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Ucore, DC politicos discuss rare earths

 

Last updated 7/13/2018 at 7:04am

Ketchikan Specialty Metals Complex domestic supply of critical minerals REE

Ucore Rare Metals Inc.

Bokan Mountain, the site of Ucore Rare Metals' rare earth element deposit on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska, looms above the American flag flying over Kendrick Bay.

Ucore Rare Metals, Inc. July 3 announced the company representatives met with senior Trump Administration and Congressional officials in Washington, D.C. to discuss American dependence on the Chinese supply of critical materials, and Ucore's plans to develop a Strategic Metals complex in Southeast Alaska that would provide the United States a domestic supply of rare earth elements.

"Near complete dependence on potentially unreliable foreign sources of rare earth materials remains a major national security vulnerability and one the Trump Administration is publicly committed to ending," said Ucore President and CEO Jim McKenzie. "This vulnerability is also recognized in the U.S. Congress by the House of Representatives in its version of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act."

Section 873 of H.R. 5515, the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act, directs the Secretary of Defense to purchase, to the maximum extent possible, rare earth permanent magnets, and certain tungsten, tantalum and molybdenum products, from sources other than China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

A May 22 policy letter from President Trump's Office of Management and Budget says the "Administration strongly supports section 873."

"The global markets for rare earths and tungsten are currently dominated by China, which has pursued an aggressive strategy to control the supply of these critical materials, resulting in the loss of American jobs and technology," Office of Management penned in the letter to the House Rules Committee. "This section demonstrates that the United States will seek alternate sources of supply when foreign nations seek to unfairly disrupt a marketplace in pursuit of economic and military advantages at variance with the strategic interests of the United States."

"If enacted into law, this requirement for a secure supply of rare earth magnets creates synergy with the forthcoming SMC (Specialty Metals Complex) construction by increasing demand for non-Chinese rare earth products," said MacKenzie.

In May, Ucore began advanced engineering and design for its first SMC, which is to be built near Ketchikan, Alaska.

This facility 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.

Ucore's quest for an efficient and environmentally suitable method of recovering the individual elements found at its Bokan Mountain project on Prince of Wales Island about 35 miles from Ketchikan led to IBC, a Utah-based developer and manufacturer of MRT products for a wide range of 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.

Over the ensuing four years, the two companies have adapted this technology for REEs in the lab and scaled the technology up to a pilot plant known as SuperLig-One.

Last July, President Trump signed an executive order that calls for the Secretary of Defense and other Administration leaders to investigate the defense industrial base and supply chains. This assessment is to culminate in a report expected to land on the President's desk soon.

SMC domestic supply rare earths critical minerals Southeast Alaska

Ucore Rare Metals Inc.

The SuperLig-One pilot used molecular recognition technology to separate rare earth elements from a solution derived from the Bokan Mountain rare earths deposit. This technology is now being scaled up for the Specialty Metals Complex being planned for construction near Ketchikan, Alaska.

"Ucore eagerly anticipates release of a White House report mandated by executive order to study the defense industrial base and its reliance on foreign suppliers," continued McKenzie.

Ellen Lord, Pentagon's undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, said results from her team's assessment of the United States' reliance of foreign sources for minerals critical to the military is "quite alarming."

She said the United States has "an amazing amount of dependency on China" as its "sole source for rare earth minerals."

Ucore said it is encouraged by the work now being done in the nation's capital to end America's dependency on foreign sources for critical minerals.

The rare metals company said it looks forward to ongoing discussions with the Trump Administration and Congress regarding the Strategic Metals complex, currently scheduled to begin producing rare earths in Alaska during 2020.

–SHANE LASLEY

 

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