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Mkango to build 25 MW of solar at Songwe Hill

13th November 2023

By: Darren Parker

Creamer Media Contributing Editor Online

     

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Rare earth element (REE) mining company Mkango aims to build three solar photovoltaic (PV) plants with a combined capacity of 25 MW at its Songwe Hill project, in Malawi, to provide sustainable electricity supply for some of the mine’s operations. 

This was revealed in the company’s first environmental, social and governance (ESG) report, released on November 13. 

The company states in its report that an in-depth energy and electricity consumption plan is being prepared to minimise the amount of energy required for operations, thereby ensuring that any negative impacts are mitigated. 

Mkango also aims to minimise the amount of fossil fuels consumed on site to reduce carbon emissions as much as possible. At the Songwe Hill REE project, Mkango has undertaken a lifecycle assessment that evaluated several options and provided the operation with several viable solutions to help minimise its carbon footprint.   

The assessment found that the lowest global warming potential will be achieved by combining on-site acid regeneration with off-peak hydroelectric and solar PV energy. 

Mkango aims to develop new sustainable primary and secondary sources of neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium and terbium to supply accelerating demand from electric vehicles, wind turbines and other clean technologies. 

Central to its growth aspirations is the development of Songwe Hill, with a feasibility study completed in July last year and an environmental-, social- and health-impact assessment approved by the government of Malawi in January this year.  

The project strategically includes the production of a purified mixed rare earth carbonate that will be produced on site.   

In parallel, Mkango and Polish chemical company Grupa Azoty Pulawy have agreed to work together on the development of an REE separation plant in Pulawy, Poland. The Pulawy separation plant will process the purified mixed rare earth carbonate produced at Songwe Hill. 

The company says engagement with financial institutions is under way to accelerate development, and additional strategic partnerships, downstream developments and marketing opportunities are being evaluated.   

The next steps for the Pulawy separation plant are to complete a feasibility study, and discussions are under way with several potential partners to move the project to the development stage. 

Through its ownership of Maginito, Mkango is also developing green technology opportunities in the rare earths supply chain, encompassing neodymium magnet recycling, as well as new rare earth alloy, magnet and separation technologies. 

Maginito is 90%-owned by Mkango, with CoTec owning the remaining 10%.  

Maginito holds a 100% interest in HyProMag, a company with a patented process – hydrogen processing of magnet scrap (HPMS) – licensed from the University of Birmingham (UoB), which extracts and demagnetises neodymium, iron and boron (NdFeB) magnets embedded in scrap and redundant equipment. The company also holds a 100% interest in Mkango Rare Earths UK, which is focused on chemical processing of magnet scrap. 

HyProMag is currently developing plants for short loop magnet recycling in the UK and Germany, the latter through its 80%-owned German subsidiary, HyProMag Germany, and is hoping to unlock the supply chain for rare earth magnet recycling.  

Mkango Rare Earths UK intends to develop a pilot plant in the UK to chemically process recycled HPMS NdFeB powder and magnet swarf – the powder produced from grinding and finishing magnets – from a range of scrap sources including electronic waste, electric motors and wind turbines, complementing the short-loop magnet recycling routes being developed by HyProMag. 

Mkango Rare Earths UK and HyProMag are also collaborating with Bowers & Wilkins, European Metal Recycling, GKN Automotive Innovation Centre, Jaguar Land Rover and UoB in the 'Driving the Electric Revolution Challenge' at a UK Research and Innovation grant-funded project called Scream. 

Scream will establish a recycled source of rare earth magnets in the UK to provide greater security of supply to UK industry, while aiming to achieve a 10% reduction in cost and a significant reduction in environmental impact, with an estimated 88% less energy for short-loop recycled magnets versus primary mining to separation to metal alloy to magnet production. 

The project includes pilot plants for short-loop recycling, encompassing scrap pre-processing, HPMS and production of recycled sintered magnets, as well as for complementary recycling routes, namely remelting and strip casting to produce NdFeB alloys as well as chemical processing, the latter being developed by Mkango Rare Earths UK. 

HyProMag will work with the UoB to develop a new semi-continuous version of the HPMS process and to produce short loop recycled sintered magnets at multiple grades to match the requirements for a range of applications.   

In addition to Songwe Hill, Mkango also has rights to the Nkalonje Hill exploration target. The company is also pursuing mineral exploration opportunities with three additional 100%-owned properties in Malawi – the Thambani retention licences, the Chimimbe Hill exploration licence and the Mchinji exploration licence.   

“As countries around the world move towards climate-smart economies, there is growing recognition of the importance of the natural and social environment within global society.  

“As we develop the Songwe Hill rare earth project, we are meeting the challenge of managing these precious shared resources, including water, biodiversity, land and air and, in the future, will be producing rare earth minerals that are vital to the world's low-carbon transformation,” Mkango president Alexander Lemon said. 

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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