Mojave Desert Mine Angling To Become Top Rare Earth Metal Source

(September 7)  Molycorp has intensified its effort to have the United States reassert itself as a major producer of rare earth minerals, based primarily on its mining operations in a remote area of San Bernardino County.
In recent decades, China has become the predominant supplier of rare earth metals.  Molycorps is making strides in challenging the Chinese rare earth production primacy.
Rare earth minerals, also known as rare earth metals, are a set of seventeen chemical elements, specifically scandium, yttrium, lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, promethium, samarium,  gadolinium,  europium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, and ytterbium. They have a number of critical industrial and technical uses and applications, including serving as components in mercury-vapor lamps. high-temperature superconductors, lasers, microwave filters, high refractive index glass, hybrid electrical vehicles, flint products, battery-electrodes, camera lenses, carbon arc lighting, didymium glass used in welding goggles, polishing powder,  ceramic capacitors, nuclear batteries, rare-earth magnets, memory chips, red and blue phosphors, green phosphors, fluorescent lamps, vanadium steel, x-ray machines and infrared lasers. Rare earth elements also facilitate hydrogen storage, fluid catalytic cracking, creating violet and yellow colors in glass or ceramics, catalyzing the refining of petroleum, oxidizing chemicals, neutron capture, and contrasting magnetic resonance images.
Because of their geochemical properties, rare earth elements are typically dispersed and not often found in concentrated and economically exploitable forms.
Until 1948, most of the world’s rare earths were mined in India and Brazil. In the 1950s, South Africa became the leading supplier of rare earth metals.
In 1949, the Mountain Pass Mine, which lies in the extreme northeast portion of San Bernardino County roughly 15 miles from the California-Nevada state line, was discovered by a uranium prospector.  The Molybdenum Corporation of America bought the mining claims, and small-scale production began in 1952. Production expanded greatly in the 1960s, with the Mountain Pass facility becoming the world’s dominant producer of rare earth elements. From 1965 until 1995 it was an almost exclusive supplier of europium, which is used in color television screens. The Molybdenum Corporation of America changed its name to Molycorp in 1974 and was acquired by Union Oil in 1977.
In the 1980s, the company began piping wastewater from the mining operation 14 miles to evaporation ponds at Ivanpah Dry Lake. Ruptures in the pipeline resulted in radioactive thorium and radium leaking into the desert floor, according to federal investigators, at least 60 times between 1984 and 1998, at which point the pipeline was shut down and chemical processing at the mine ceased.   Unocal was served with a cleanup order and sued by  San Bernardino County’s district attorney’s office in a civil lawsuit. The company paid more than $1.4 million in fines and settlements. The mine was shut down in 2002, by which time China eclipsed the United States as the leading supplier of rare earth metals. After Unocal in 2004 obtained a new operating permit for the mine, it was acquired the following year by the Chevron Corporation.
By 2005, 96 percent of the world’s rare earth elements were mined in China. In 2007, China restricted exports of rare earth elements and imposed export tariffs. In 2008, Chevron sold the Mountain Pass Mine to privately held Molycorp Minerals LLC, based in Greenwood Village, Colorado, a company formed to revive the Mountain Pass mine. On July 29, 2010, Molycorp, Inc. became a publicly-traded firm by selling 28,125,000 shares at $14 in its IPO. On September 22, 2010 China quietly enacted a ban on exports of rare earths to Japan. Later that fall, Congress passed legislation to subsidize the revival of the American rare earths industry, including the reopening of the Mountain Pass mine.
Initially, Molycorp lost money. But by the second quarter of 2011, the company was showing a profit. Molycorp acquired processing facilities in Arizona and Estonia. In March 2012, Molycorp Inc. acquired Neo Material Technologies Inc., a Canadian rare earth processing company, for $1.3 billion.
On August 27, Molycorp initiated Project Phoenix at the Mountain Pass Mine, a production run that is facilitated by the addition of an on-site combined heat and power plant, which is now providing  low-cost, high-efficiency electrical power and steam for the company’s extraction of heavy rare earth concentrate ore which is then processed into high-purity, custom-engineered  rare earth products at Molycorp’s production facilities.
According to Mark A. Smith, Molycorp’s president and chief executive officer, the addition of new equipment at the Mountain Pass Mine, together with processing capability provided by the facilities obtained in the Neo Material Technologies acquisition, has created “the most technologically advanced, vertically integrated rare earth mining and production operation in the world.”
Within short order it is anticipated that the mine will be the major source of the world’s bastnäsite, calcite, barite, dolomite, Cerium, Lanthanum, Neodymium and Europium.
Molycorp’s stock rose more than 11 percent during the first week of the Project Phoenix operation.

Leave a Reply