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Challenges

It can be tough to process rare earth ores through to produce useful products. In the last decade, only ONE new mine/chemical plant devoted to rare earth elements (REE) has been established, while the industry compound average growth rate (CAGR) is a strong 5%, and the CAGR associated with renewable energy rare earths, Nd/Pr, is even higher at 8%. The Australian processor, Lynas, has developed the high-grade Mount Weld mine that makes a concentrate before moving it on to Malaysia where it’s treated and turned into the REEs that we use. A lot of investor cash is riding on the operation being successful—and it’s still ramping up.

These REEs are crucial to modern technology, helping power medical devices, defense systems, and clean energy. Many industries are highly dependent on REEs to produce high-strength magnets, catalyzers, computer and smartphone displays, and more. The growing market for green energy is focusing new attention on REs (Nd/Pr) for magnets to accompany vehicle electrification. The best electric motors now use RE magnets, as do wind turbines for electricity generation.

Rare earths are often found in complex geological settings, where they may be just part of a multitude of ore types. They are relatively easy to find, but are difficult to process from ore to REE intermediate or individual element. Only about 150,000 tpa of rare earth oxides (REO) are produced globally. All of the current rare earth processes are characterized by novel flowsheets and highly specific extraction and purification procedures—novel processes that are rarely easy to implement successfully.

Processing rare earth elements is also very expensive. Many projects stall due to lack of funding by financers or wary investors. Obtaining capital for this kind of development can be especially difficult for new entrants to the market.

To top it off, the processes used can produce unsafe chemical by-products and radioactive residues. So projects to extract and refine REEs require a high level of expertise in safe chemical processing and mediating environmental risk.

Rare Earths and Associated Elements Capabilities

Consulting

Every deposit has a different mineralogy. Rare earths differ in value and vary in abundance. Our deep process knowledge and financial-analysis experience enables us to undertake both technical and financial due-diligence studies.

Process development and design

Today, you need process-design and implementation methods that make the most of new innovative processes. Ones based on clear understandings of the ore body, and capable of delivering value throughout the project life cycle. Our team of engineers is at the forefront of developments in mining, concentration, process engineering, testwork, and pilot plants. We are experts in equipment design and specification, bringing the best to every project.

Studies and engineering services

We work closely with our clients, funneling their knowledge and experience together with our own into work requirements at the earliest stages of the project. We do our homework. We make sure technical decisions and designs are sound, and when appropriate, we draw on the input and expertise of our specialists all over the world.

Process support services

We can contribute detailed economic analyses, industry connections, and thorough planning and execution of laboratory and pilot-plant testwork to prove the process flow sheet. Our environmental services help shape the execution schedule, factoring permitting times into your plans early in the project development phase. Tailings disposal, project-supporting infrastructure, and reagent-supply logistics are key for new projects' success.

Safety reviews

REE chemical plants use hazardous and flammable chemical reagents, typically at high temperatures. Health, safety, environment, and community are key design considerations. We design for safety, tailoring plans to match your capabilities.

Commissioning

Our experienced global teams commission plants and optimize those in operation. Wherever you’re located, we can quickly move your operation into production.

Plant design

Smaller capital-cost plants (up to $600 million) have their own challenges. We’ve developed our “sub-billion-dollar” plant-design capability. Sound 3D layout and appropriate construction materials are key. The class-of-the-facility quality is determined early in design, and cost is a focus throughout the process.

Blogs

Greg Sheehan Hatch

Lithium: a coming of age story

Greg Sheehan, PhD
It's fascinating to watch the lithium story unfold. In the space of a few decades, it's become a cornerstone for addressing one of the world’s most universal and serious problems.
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Technical Papers

Related Technical Papers

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Events

IMARC 2018

October 29 - November 1, 2018
Melbourne | Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre
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