Last month, mining company Australian Bauxite Limited (ABX) confirmed its discovery of rare earth element (REE) accumulations within its bauxite tenement in northern Tasmania that are enriched in the strategically important REE metals neodymium and praseodymium, along with terbium and dysprosium.
The REE metals discovered, are the main REE components of the super-magnets that are needed in electric vehicles, wind turbines, smart phones and military electronics.
“The prices of the four super-magnet types of REE are rising strongly due to the scarcity of these REEs, while the demand for them is rising exponentially due to the rapidly growing volumes needed for electric vehicles, wind turbines and military applications,” says ABX CEO Ian Levy.
He adds that, traditional hard-rock mines and processing plants take many years and billions in investment in technically difficult processing plants.
“For this reason, ABX has explored for a water-soluble type of REE occurrence which can be developed rapidly and at low cost to produce a concentrate of REE elements that can be sold to the existing processing plants so that they can expand production rapidly,” Levy highlights.
Reporting on the progress of ABX’s 87%-owned aluminium fluoride (AlF3) producer, Alcore, ABX reported that Alcore has achieved an innovative breakthrough using proprietary technology with the single-step production of AlF3 with grades comparable to commercial AlF3 specifications from 100% dross waste from an aluminium smelter, thus overcoming the high impurities in dross.
Dross use reduces Alcore’s conservative operating cost scenario by 20% to $800/t of AlF3 which is less than half the median long-term average China export price of $1 700/t.
“AlF3 markets are tight owing to reduced supply from China to Australasia in recent months,” says Levy commenting on the development.
He concludes by highlighting that AlF3 is an essential ingredient in aluminium smelters and Alcore’s planned production in Bell Bay, Tasmania, will provide security of supply and increased recycling of wastes for Australasian aluminium production, which is worth more than $4.5-billion a year.