Pensana positions Saltend to reap supply chain diversification rewards

19th October 2022 By: Donna Slater - Features Deputy Editor and Chief Photographer

Magnet metal and rare earths miner Pensana reports that the electric vehicle (EV) transition is forecast to become the largest energy transition in history and will require a significant proportion of battery and magnet metals as a result.

With its Longonjo rare earths mine, in Angola, and its Saltend rare earths production facility, in the UK, Pensana says it plans to produce about 5% of the projected world demand for magnet metals.

The Saltend facility is set to become the UK’s first rare earths processing facility and will produce 12 500 t/y of separated rare earth oxide, of which 4 500 t/y will be magnet metal rare earths – neodymium and praseodymium oxides.

Presenting information at the eighteenth International Rare Earths Conference in Las Vegas, in the US, in about mid-October, Pensana chief commercial officer William Izod noted the growing importance of developing an independent and sustainable magent metal supply chain for the burgeoning European EV market.

Both EVs and a transition towards offshore wind energy will be heavily dependent on magnet metals, he said, explaining that by 2025 European EV makers would produce about 6.6-million electric drive units, for which there was currently a limited supply of rare-earth permanent magnets.

Currently, China supplies about 90% of global rare earth-derived permanent magnets, but has stated that it will need all of this production for its $11-trillion 2060 carbon neutral plan and feels it is under obligation to continue to supply the rest of the world.

Nonetheless, Izod said there was a need to diversify supply chains and reduce reliance on China.

He cited Mercedes Benz’s decision to commit to transitioning 50% of its vehicle manufacturing to that of EVs by 2025, and said the automotive original-equipment manufacturer (OEM) was challenging suppliers to source 50% of their rare earth magnets from outside of China.

To ensure greater diversification, Izod posited that Pensana’s Saltend facility was the first to be established in over a decade, would create 125 permanent jobs and secure supply chain resilience for European automotive and offshore wind OEMs.

With its freeport status, he noted that the Saltend facility would be able to service global clients and undertake a degree of third-party rare earths processing.

In this regard, Pensana is in offtake discussions with US-based and European automotive OEMs, as well as major European wind turbine clients.

Initial offtake is expected to stem from companies in East Asia and later the UK, the US and Europe, while Pensana expects third-party feedstock to come from South America and Europe.

To date, Pensana has secured a 25% of yearly production agreement with a major magnet producer.

Izod also noted that Europe was likely to follow the US in issuing a directive to mandate supply chains for critical minerals such as rare earth permanent magnets.