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Geomega Resources Inc, which is a rare earth cleantech developer for mining and recycling, is partnering up with USA Rare Earth, which is a funding and development partner of the Round Top Heavy Rare Earth and Critical Minerals Project in West Texas, to recycle rare earth–containing production waste. This waste comes from USA Rare Earth’s production of sintered neodymium iron boron permanent magnets (sintered neo magnets) in the US.
The process of manufacturing and machining sintered (compacting powder into a solid mass) neodymium magnet blocks generates up to 30% magnet chips and scrap, which needs to be recycled. “Every rare earth magnet factory produces waste; it is just the nature of the business because it is a difficult material to work with,” said Geomega Resources President and CEO Kiril Mugerman. “When Hitachi operated this plant, the waste was sent to Asia.” A neodymium magnet manufacturing facility that takes advantage of the full capacity of the equipment acquired by USA Rare Earth would generate somewhere around 600 metric tons of waste annually, which Geomega plans to recycle back into the North American REE supply chain.
As part of its mine-to-magnets strategy, earlier this year USA Rare Earth purchased the sintered neo magnet manufacturing equipment formerly owned and operated in North Carolina by Hitachi Metals America, Ltd. (Earlier post.) USA Rare Earth is currently evaluating options for the location of the plant, which will become the first neo magnet manufacturing plant in North America since the Hitachi facility ceased operations in 2015.
Geomega Resources (TSXV: GMA), a rare earth clean technologies developer, and USA Rare Earth, the funding and development partner of the Round Top heavy rare earth project in Texas, announced Thursday that they have entered into a letter of intent (LOI) to recycle rare earth-containing production waste from USA Rare Earth’s future production of sintered neodymium iron boron permanent magnets.
The $14 billion-a-year rare earth magnet market is more than 60% controlled by China which, under Made in China 2025, is increasingly using rare earth magnets in finished and semi-finished products, as opposed to exporting the magnets, and industry sources estimate the rare earth magnet market will nearly double by 2027.
“The process of manufacturing and machining neo magnet blocks generates up to 30% swarf and scrap (up to 600t), which needs to be recycled. This and material from machining of other blocks will be the feed for Geomega’s recycling plant located in St-Bruno, Quebec which, after processing, could become a rare earth oxide feed required for USA Rare Earth’s magnet plant.”
Q: Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business? A: Yes, I recommend people try their best to think outside the box. Don’t do what everyone else is doing. Try to be different in your approach which gives you a first mover advantage and, if you are successful, others will follow you.
“How does my company, Geomega Resources, fit into the rare earths recycling cycle? Geomega uses chemical processing to extract and produce purified rare earth oxides that are otherwise trapped in magnets. The magnet cannot be directly reused, because often the shape, size, coating and magnetic specifications will be hard to match to a specific application. Geomega’s process allows us to recover the rare earths and to ship them to metal and magnet manufacturers that will be able to make new products to the specifications of the end users.”
“Today, the USA is already producing rare earth elements but the problem is that it’s all going to China. It goes to China and it is refined there. As it’s refined, it’s made into magnets. What we need to hear more is what the US has started taking steps towards now with the most recent proposal by Senator Ted Cruz to subsidize the purchases of those process materials when they are produced in North America. Right now, that’s looking like the most important and best step forward to take that control. We know that’s exactly what China does when they subsidize local producers. There are so many discounts for them, but that’s something that’s missing in the USA right now.” Kiril Mugerman
Geomega’s process allows the company to “maximize the reagent so that there is minimal to no waste,” he says. What waste there is is treated locally without the need to store trailings. Geomega’s process produces REE oxides with 99.5 percent purity, Mugerman says. The company is in the process of constructing a demonstration facility in Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, Quebec, in the Greater Montreal area. Construction of the industrial complex was completed at the end of 2019 with final detail work underway. While the pandemic has delayed progress on the plant, Mugerman says he hopes it will be operational by year-end. Once operational, the plant will be able to process 1.5 metric tons in an eight-hour shift, he says.
“China’s production of critical minerals from raw materials has come at a high cost to the environment,” says Kiril Mugerman, President, Geomega Resources. “Now e-waste is being recycled using the same polluting technologies. It is important to provide a cleaner solution to both primary ores and recycling. Just because recycling is helping to avoid unnecessary mining, it doesn’t mean that we need to recycle using an old, dirty process that harms the environment.”