will only incur the cost to acquire the monazite, thereby avoiding mining costs and associated risks.
The company expects to sell some or all of its mixed REE carbonate to buyers in Europe and/or Asia until a REE separation facility is established in the United States. The company is also evaluating the potential to perform REE separation, and potentially other downstream REE activities, including metal-making and alloying, in the future at the White Mesa Mill or elsewhere in the United States.
Further, Energy Fuels’ mixed REE carbonate production from monazite sand ores is expected to utilize only a very small amount of the White Mesa Mill’s ore production capacity and very little waste.
The company expects to acquire a minimum 2,500 tons of monazite sands in 2021 from Chemours alone and is looking to increase production in the future to up to approximately 15,000 tons of monazite sands per year. For comparison, the White Mesa Mill is licensed and designed to process 2,000 tons of ore per day on average, or 720,000 tons of ore per year. Therefore, 2,500 tons of monazite per year represents less than 0.4% of the Mill’s ore throughput capacity, and 15,000 tons would represent only about 2% of its throughput capacity.
If the company is successful in securing 15,000 tons of ore similar to the Chemours monazite, the company believes it would produce approximately 50% of US REE demand in a mixed REE carbonate. Furthermore, since monazite typically consists of approximately 55% recoverable uranium and REEs, the total volume of resulting waste is significantly lower than for most other mill feeds.
Energy Fuels currently has 1.5 million tons of existing capacity in its fully-constructed, state-of-the-art, 1,000-year design tailings impoundments. Therefore, the annual waste streams from monazite ore processing will represent less than 1% of existing tailings capacity. Even at higher levels of monazite processing, very little waste will be generated.