North American miner USA Rare Earth has purchased neodymium iron boron permanent magnet manufacturing equipment from Hitachi Metals America, which will form part of the only manufacturing plant of this sort in the Americas.
USA Rare Earths is developing the Round Top Mountain heavy rare earth project, in Texas, which hosts 16 of the 17 rare earth elements, as well as other high-value minerals, such as lithium.
The company has an option to earn up to 80% interest in the project from Texas Mineral Resources.
USA Rare Earth plans to work with manufacturers of rare earth metals and alloys to convert the highly purified rare earth oxides from Round Top into magnets.
The company says demand for rare earth magnets is being driven by electric vehicles in its motors and batteries, wind generators, medical devises, smart phones and aerospace and defence applications.
The equipment that USA Rare Earth purchased should provide most of what is needed for rare earth magnet production to start at the project and produce at least 2 000 t/y of rare earth magnets.
At this production rate, the plant will produce about 17% of the US market and will generate more than $140-million in sales a year.
USA Rare Earth CEO Pini Althaus says acquiring the magnet manufacturing equipment is consistent with the company’s mine-to-magnet strategy. “We did not want the US to lose this key equipment, so we moved quickly to ensure that this essential part of the critical minerals supply chain remains in the US.
“We have started discussions with the domestic US electric vehicle and defence sectors to determine their needs and to work together to establish a domestic source of Round Top and the finished magnet product,” he notes.
The company wants to partner with one or more groups that have expertise in rare earth magnet manufacturing.
According to industry estimates, permanent magnets are a $21-billion-a-year global market split between high-performance magnets (70%) and lower performance ferrite magnets (30%) used in applications such as chargers for electrical devices and other applications where weight and performance are less important and operating conditions are less extreme.
At $13.8-billion, rare earth magnets dominate the high-performance magnet market, replacing aluminium/nickel/cobalt and samarium/cobalt technologies. Industry sources project the global rare earth magnet market will nearly double to $27-billion in 2027.
In 2019, the US purchased about 12 000 t of rare earth magnets at an average price of $71 000/t, according to industry estimates, which represents 6% of the global rare earth magnet market. This does not include magnets in finished and semi-finished products that are imported – total imports of magnets could be at least four times the magnet-only numbers.
USA Rare Earths says that if the US merely maintained its current 6% share of the global market, annual purchases of rare earth magnets will increase by more than 7 000 t by 2027, or at a yearly increase rate of 900 t.