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Designing Alaska rare earth plant begins

 

Last updated 5/18/2018 at 4:21am

Rare earth REE exploration project Prince of Wales Island Southeast Alaska

Ucore Rare Metals Inc.

A view of Bokan Mountain from across Kendrick Bay. Pioneering of the technology for the Ketchikan SMC started as a quest to find an economic and environmentally sound way to separate the rare earth elements found there.

Ucore Rare Metals Inc. May 7 said IBC Advanced Technologies Inc. has begun advanced engineering and design for its first Specialty Metals Complex, or SMC, a rare earth elements separation facility the company plans to build near Ketchikan in Southeast Alaska.

Previously referred to as the Strategic Metals Complex, the Alaska SMC will utilize IBC Advanced Technologies' molecular recognition technology, commonly known as MRT, to separate rare earths and produce individual REE oxides used in many high-tech applications.

The basic idea behind the MRT process is that "SuperLig resins" are engineered to grab ions based on various traits such as size, chemistry and geometry. Loaded into columns, these resins latch onto the targeted material suspended in a solution that is pumped through the column. Simply rinsing the resin with a mildly acidic solution releases a nearly pure version of the material the resin is engineered to bind to.

Using a solution derived from Ucore's Bokan Mountain project, an REE mining project about 30 miles southwest of Ketchikan on Prince of Wales Island, IBC and Ucore have proven this technology works for the separation of REEs and scaled the technology up to a pilot plant known as SuperLig-One.

"By extrapolating the knowledge gained from the SuperLig One rare earth pilot plant, we have a clear plan of execution for the Alaska SMC," said Ucore President and CEO Jim McKenzie. "When completed, we will have established a significant domestic source of saleable rare earth oxides, which will go a long way towards establishing technology metals independence for the US in an environmentally sustainable and safety conscious manner."

Advanced engineering

The advanced engineering and design for Alaska SMC will be carried out in two phases. IBC will complete the initial phase of designing an REE separation facility that is custom tailored to feedstock being considered for the plant. Once IBC has completed the initial design work, the project will be handed off to other engineers to finish.

"Having IBC commence E&D (engineering and design) activities is a significant milestone for the Alaska SMC" said Ucore COO Mike Schrider. "Completion of IBC's initial test work and engineering tasks will allow us to engage other engineering specialists regarding the non-MRT portions of the plant such as the product dissolution and acid/wastewater recycling sections. Once those systems are designed, we will then be in a position to commence discussions with local Alaskan engineers regarding our facility requirements to house the REE separation plant based on the specific site we select in Ketchikan."

Once completed, Ucore plans to submit the engineering, business and construction plans for the state-of-the-art Alaska SMC to the Alaska Import Development and Export Agency, or AIDEA, for consideration under a US$145 Million funding package approved by the Alaska Legislature in 2014.

Ucore envisions ramping up production of the SMC over a roughly four-year span. The first phase of the facility, slated for completion in 2020 or 2021, would have the capacity to process 1,000 metric tons of rare earth concentrates per year. The second phase would increase throughput to 2,500 tpy and by 2024 the company plans to have the facility processing 5,000 tpy of REE concentrate.

Entrepreneur of the Year

During an April 21 event, the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce presented Ucore the Entrepreneur of the Year award for its work to develop economic opportunities around the Southeast Alaska community.

Critical minerals, rare earth separation plant MRT IBC Technologies Ucore

Ucore Rare Metals Inc.

Technicians run tests at the SuperLig-One pilot plant with solution derived from the Bokan rare earths deposit in Southeast Alaska. The same REE separation technology is being applied to the Specialty Metals Complex being designed for development at Ketchikan.

Jason Custer, executive secretary, Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce, said the recognition by the selection committee to Ucore's tremendous investment in the region around the development of the Bokan-Dotson Ridge rare earth project and the proposed Ketchikan based strategic rare earth separation complex.

"Ketchikan was selected as the preferred location to construct Ucore's inaugural Specialty Metals Complex to separate feedstock sourced from alternate projects, due to favorable container shipping logistics, an experienced and loyal local workforce, and the close proximity to our primary in-situ rare earth resource," explained Randy Johnson, advisory board member, Ucore. "We thank the Chamber for this overture of recognition. The award is a strong indication of the local support and the desire to diversify industry in Southeast Alaska and make this the environmentally conscience rare earth supply region for the nation."

–SHANE LASLEY

 

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