Colorado-headquartered Rare Element Resources has received a project continuation notice from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy for its planned rare earth processing and separation demonstration plant in Upton, Wyoming.
The notice comes after the DOE’s recent completion of its National Environmental Policy Act review for the project and allows RER to begin construction of the plant, which it expects to commence operations for in the third quarter of 2024 after a seven- to 10-month construction period.
RER said it is expecting the demonstration plant to help advance its processing and separation technology, generating the operational and economic data needed for a commercial-scale plant design.
The company noted that the unique characteristics of rare earths, especially their ability to enhance magnetic properties, make them essential to many hi-tech, defense and green applications.
“The risks associated with China’s current monopoly of the rare earth supply chain have led the DOE and U.S. Department of Defense to deem rare earth elements ‘critical’ when considering the nation’s stated clean energy goals and strategic national defense initiatives,” RER officials said. It has been working with the DOE as well as General Atomics on what it has called an innovative rare earth recovery technology as it seeks to “create the cornerstone” for a domestic rare earth supply chain that is secure with development of the company’s Bear Lodge rare earth project.
“In anticipation of DOE budget approval, we have been working alongside our General Atomics-led project team and our contractor to prepare the site for construction,” said President and CEO Brent Berg.
“Now renovations can begin in earnest. To expedite the time frame to production, the team will be installing equipment that is already being assembled offsite on skids. Entering the active construction phase moves us one step closer to bringing our innovative rare earth recovery technology, with its inherent environmental and economic advantages, to commercial production.”
Berg added the timeliness of the plant is ideal, as China recently announced its ban on the export of critical materials extraction and separation technology for rare earth metals and alloy materials as well as technology to prepare rare earth magnets.
“This is another bold step by China to protect its dominance over the industry, and a call to action for countries like the U.S. to quickly develop domestic sources and advance innovative recovery technologies to support a secure rare earth supply chain,” he noted.
In late November, RER was awarded a $4.4 million grant from the Wyoming Energy Authority for advancing work on the plant. The grant is a cost reimbursement award for future expenditures related to the project.
The total project cost is $44 million, with $21.9 million provided through the DOE.
Rare Element Resources seeks new leader
Rare Element Resources announced that Brent Berg will resign his position of president and CEO, effective April 2 or earlier. Berg has held the role since November 2022, and will remain engaged on behalf of the company until his departure.
“We are very appreciative of the fine work by Brent and the team in progressing our rare earth demonstration plant over the past year. Key accomplishments in 2023 included the issuance of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Source Material License in July, followed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Environmental Policy Act review completion in November – both with a Finding of No Significant Impact,” said Chairman Gerald Grandey. “These milestones cleared the way for the DOE’s budget approval to commence onsite construction of the plant in December.”
The board has initiated a process to retain Berg’s successor.