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Idaho National Lab, US Critical Materials sign deal to develop new rare earth processing methods

The date of: 2023-12-06
viewed: 1

Idaho National Laboratory (INL), in collaboration with US Critical Materials, announced on Monday a multi-phase project to develop rare earths processing methods.
US Critical Materials’ flagship Sheep Creek property in Southwest Montana reported earlier this year grades that exceed any other domestic rare earth resource. As part of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Earth Mapping Resource Initiative, the USGS, in cooperation with the Montana Bureau of Mines, announced in April it is conducting an aeromagnetic and aero-radiometric survey at Sheep Creek property.
The project with IDL focuses on developing a process for carbonatite ore handling, preparation, and extraction of targeted, value-added metals present in the ore. This process can be achieved by invoking a combination of conventional and emerging materials handling and separations processes, the company said.
This is a positive development for a nascent North American rare earths market and taps into the broader issue of the glaring lack of domestic production. China has a near monopoly on the group of 17 metals that are crucial to the development of smart electronic devices and wind turbines, and which are notoriously difficult to extract and expensive to process.
The need for developing solutions has become highly significant to the security of the United States given its current dependence on Chinese supply and processing of critical materials, INL noted.
There is only one active mine for magnetic REEs in the United States, Mountain Pass in California, which is part owned by Chinese interests and exports its materials to China to be refined.
In August, China rattled the market when it exported zero gallium and germanium due to export controls on the two critical chipmaking metals. In light of China’s export curbs on gallium and germanium, many have questioned if rare earths could be next on China’s list of restricted exports, reports Adamas Intelligence.
US Critical Materials and INL said they will form several integrated industry and lab technical teams to evaluate state-of-the-art separations technologies and commission targeted research, development, demonstration, testing and evaluation of separations technologies useful for achieving economic, environmental, and performance efficacy targets provided by US Critical Materials.
Technologies developed under this cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) could result in intellectual property that may lead to new patent filings at the conclusion of the eight-month term of the current CRADA, they said.
“The US has very little commercial rare earths processing. We need to be able to compete with and exceed China’s rare earth processing capabilities,” US Critical Materials president and former USGS rare earth commodities specialist Jim Hedrick said in Monday’s release.
“This research agreement, and the tech that will be developed, will help advance US rare earth processing proficiency.”

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