TORONTO (miningweekly.com) – Vancouver-based Montero Mining and Exploration said on Monday it inked an agreement with South Africa’s Mintek to study ways to extract rare-earth elements from the company’s Wigu Hill project in Tanzania.
Montero CEO Tony Harwood told Mining Weekly Online he believed "we’ve got a Mountain Pass 2 here, in Africa", referring to the mine that US firm Molycorp is recommissioning in California.
Montero said Mintek, the Johannesburg-based mining research centre, is a leader in rare earth metallurgy and has run pilot-plan scale operations for 25 years.
Scientists from the two organisations will investigate what will be required to produce high purity mixed rare-earth oxide concentrates as well as the more valuable individual pure rare-earth oxides, used to make permanent magnets that go into smart phones, wind turbines and electric vehicles.
"They’ve done that type of work before, just not on our ore," Harwood said, speaking from Johannesburg.
State-owned Mintek would partly fund some of the research.
“Mintek's expertise in mineral processing and metallurgical extraction is key to developing a successful and cost-effective process suited to the ore characteristics of the Wigu Hill mineralogy,” Harwood noted.
The company has yet to produce a resource estimate at Wigu Hill, and early-stage exploration is ongoing.
Harwood said Montero, which listed on the TSX-V in February, would publish a maiden 43 101-compliant resource statement in June or July, following which a prefeasibility study would take place, likely to be completed in the second half of 2012.
The company would then likely publish a full feasibility study in 2013.
Companies and governments have been scrambling to secure rare-earth element resources after China, accounting for over 95% of global supplies, started drastically curbing exports over the past three years, sending prices significantly higher.