UK rare earths mining company Pensana chairperson Paul Atherley says the company is pleased to be helping the UK lead the way in establishing a sustainable and independent magnet metal supply chain, at a time when sustainability and supply chain resilience are high on the global agenda.
The company is developing its Longonjo rare earth mine, in Angola, which will supply mixed rare earth sulphate that will be treated at the company’s Saltend processing facility, in the UK, which is under construction at a cost of about $195-million.
“Our aim is to supply customers with an ultra-low-carbon magnet metal, powered by offshore wind at Saltend, with feedstock sustainably sourced from Longonjo [which is] powered by hydroelectricity,” says Atherley.
Pensana points out that there is growing international concern over the resilience of the magnet metal supply chain, given that China still accounts for the majority of global rare earth production.
Simultaneously, demand for magnet metal rare earths is expected to continue growing, with Adamas Intelligence forecasting an 8.3% compound annual growth rate to 2035.
Pensana believes it can play a role in helping to meet demand for these metals, by providing electric vehicle and wind turbine original-equipment manufacturers with an independent and sustainable supply of rare earths.
The Saltend facility has been designed to import high-value rare earths from Pensana’s Longonjo rare earths mine and from other global sources and then separate them into rare earth oxides.
UK engineering consultancy Wood and a team of specialty rare earth experts from Perth, in Australia, as well as from Johannesburg and the UK, have designed the facility to produce 12 500 t/y of rare earth oxides, of which 4 500 t will be neodymium praseodymium (NdPr) oxide.
With operations planned to start in 2024, the facility will produce about 5% of global supply of magnet metal rare earths, creating more than 500 jobs during construction and 125 permanent jobs.
The company points out that green bonds reviewer Cicero has concluded that Pensana’s plans are in line with green bond principles, with a “Light Green” rating being granted and a governance score of “Good”.
Rather than selling a concentrate to China, as many mining companies in Africa still do, Pensana will carry out as much processing as possible in Angola using chemical recycling – thereby creating local jobs and ensuring that Angola has a fair fiscal take.
The Longonjo operation has been designed to handle the normally occurring radionuclides (Norm) in the phosphate ores. Other producers concentrate the Norm along with the rare earths and export them to separation facilities in Malaysia and China.
By contrast, at Longonjo, Pensana will extract the rare earths from the processed ore, with the waste material containing the Norm stored safely in a permanent tailings storage facility on site.
The mine will also be powered by hydroelectricity.
At Saltend, Pensana will convert NdPr oxides into ultra-low-carbon magnet metal, powered by a 200 MW battery, which will be operated by Yorkshire Energy Park.
Further, as part of efforts to create a circular economy for permanent magnets in the UK, Pensana and petroleum refiner Equinor have started studies to assess the potential to use the blue hydrogen produced at Equinor’s Hydrogen to Humber, or H2H, project, also located in the Saltend Chemicals Park, to recycle end-of-life magnets in offshore wind turbines.