USA Rare Earth, the funding and development partner of the Round Top heavy rare earth and critical minerals project in West Texas, on Thursday announced that it had opened a pilot plant processing facility in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.
The plant would be focused, initially, on group separation of rare earths into heavy (dysprosium, terbium), middle, and light (neodymium, praseodymium) rare earths elements (REE).
The final phase of the pilot work would be the further separation of high-purity individual REE compounds.
At the same time, the pilot plant would recover non-REEs, focusing on lithium, uranium, beryllium, gallium, zirconium, hafnium and aluminium, all of which are on the US government’s critical minerals list.
Confirming the recovery of these non-REEs would support upgrading the measured and indicated resources to proven and probable reserves and the completion of the prefeasibility study.
“Establishing an independent domestic rare earth and critical minerals supply chain is monumental for USA Rare Earth and for the United States, overcoming reliance on China for materials and processing that are essential for defence applications and advanced technology manufacturing,” said USA Rare Earth CEO Pini Althaus.
With the Round Top project, the processing facility and the recent acquisition of the neo magnet plant formerly owned and operated by Hitachi, USA Rare Earth has a three-pronged mine-to-magnet strategy to establish a resilient, 100%-domestic supply chain for rare earth magnets.
USA Rare Earth recently announced that it had completed its Phase I bench scale testing. This phase of work used feed solutions produced from pilot heap leach columns processing ore from Round Top and demonstrated the ability to load and concentrate REEs in the presence of high concentrations of non-REEs, including other critical minerals such as lithium.
The pilot plant, USA Rare Earth said, was the second link in a 100% US-based rare earth oxide supply chain, drawing on feedstock from the Round Top deposit.
“Together with our recently acquired rare earth magnet manufacturing platform, Round Top and our pilot plant constitute essential links in restoring a mine-to-magnet domestic US rare earth supply chain without the material ever leaving the United States, thereby alleviating the current dependence on China for the both raw materials and mineral processing,” Althaus continued.