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Ucore discusses SMC with Ketchikan leaders


Last updated 11/29/2018 at 4:38pm

Ucore Rare Metals rare earth elements separation plant Southeast Alaska

Jim Nista; Creative Commons 3.0

A deep-water port on the Pacific Rim makes the Southeast Alaska town of Ketchikan an ideal location for receiving REE and specialty metals concentrates from around the world.

Ucore Rare Metals Inc. Nov. 6 said it has begun consultation with officials from the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, the Southeast Alaska municipality where Ucore plans to build its Strategic Metals Complex, a facility that will produce individual rare earth elements and other strategic metals from non-Chinese sources.

Rare earth elements are more abundant than their name suggests. The 17 elements commonly included in this group – 15 lanthanide elements on the periodic table, plus scandium and yttrium – however, have very similar chemical properties and are tough to separate from one another.

The Strategic Metals Complex, or SMC, that Ucore is working towards developing in Ketchikan will employ molecular recognition technology, or MRT, a new way of separating rare earths that the company developed in partnership with Utah-based IBC Advanced Technologies.

The MRT process uses resins that are specially 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.

This is a much more efficient and environmentally sound method of separating rare earths than legacy techniques that utilize various solvents to extract the minerals over multiple stages.

With this technology ready for commercial application, Ucore plans use it to separate rare earths and other strategic metals at the SMC it is planning to build near Ketchikan.

Earlier this year Ucore cut a deal to acquire a 5.8-acre parcel of land along the North Tongass Highway in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, a site that is zoned for heavy industrial use and provides direct access to trucking routes to the deep-water shipping and container facilities at Ketchikan.

Ucore said consultations with borough leaders is another important milestone in the process of designing, permitting, constructing, and operating the REE separation facility there.

"Obtaining local government input and approvals are critical aspects of earning our social license within our chosen locational community of Ketchikan," said Ucore COO Mike Schrider. "This is a commitment that we have made in consultation with and under the guidance of the Alaska Import Development and Export Authority (AIDEA). As a prospective employer, contributor to the local-area tax base, and member of the Ketchikan business community, the consultation process is a fundamental best-practices undertaking, and we welcome the opportunity to commence interaction."

In presentations delivered earlier this month to the Ketchikan City Council and Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly, Ucore Vice President of Project Development Randy MacGillivray said Ketchikan's unique location, with immediate deep-water anchorage on one of the world's most prolific shipping channels, makes the Southeast Alaska town ideal for receiving rare earth and specialty metals concentrates from multiple global locations.

The Ucore vice president went on to describe how Ucore intends to compete head-to-head with the China-dominated REE oxide separation market.

"Our approach is to process feedstock from non-Chinese sources, and initiate US domestic production of rare earth oxides," he said.

Ucore said Ketchikan city councilors were primarily interested in the energy needs for the project.

Ketchikan Strategic Metals Complex dysprosium, europium separation facility

Ucore Rare Metals Inc.

Ucore intends to produce pure rare earths at the Specialty Metals Complex proposed to be built at Ketchikan, providing a non-Chinese source for this suite of elements that are crucial to many high-tech, green energy and military devices.

The SMC, however, does not require large quantities of power to operate and will be able to acquire its electrical power needs from existing capacity provided by Ketchikan Public Utility, which is administered by the City of Ketchikan.

Borough assembly members, on the other hand, were more focused on air quality and worker safety.

Ucore took note of the assembly's questions and explained that scrubbers will be used at the facility and air quality will be a focus of permitting efforts for the SMC.

"Our consultation efforts have only just begun in Ketchikan," said Ucore Rare Metals President and CEO Jim McKenzie. "We appreciate the support expressed by the mayors, councilors and assembly members and understand that while we are developing economic diversity within Southeast Alaska, we must provide that stimulus in an environmentally and safety conscious manner."



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