MacGillivray provided information on the need for a US-based rare earth (“REE”) supply and production chain. He asserted the criticality of Ucore’s valuable rare earth element project within that chain, commenting on the status of the Bokan-Dotson Ridge REE Project in Alaska (“Bokan” or the “Project”) as a critical and strategic U.S. asset. He also detailed Ucore’s continuing work at Bokan, including ongoing analysis of metallurgical processes vital to the bankable feasibility study.
Most notably, MacGillivray provided information regarding the successful execution of the REE separation pilot plant in Utah, utilizing Bokan feedstock in combination with innovative American clean-tech separation methodologies. In combination with Bokan, he noted that the technology represents a significant opportunity for near term production of crucial heavy REE on US soil. With its accessibility and favorable logistics, MacGillivray noted that the Project would give the U.S., the world’s leading consumer of rare earth elements, strategic and secure access to a domestic supply of critical REE.
“The issue of foreign mineral dependence is not new,” said Jim McKenzie, CEO of Ucore. “However, Congress is certainly elevating awareness of the problem at a very critical time. Ucore’s testimony has highlighted that the importance of an issue that can’t be overstated. At present, the People’s Republic of China dominates the production of numerous materials, including rare earth elements, which are essential for the proper function of everything from American smart phones to advanced weapons systems. In fact, China exhibits a near monopoly on the production of these materials, posing a dangerous risk to U.S. supply chains.”
“America has no operating producer of rare earth elements,” added Randy MacGillivray. “To date, the sole mitigation strategy adopted by the U.S. has been to stockpile small reserves of materials deemed to be critical and to promote substitution and recycling efforts, an inadequate approach given the criticality of these materials. Without a U.S. supply base, should the Chinese ever decide to withdraw the supply of these materials, the U.S. would be left without access, impacting both the domestic economy and the national security complex.”
Chinese REE Dominance
China supplies nearly all of the REE consumed by the U.S. Existing production techniques rely substantially on legacy separation technologies and environmentally invasive mining and processing practices. Solvent extraction (“SX”) separation processes, deployed extensively by the Chinese, have a very low selectivity for the recovery of individual REE. This failing necessitates the requirement of numerous separation stages. SX additionally utilizes highly corrosive chemicals and generates vast amounts of toxic and radioactive waste for which very little care is taken in the disposal.
To witness firsthand the toll Chinese rare earth production is having on the environment, one need not look further than the artificial lake located in China’s Inner Mongolia region where black chemical sludge, a byproduct of solvent extraction, stains the landscape. This embrace of environmental pollution on behalf of the Chinese, in combination with the lack of worker protections, allows the Chinese to manipulate the market and effectively control global prices.
US Congressional Activity
In light of the current situation and American dependence on these materials, the need for domestic sources and production has become an increasing concern in recent Congressional discussions of US national security. Congress has been supportive of the domestic mining sector, including the introduction of legislation in the previous session by the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Lisa Murkowski, promoting the development of green technology to meet the nation’s demand for critical materials. Ucore remains fully committed to solving the domestic critical materials issues, working towards solutions developed in coordination with Congress to alleviate dependence on foreign nations for these materials. Ucore’s Congressional testimony highlights a unique opportunity for a revitalized domestic critical metals manufacturing base, spurring job creation and domestic economic development, and addressing a pressing national security issue.
Background of Ucore
Ucore Rare Metals is an enterprise focused on rare metals resources, extraction and beneficiation technologies with near term potential for production, growth and scalability. On March 3, 2015, Ucore announced the right to acquire a controlling ownership interest in a joint venture with IBC Advanced Technologies Inc. to deploy molecular recognition technology to the separation of REE, multi-metallic tailings processing applications, and select PGM recycling applications in North America and associated world markets. The Company has a 100% ownership stake in Bokan- Dotson Ridge (“Bokan”). On March 31, 2014, Ucore announced the unanimous support of the Alaska State Legislature for the investment of up to USD $145 Million in the Bokan project at the discretion of the Alaska Import Development and Export Agency (“AIDEA”).