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Energy Fuels shores up Australian supply for REE production

4th June 2024

By: Mariaan Webb

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

     

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US-based Energy Fuels has formed a joint venture (JV) with Astron to develop the Donald rare earth element (REE) and mineral sands project in Australia, securing supply for its White Mesa mill, in Utah.

The mining project, in Victoria, will provide Energy Fuels with monazite sand in a REE concentrate that could be transported to Utah for processing into REE oxides and other advanced REE materials.

With most licences and permits either in place or at an advanced stage, Donald could supply the White Mesa mill with between 7 000 t/y and 8 000 t/y of REE concentrate as early as 2026.

A yearly 8 000 t of REE concentrates contain about 4 700 t of total REE oxides, including 990 t of neodymium-praseodymium oxide, 84 t of dysprosium oxide and 14 t of terbium oxide.

Known as “magnet rare earths”, these elements are key ingredients in powerful permanent REE magnets used in electric vehicles, hybrids, wind generators and defence-related and advanced technologies.

Following Phase 1, Energy Fuels and Astron will consider an expansion to 14 000 t/y of REE concentrates.

Construction and development of the Donald project could begin as soon as next year, subject to an unanimous final investment decision of both companies.

According to the Donald 2023 prefeasiblity study (PFS), the project will require A$392-million to achieve first production. An additional A$431-million in capital will be required in 2029 or 2030 for the construction of the second phase.

According to the 2023 PFS, the Donald deposit's estimated ore reserves of 825-million tonnes at 4.5% heavy mineral, are sufficient to support an initial 58-year mine life at Donald – Phase 2 production rates of about 13 000 t/y to 14 000 t/y of REE concentrate.

Under the JV, Energy Fuels has the right to invest A$183-million to earn up to a 49% interest in the venture.

Energy Fuels expects to spend $10.6-million to advance the project this year.

Meanwhile, Energy Fuels is commissioning an REE separation facility at the White Mesa mill that will enable commercial-scale REE separation in the US.

Phase 1 of the separation circuit at the mill was completed at the end of the first quarter and has a current installed capacity to process up to 10 000 t/y of REE concentrate and produce up to 1 000 t/y of neodymium-praseodymium along with a samarium plus heavy-mixed REE carbonate containing dysprosium and terbium. Final commissioning is expected by June 30, at which time the Phase 1 – REE separation circuit is expected to be fully operational and available to process the Donald – Phase 1 REE concentrate production, which is expected to start in 2026.

Energy Fuels does not need to finance or construct further expansions at the mill to accommodate REE concentrate from Donald.

The company is also in the process of designing its Phase 2 REE separation and Phase 3 REE separation circuits at the mill.

The Phase 2 circuit, which is currently expected to be completed in 2027, subject to receipt of any required regulatory approvals and the company securing sufficient supplies of monazite sands, will consist of expanding neodymium-praseodymium oxide capacity to process 40 000 t/y to 60 000 t/y of monazite sands and produce 4 000 t/y to 6 000 t/y neodymium-praseodymium oxide.

Energy Fuels also plans to construct a dedicated "crack-and-leach" circuit in conjunction with its Phase 2 separation circuit, in order to allow the mill to simultaneously process conventional uranium ore and monazite sands independently, thereby allowing for more efficient use of mill capacity.

The Phase 2 REE separation circuit is expected to be completed in time to process the expected Phase 2 production from the Donald mine, which could be available by as early as 2029/30 depending on market conditions, final design and permitting.

The Phase 2 REE separation circuit would also accommodate monazite production from the Bahia project in Brazil, which is currently in the exploration and permitting phase and which could be producing 3 000 t/y to 10 000 t/y of monazite as early as 2026.

Energy Fuels' planned acquisition of Base Resources and its Toliara heavy mineral sands project, if that acquisition is successful, which could add an average of 22 000 t/y of monazite  subject to successful negotiation of an investment agreement with the Madagascar government, the lifting of the current suspension relating to the Toliara project, the receipt of additional permits for the recovery of Monazite at the Toliara project, and other factors.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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