US-based Energy Fuels believes the next upward cycle for vanadium may have begun and has started selling some of its 1.65-million-pound inventory, while it is also actively pursuing uranium sales contracts.
The company, which also produces rare earth elements (REE), explains that in 2019 it built a significant inventory of vanadium to sell into the abrupt upside price volatility that vanadium markets experience, most recently in late 2018.
CEO Mark Chalmer says the next upward cycle may have begun with prices having risen sharply in the first months of 2022, following a 62% increase in vanadium oxide (V2O5) prices last year. At current prices, the vanadium inventory is worth about $20.2-million.
While no vanadium production is planned for 2022, the company is evaluating the potential to resume production from the White Mesa mill’s pond solutions or its conventional deposits to replace sold inventory.
“We estimate our pond solutions alone contain another one-million to three-million pounds of recoverable V2O5 and would be first and lowest cost to the market,” Chalmers states.
Besides the vanadium inventory, Energy Fuels also has a uranium stockpile of 691 00 lb (worth about $40.4-million), which it is considering selling on the spot market, having not sold any uranium last year.
In addition, the company is “actively” looking to enter into long-term contracts.
“With the recent events in Ukraine, security of supply in the US for uranium is crucial,” Chalmers says, adding that the company is ready to be a large-scale supplier to US nuclear utilities.
“We are seeing an increase in utility interest for long-term contracts. We are pursuing uranium sales contracts with pricing and terms that return acceptable project margins and maintain exposure to further uranium market upside,” he states.
During 2022, the company plans to recover 100 000 lb to 120 000 lb of uranium at the mill, in Utah.
No significant amounts of uranium will be recovered from the Nichols Ranch project, in Wyoming, or the Alta Mesa project, in Texas, until suitable term sales contracts can be procured or the proposed US uranium reserve is established, Energy Fuels notes.
Meanwhile, Energy Fuels produced about 270 t of mixed REE carbonate, containing 120 t of total rare earth oxides (TREO) during 2021, as it ramped up its REE recovery infrastructure.
The company is in discussions with several sources of natural monazite sands to increase the supply off feed for its REE initiative.
“We are proud of our accomplishments in REEs. We announced our entry into the REE business less than two years ago, and today we are ramping up our production of commercial quantities of RE carbonate, which is a more advanced REE material than any other US company is producing, as we are chemically recovering the REEs in a high-purity material that is ready for REE separation,” says Chalmers.
Energy Fuels is also moving toward licensing and installing the infrastructure needed to produce separated REE oxides on a full commercial scale in the coming years.
“The proven processing technology for producing separated REE oxides is solvent extraction, or 'SX,' and our White Mesa Mill has over 40 years of experience producing uranium and vanadium using SX. With the support of Carester, a leading global consultant in the production of separated REE products, we believe it is a logical 'next step' for Energy Fuels to produce separated REE oxides on a full commercial scale at the mill. We have already successfully performed lanthanum, cerium, and neodymium-praseodymium separations at pilot scale in the mill's lab over the past several months, and we recently began ramping up our commercial separation of lanthanum and cerium from our RE carbonate on a small scale using an existing SX circuit at the mill.”
Chalmer adds that Energy Fuels’ primary REE focuses in 2022 will be building supply of monazite ore, designing and licensing a new full commercial scale REE separation circuit at the Mill, and advancing its innovative REE metal initiative with Nanoscale Powders (NSP).
Energy Fuels and NSP are partnering on the development of a novel technology that would potentially produce REE metals. The technology has the potential to reduce the costs of production, energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions versus existing technologies.