Ucore Rare Metals, Inc. ("Ucore" or the "Company") is pleased to update on the continuing performance of the SuperLig®-One rare earth element ("REE") separation pilot plant (the "Plant" or "SuperLig®-One".)
Pregnant leach solution ("PLS") derived from the Company's Bokan-Dotson Ridge project in Alaska has been treated by the SuperLig®-One Molecular Recognition Technology ("MRT") Plant, at the IBC Advanced Technologies, Inc. ("IBC") Utah facility. The PLS was initially separated from impurity metals ("Gangue Metals") (see Ucore Press Release ("PR"), dated May 9, 2016) followed by the removal of scandium (see Ucore PR dated May 24, 2016.)
In the latest separation circuit, the PLS has now been separated into two classes of REE: heavy REE, comprised of samarium to lutetium ("HREE") and light REE, comprised of lanthanum to neodymium plus yttrium ("LREE"). The class separations have been achieved at 99%+ purity and 99%+ recovery.
The foregoing represents the final stage of processing prior to the separation of individual Critical HREE ("Heavy CREOs") from the remaining PLS. The Heavy CREOs, which include dysprosium, terbium and europium, are classified by the US Department of Energy as being critically important to the near term viability of domestic clean energy applications and industries.
"The SuperLig®-One pilot facility has again delivered results that represent near quantitative levels of recovery and purity," said Jim McKenzie, President and CEO of Ucore. "This ability differentiates MRT from less selective technologies such as solvent extraction, ion exchange, and precipitation ("Legacy Separation Technologies"), which consume significant quantities of solvents and hazardous chemicals. These legacy methodologies are also characterized by substantial waste generation, much of it in the form of unrecoverable REE. SuperLig®-One, by contrast, is the first commercial scale green chemistry platform that we are aware of capable of separating and recovering HREE and LREE classes at both a 99%+ level of purity and a 99%+ level of recovery."
Since announcement of the completion of SuperLig® certifications; PLS analysis; automation control verification; water testing; process flow testing of the Plant; REE separation, as a group, from the Gangue Metals; and scandium separation from the group of REE; the following results have been achieved using the SuperLig®-One Plant:
- Separation of REE into HREE and LREE Classes - HREE and LREE groups were separated from each other at the 99%+ level. Each class contains a minimum of 99% of the HREE and LREE, respectively, originally present in the PLS. Recovery of greater than 99% of 99%+ pure HREE and LREE is in sharp contrast to the processing of REE-bearing solutions using other, less selective Legacy Separation Technologies, wherein large percentages of the initial REE may end up as waste in tailings. The highly selective, green chemistry SuperLig®-One separations make the HREE and LREE classes available for further separations, as desired, of individual pure REE free from Gangue Metals.
- REE Purity - Purity of each of the HREE and LREE classes is greater than 99% versus Gangue Metals and other REE. Prior removal of the Gangue Metals and separation of the REE into distinct classes greatly simplifies the further purification of the PLS to obtain individual REE.
- Verification of Purities and Confirmation of Scale-up Parameters - Purities and recoveries of the HREE and LREE classes from the PLS have been verified analytically at IBC using inductively coupled plasma spectroscopy ("ICP".) Purities and recovery rates obtained are consistent with those found earlier in lab-scale test work at IBC (see PR dated March 2, 2015), in which purities of the individually separated REE were verified by an independent analytical laboratory, confirming that the SuperLig®-One Plant is scaling as expected. Scaling of the Plant is enhanced by the numerical knowledge of all operating parameters at the molecular level, which were determined previously at laboratory scale. Subsequent scaling then follows directly using well known chemical engineering principles, as seen in the functioning SuperLig®-One Plant.
The SuperLig®-One Plant offers a disruptive technology platform for diversifying, from commercial, geographical and technological perspectives, the separation and processing of REE. Currently concentrated in China, present-day REE processing is oligopolistic and depends upon an installed base of Legacy Separation Technologies. The introduction of efficient, innovative, green chemistry REE production using MRT is expected to substantially alter this dynamic and strengthen the domestic, commercial, and military economies of the United States and other nations that depend on reliable and efficiently processed sources of rare metals, such as REE, for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous future.
The next stages of the SuperLig®-One Plant operation will demonstrate the separation of the individual Heavy CREOs, as well as two HREE sub-groups, as follows:
- Separation and recovery of dysprosium at 99.99% purity.
- Individual separation and recovery of terbium and europium, each at 99%+ purity.
- Separation and recovery of an HREE sub-group containing holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, and lutetium at the 99%+ purity level. This sub-group will be retained for further separations.
- Separation and recovery of an HREE sub-group containing samarium and gadolinium at the 99%+ purity level. This sub-group will be retained for further separations.
The recently separated 99%+ pure LREE class will be retained for future separations, as required.
Following confirmatory testing of each unit operation, the Plant will undergo a continuous run of PLS.
For further information on the SuperLig®-One Pilot Plant Mission Summary, please see the following link: http://ucore.com/superlig-one
For background on traditional approaches to separation of REE and the historical advance offered by MRT, please refer to the recently published White Paper on Separation of Rare Earth Elements, entitled "Molecular Recognition Technology: A Green Chemistry Process for Separation of Individual Rare Earth Metals", at the following link: http://ucore.com/academic-papers
Steven R. Izatt, President and CEO of IBC, has approved the scientific and technical content of this news release and is the Qualified Person responsible for its accuracy. Mr. Izatt, Registered Member of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration ("SME"), holds a B.A. degree in Chemistry from Brigham Young University ("BYU"), as well as an M.S. degree in Chemical Engineering Practice and an M.S. degree in Technology and Policy, both from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ("MIT".)