Feb. 17, 2020: “A new recycling plant is set to open on the South Shore”

A new recycling plant is set to open on the South Shore, in St Bruno. It will be recycling magnets in order to re-use their precious rare earth metals. Kiril Mugerman is the president and CEO of Resources GeoMega — the company behind the plant.

A new recycling plant is set to open on the South Shore | Daybreak Montreal with Mike Finnerty | Live Radio | CBC Listen

A new recycling plant is set to open on the South Shore, in St Bruno. It will be recycling magnets in order to re-use their precious rare earth metals. Kiril Mugerman is the president and CEO of Resources GeoMega — the company behind the plant.

Mike Finnerty: GeoMegA Resources, that’s the company behind the plant and he’s live with us in the Daybreak Studio — Mr. Kiril Mugerman has brought us a couple of the magnets he’s come to talk about. Kiril, good morning. Thanks very much for coming in.

Kiril Mugerman: Morning, Mike. Thank you for having me here.

Mike Finnerty: How did the idea come about?

Kiril Mugerman: Originally, GeoMegA was a traditional minerals exploration company. Canada is very well known for exploration companies looking for natural resources to explore and develop. Particularly in the northern parts of Quebec and Canada. Rare earths are very unique because they’re used in a lot of special applications, including all the microphones, speakers, and headphones that we are using right now in studio. The problem with them is that they need very unique kinds of refining or processing technologies.

Kiril Mugerman: Since roughly 2014, we’ve been developing our own proprietary clean processing technology. Today, the traditional technologies are all used in China and they are not very environmentally friendly.

Mike Finnerty: In order to make a recycling plant like this viable, you needed some new technology to make it work. And you think you found it?

Kiril Mugerman: Absolutely. We started developing it gradually, scaling it up, and going from tiny scale to a bit bigger, a bit bigger, and a bit bigger every year over the last five-six years. Then, we decided that instead of going to develop a mine to feed our processing technology to produce rare earth oxides, we decided to focus on the main usage of those elements, which is the magnets. I brought a few of those magnets here.

Mike Finnerty: The one you’re holding now, what is that?

Kiril Mugerman: There are several different magnets from different applications here. They are stuck together and very, very strong. You’d struggle even separating them.

Mike Finnerty: Those cylindrical ones — where do they come from?

Kiril Mugerman: Those are from inside a rotor, which is just a chunk of metal cut in a cylindrical shape and around it the black parts are the magnets. That’s how strong they are.

Mike Finnerty: What were they in, originally?

Kiril Mugerman: This is coming from a scrap of a manufacturing facility that makes rotors. For example, the electric scooters that we see more and more on the streets of Montreal in the summer. Yes, they have a battery — it is important to have a lithium-ion battery — but you also need an efficient motor. There are other important applications, too. These are chunks of magnets from wind turbine rotors. You have two or three tons of this magnet sitting inside every turbine.

Mike Finnerty: What’s been happening to those magnets up until now?

Kiril Mugerman: Within China, this business has been very well developed. Since 2012, they have been recycling them. But outside of China, they don’t.

Mike Finnerty: The Chinese process, you think, is very energy intensive?

Kiril Mugerman: It’s not just about energy consumption. It’s also about the environmental pollution that it produces. And the waste piles — the red muds, which are basically iron oxide mixed with hydrochloric acid. All that stuff — we don’t want it here. We developed a different technique where we use different reagents and we recover more than 95% of those reagents. We get to reuse and reuse and reuse those reagents, while in China they just use old hydrochloric acids. In China, they have to dump the waste with the iron oxide because this magnet is 70% iron and all that gets dumped in the tailings facilities. We don’t want to see those tailing facilities here in Montreal.

Mike Finnerty: So there won’t be tailings.

Kiril Mugerman: No, there won’t be any tailings. The advantage of our technology is that we will not have any solid tailings or liquid tailings coming out of the plant.

Mike Finnerty: What will happen to the residuals?

Kiril Mugerman: The residual iron — we can actually produce a high purity iron product from our process as part of our recovery of the reagents. We can sell that back to the market.

Mike Finnerty: Rare earth metals for people who don’t know what they are — what are they, how rare are they?

Kiril Mugerman: There’s a whole bunch of them. It’s a group of 15 elements. If you look at the periodic table at the bottom, you have two rows. One of those rows is called the lanthanides, the upper one. Really, it’s a zoom-box of one square from the periodic table. The reason they are rare it’s because it’s hard to separate those 15 elements one from another. That’s why they got given that misnomer of rare earths. They’re not actually rare. It’s just that they’re hard to separate, so they’re rarely found separate. Otherwise, they’re actually fairly common. But to find them in an economic deposit with a large quantity in one place is much harder.

Mike Finnerty: I want to say the Democratic Republic of Congo — where are they normally mined?

Kiril Mugerman: China. China. For Democratic Republic of Congo, you’re thinking of the cobalt. The majority of rare earth elements are being mined in China. Let’s say around 60-70% are being mined in China, but the refining or separation capacity to purify them into individual oxides to be able to make magnets and other applications — that is over 90% made in China.

Mike Finnerty: How easy is it going to be for you to get the material you need to recycle for your plant?

Kiril Mugerman: Very good question. Today, almost nobody’s collecting magnets outside of China. Why? Because there’s nobody there to buy them. The recycling industry works on demand-supply; if there’s a buyer for it somebody will recycle it and collect it. Today, it’s happening a little bit and we know that companies that do collect it figure out a way to ship it to Asia or to China, which is why it’s very important for us to set up that first facility.

Mike Finnerty: Through the course of time, people will start to understand.

Kiril Mugerman: Correct. There will be more and more recyling material available. Already as part of our marketing initiatives, we’ve been approached by several companies who are collecting it. There are quite a few projects of taking down wind farms, where every wind tower has two to three tonnes of magnet sitting inside it.

Mike Finnerty: How much supply should you have, then?

Kiril Mugerman: We’ll be processing 1.5 tonnes per day. A lot of the material will be coming from supply lines we’ve already established from Europe. There is some supply available from North America, some from South America, and several Asian countries as well that do have that material available and could send it to us instead of shipping it to China. In fact, China does not accept that material since 2012. So, we will be the root for everybody else to recycle through us.

Mike Finnerty: And at the end of the process, the product that you will have recycled is what, exactly? How will it be used?

Kiril Mugerman: The product will be the exact same product as if it came from a mine. It’s a rare earth oxide. It’s a powder and those powders then go to a facility, most likely in Europe, to make metal. They will reduce it to a metal and that metal can then be made back into a magnet.

Mike Finnerty: And all the funding is in place?

Kiril Mugerman: We just recently secured the funding from the Quebec government, the debt portion to build the entire facility. Between the equity financing that we did last year and the debt financing from the government now, we are all set to start developing this in St-Bruno. How many people do you think you might employ? In the beginning, the plan to start at 1.5 tonnes per day assumes 8 hours of operation so we are looking at probably somewhere 5 to 10 people operating on the ground. Eventually, as it grows towards 2 or 3 shifts per day, we’re probably looking at 15-20 people. Of course, the objective from there is to develop that knowledge for how to process and refine rare earths to start bringing more concentrates from other countries, getting bigger, and then looking at a very large industry. Basically, we are trying to develop a hub for rare earth refining — rare earth processing here in Quebec.

Mike Finnerty: Kiril Mugerman is the President and CEO of GeoMegA Resources. Kiril, thanks for coming in. Good luck with the venture!

Kiril Mugerman: Thank you.

Listen to the interview here.