VANCOUVER (miningweekly.com) – A 400% rise in vanadium pentoxide (V2O5) prices over the last 24 months has prompted US-based uranium producer Energy Fuels to resume vanadium recovery operations at its flagship White Mesa mill, in Utah, this year.
The lithium-ion battery-making ingredient has reached new ten-year highs of more than $15/lb, making the “significant” identified concentrations of dissolved vanadium in pond solutions at the mill profitable, the company advised.
“Due to recent vanadium price strength and bullish market sentiment, we are evaluating a number of opportunities to resume cash-flow-positive and sustainable vanadium recovery, including today's announcement of our campaign to recover vanadium from the mill's pond solutions. If this campaign is successful, Energy Fuels would expect to become a commercial scale vanadium producer for the next few years, just from pond solutions,” president and CEO Mark Chalmers stated.
The White Mesa mill has a long history of conventional vanadium recovery, most recently producing 1.5-million pounds of vanadium in 2013. During its 38-year operating history, the mill has produced more than 45-million pounds of vanadium – or over $500-million of vanadium at today's prices, according to Energy Fuels.
The mill is the only operating conventional uranium recovery facility in the US, and, at the present time, is the only operating facility in the US with the near-term ability to resume vanadium recovery.
The company believes the dissolved vanadium in the ponds can be recovered using existing equipment and process streams at the mill, similar to how dissolved uranium is currently recovered from the same brine ponds. The solution ranges between 1.4 g/ℓ and 2 g/ℓ V2O5, the company said.
Should full-scale costs and recoveries prove bench-scale analysis performed to date, the company would expect to recover about 500 000 lb of V2O5 in 2018, which, based on current vanadium prices, would be expected to generate positive net cash flow this year.
The company will then evaluate its actual 2018 costs and recoveries and, given favourable results, and depending on prevailing vanadium market conditions, would expect to continue vanadium production from pond returns in 2019 and 2020.
Chalmers advised that Energy Fuels is also evaluating other vanadium production opportunities, including the processing of previously mined uranium/vanadium stockpiles near the mill, processing other vanadium-bearing streams and, with improved uranium prices, to restart conventional uranium/vanadium mine production from certain of its highest-grade and largest vanadium resources, including the La Sal and Whirlwind mines, which are currently on standby.
He also believes that should the uranium Section 232 Petition the company recently filed with the US Department of Commerce be successful, it will potentially lift domestic uranium prices enough to potentially allow these mines – and others in the region – to resume commercial uranium and vanadium production. Along with UrEnergy, the companies are seeking an import quota that reserves 25% of the US nuclear market for uranium produced in the US.