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Small win in big case for U.S. rare earths

 

Last updated 5/30/2019 at 5:18pm

China rare earth export restriction trade war Alaska REE separation facility

Ucore Rare Metals Inc.

A technician operates SuperLig One, a pilot plant built by Ucore and IBC Advanced Technologies that separated rare earth elements using molecular recognition technology.

Ucore Rare Metals Inc. May 29 announced a victory in the legal row over its option to acquire IBC Advanced Technologies Inc., part of Ucore's plans to establish a rare earth elements processing facility in the United States.

Utah-based IBC is the pioneer of molecular recognition technology, a highly selective process for isolating an element or group of elements from solution.

Using a solution derived from Ucore's Bokan Mountain project in Southeast Alaska, IBC and Ucore demonstrated that this technology can efficiently pull out individual high-purity rare earth elements (REE). This is considered a major breakthrough in the separation of rare earths, considering how tightly connected these elements are and the environmental concerns over the traditional methods of separating them.

"The use of molecular recognition in the separation of metals is a very capable platform for expediting REE production on U.S. soil. This extraction technology has already successfully separated all of the critical rare earth elements (CREE) without the use of costly and environmentally precarious reagents associated with solvent extraction methodologies," said Ucore Rare Metals President and CEO Jim McKenzie.

As part of the companies' collaboration, Ucore had the option to acquire IBC, with goal the of building commercial scale plants that could produce high-purity rare earths and other specialty metals in the United States.

Ucore intends to build the first such rare earth separation facilities near Ketchikan, a Southeast Alaska port town about 35 miles away from Bokan Mountain.

In November, however, IBC asked Ucore to drop its purchase option.

When Ucore announced its intention to continue with the acquisition, IBC turned to Utah and Nova Scotia courts to terminate the option, claiming Ucore misappropriated IBC trade secrets and thus breached the contract between the companies.

On May 23, Utah courts dismissed IBC's lawsuit on the grounds that it does not have jurisdiction over Nova Scotia, Canada-based Ucore.

"Ucore is very grateful to the State of Utah's legal system for its decision in this matter," McKenzie said. "The company continues to vigorously pursue an expeditious resolution to the legal dispute related to the company's option to purchase agreement with IBC."

Now it is up to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court to make a final ruling in this case that has implications for Ucore, non-Chinese supplies of rare earths and Alaska.

"At stake is the control of a valuable, green, and highly disruptive rare earth extraction technology," he added.

With China indicating it may use its more than 80 percent control of the global rare earth markets as leverage in the trade war with the U.S., these stakes have become higher.

China rare earth export restriction trade war Alaska REE separation facility

Ucore Rare Metals Inc.

High purity critical rare earth salts extracted from a solution derived from Ucore's Bokan Mountain project in Alaska.

Over this past week, China has sent strong signals that it may restrict exports of these vital ingredients in high-tech, green energy and military devices to America.

"These strategic metals are a central issue in the increasingly contentious trade relations between China and the U.S.," McKenzie added. "CREE such as terbium, dysprosium, neodymium, and praseodymium, are indispensable to the American high-tech industry. Commercial liberation of this extraction technology for use in the rare earth industry will be a tremendous win not just for Ucore, but for an enormous array of North American rapid-growth sectors. This recent ruling in Utah brings us one step closer to that event."

The next step will come on June 19, when Nova Scotia court hears IBC's appeal of the May 23 jurisdictional ruling.

–SHANE LASLEY

 

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