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South Africa’s permanent magnet rare earths attracting keen interest

Rainbow Rare Earths Phalaborwa mine.

Rainbow Rare Earths Phalaborwa mine.

5th December 2023

By: Martin Creamer

Creamer Media Editor

     

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JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – South Africa is recognised as having the potential to play a significant role in the establishment of a more diversified supply chain of critical rare earths for the green energy transition.

Interestingly, all four of the permanent magnet rare earths required for the green energy transition are hosted in Phalaborwa, Limpopo – and they are attracting keen investor interest because of their low cost of recovery and their removal improving the environment.

Phosphogypsum leftovers from phosphoric acid production that ceased in 2014 are providing the near-term production opportunity.

The four rare earths that will be produced at Phalaborwa – neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium and terbium - are all designated as critical minerals owing to the role they play in the transition to the green economy in permanent magnets.

These rare earth elements are used within battery electric vehicles and wind turbines, as well as technologies related to drones, electronic displays and sonar.

With the phosphogypsum stacks on surface, the cost and risk associated with below-surface mining do not arise.

The London Stock Exchange-listed company Rainbow Rare Earths, headed by CEO George Bennett will be using separation technology that allows for the waste material to be processed into separated rare earth oxides of 99.95% purity.

The simplified flowsheet of the separation technology reduces capital and operating costs.

The TechMet option to invest $50-million directly in the Phalaborwa project will be funded by the International Development Finance Corporation of the US, a development finance institution that invests in development projects primarily in lower and middle-income countries.

As reported by Mining Weekly last month, Bennett expects Phalaborwa to continue to attract funding, owing to the focus on the critical role of these rare-earth metals in the technology-driven industrial and clean energy age.

The project involves the recovery of rare earths from gypsum and waste dumps and is poised to be part of the journey to a net-zero world, which will require an unprecedented increase in the supply of rare earths required for the clean energy transition.

Bloomberg calculates that the latest the backing from International Development Finance Corporation brings its total investment to $105-million, and implies a valuation for the Dublin-based TechMet of more than $1-billion. The corporation made an initial investment of $25-million in the closely held firm in 2020.

Achieving a world with low carbon emissions will require an unprecedented increase in the supply of technology metals critical to the clean energy transition.

TechMet invests in assets that produce, process and recycle critical minerals that are key to the energy transition. The firm, which is backed by commodities trader Mercuria Energy Group, is in talks with shareholders and new investors, including sovereign funds and family offices, to close a $300-million fundraising round in the next few months.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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