Solid Waste & Recycling

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Geomega looks to recycle rare earths from new U.S. plant


MONTREAL – Quebec-based Geomega Resources Inc. has been designated the recycler for rare earth-containing production waste from USA Rare Earth’s future production of sintered neodymium iron boron (NdFeB) permanent magnets (sintered neo magnets) in the United States.

Based in Boucherville and St-Bruno, Canada, Geomega Resources has developed a proprietary, environmentally friendly “ISR Technology” that recycles rare earth elements with focus on the permanent magnet industry and produces four high demand, high price, rare earth elements (HHREE – specifically Nd, Pr, Tb, Dy). It is advancing towards initial production from its demonstration plant to supply HHREE’s to North America and other parts of the world.

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.  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.

Other domestic sources of neo magnets either import magnets for assembly in the U.S. or import sintered neo magnet blocks that are machined and assembled in the U.S.

The plant was designed to produce in excess of 2,000 tonnes of sintered neo magnets per year, or approximately 17 percent of current U.S. demand for neo magnets.

The process of manufacturing and machining neo magnet blocks generates up to 30 percent swarf and scrap (up to 600 tonnes), which needs to be recycled.

Material from USA Rare Earth’s facility 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 one of the rare earth oxide feeds required for USA Rare Earth’s magnet plant.

USA Rare Earth is expected to make all its swarf and scrap available for Geomega to recycle for a minimum period of five years, commencing on the effective date of a definitive agreement between the companies. The two organizations signed a Letter of Intent (LOI) to this effect this week.

“With more than 60 percent of the materials coming out of our Round Top deposit being used in clean tech, green tech and renewable energy applications, we see recycling magnet waste as a natural way to be economically efficient and environmentally responsible,” said Pini Althaus, CEO of USA Rare Earth.

“Geomega’s process to recycle waste and bring it back into our magnet feedstock reconfirms our readiness to innovate at every point in our mine-to-magnets strategy. It is also part of our strategy accelerate revenues from our U.S.-based neo magnet production ahead of mine production from the Round Top project.”

In January, the U.S. and Canada finalized a Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Cooperation. The Geomega-USA Rare Earth LOI follows on a collaborative agreement between USA Rare Earth and Australia’s Arafura Resources, involving processing work at USA Rare Earth’s Colorado Pilot Plant. In 2019, the U.S. and Australian Governments committed to encourage U.S-Australian critical mineral cooperation.

“We are very excited to be working in collaboration with USA Rare Earth. We both share the same vision to bring rare earth magnet production back to North America while securing the critical rare earth elements using Geomega’s clean technology to process magnet waste.” said Kiril Mugerman, president and CEO of Geomega.

“It is exciting to be part of USA Rare Earth mine-to-magnet strategy which we can participate in and support using our rare earth clean recycling technology. Establishing a partnership initiative such as this in North America will prevent any supply chain disruptions from China for these critical elements. Every rare earth magnet factory produces waste. By working together, Geomega and USA Rare Earth will ensure that the rare earths contained in this waste shall remain in North America and are then reused to make more rare earth magnets for the U.S. and Canadian markets that comply with the McCain National Defense Authorization Act.”

Geomega and USA Rare Earth will negotiate mutually acceptable commercial terms including the possibility of a license agreement to develop a recycling facility at the location of its permanent magnet factory. Until such time, this LOI remains non-binding.

As indicated by USA Rare Earth in its April 7, 2020 press release, according to industry estimates, permanent magnets are a US$21 billion-a-year global market split between high performance magnets (70 percent) and lower performance ferrite magnets (30 percent) used in applications such as chargers for electrical devices and other applications where weight and performance are less important and operating conditions are less extreme.

At $13.8 billion, neo magnets dominate the high-performance magnet market, replacing aluminum-nickel-cobalt and samarium-cobalt technologies. Industry sources project the global neo magnet market will expand by nearly 100 percent to $27.0 billion in 2027.

In 2019, the U.S. purchased approximately 12,000 metric tonnes of neo magnets at an average price of approximately $71,000 per tonne, according to industry estimates, representing six percent of the global rare earth magnet market. Note that this does not include magnets in finished and semi-finished products that are imported – since the U.S. was approximately 23.6 percent of global GDP in 2019, total imports of magnets could be at least four times the magnet-only numbers.

If the U.S. merely maintains its current six percent share of the global market, annual purchases of rare earth magnets will increase by more than 7,000 tonnes by 2027, or an annual increase of more than 900 tonnes per year.