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The White Mesa mill in Utah
Rare earth company Neo Performance Materials has teamed up with US-based Energy Fuels to launch a new production initiative, spanning European and North American critical material supply chains.

The initiative will produce value-added rare earth products from natural monazite sands, a byproduct of heavy mineral sands mined in the south-eastern US. 

Energy Fuels will process the monazite sands into a mixed rare earth carbonate in Utah for use as feed material for Neo’s value-added separated rare earth production plant Sillamäe, Estonia.

Neo will process the rare earth carbonate into separated rare earth materials for use in rare earth permanent magnets and other rare earth-based advanced materials. The Neo plant at Silmet is the only operational rare earth separations facility in Europe.

When ramped up to commercial scale, this new rare earth supply chain is expected to constitute the first time in more than 20 years that monazite ore from the US will be used as a feedstock to manufacture separated rare earth materials outside China.

Typical monazite ore has a higher value than other rare earth-bearing ores, as it contains 50% to 60% total rare earth content, plus 0.20% to 0.30% recoverable natural uranium, which is the typical grade of uranium found in uranium mines that have historically fed the White Mesa mill.

This means that, in addition to extracting the high concentrations of rare earths from the monazite ore, the White Mesa mill will also extract the naturally occurring uranium in the ore, which Energy Fuels will sell to power nuclear energy.

Energy Fuels will produce its rare earth carbonate from natural monazite sands supplied by US-based Chemours, which has a contract to supply 2 500 t/y of ore produced in Georgia and elsewhere in the south-east US.

Upon completion of a commercial-scale pilot programme at the White Mesa mill, Neo’s Silmet will process a minimum of 840 t/y total rare earth oxides from Energy Fuels, which is in addition to Silmet’s current production. This will represent about 80% of Energy Fuels production from current Chemours supplies.

Energy Fuels is seeking to secure additional quantities of monazite ores, with an aim of processing 15 000 t/y. This will represent about 2% of the White Mesa mill’s existing throughput capacity, but it will contain about 50% of the US’s current rare earths demand.

Other countries with large monazite resources include the US, Australia, India and South Africa, the company noted.