RER gets funding boost
Federal funds aimed at improving U.S. production of critical minerals
January 28, 2021
An announcement from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) has increased the likelihood that Crook County will one day host its own rare earth mine in the Bearlodge Mountains. Rare Element Resources has been awarded half the funding needed to construct the demonstration-scale plant that represents the next step forward in developing the project.
“Rare Element Resources (RER) and its partners, General Atomics and its affiliates, subject to continuing negotiations, were selected to receive an award of $21,989,530 to construct a demonstration-scale rare earths separation and processing demonstration plant in order to advance the Bear Lodge Project,” says George Byers, RER Advisory Board.
“RER has been developing a plan to raise the balance of the needed funds and we now have a high level of confidence we can do so.”
A formal proposal was submitted to the DoE in mid-2020 to secure funding for a separation and processing plant that uses RER’s proprietary technology to produce commercial-grade products. Speaking last fall, Byers explained the reasoning behind this next step: other companies outside China that have tried to move from a pilot plant immediately to a full-scale plant have met with failure.
“When you scale up, you’ve got different sized pumps and pipes and pressures and things break, and that’s what happened to these other companies and we don’t want to get this close now and fail,” he said.
The demo plant is expected to cost $35-40 million and a site has not yet been chosen.
“Construction in Upton, where our full-scale facility would be built, certainly makes the most sense, but there is no certainty at this time that Upton will be the chosen location,” Byers said on Thursday. “The identification of potential sites has been underway for several months.”
The funding from DoE is part of $50 million in funding for 15 projects around the country that are focused on field validation and demonstration, as well as next-generation extraction, separation and processing technologies for critical materials. It is part of the department’s effort to reduce American dependence on imported critical materials by diversifying the sources of materials needed for energy technologies and establishing domestic capabilities to refine materials used in manufacturing.
“The Department of Energy is leading the way in addressing supply risks of critical materials,” said Daniel R. Simmons, Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, in a press release announcing the funding.
“Through these investments, we will strengthen America’s industrial base by addressing key domestic supply-chain gaps.”
The Bearlodge Project fits well into this mandate, says Byers.
“The glaring and ongoing supply risks to America’s economy and national defense for critical materials including rare earths have been apparent for several decades. Successfully completing this demonstration-scale plant and bringing the full Bear Lodge Project into production will be a major step in addressing one of America’s greatest domestic supply-chain deficiencies,” Byers says.
“Of course, success at Bear Lodge will certainly strengthen Wyoming’s and America’s industrial base.”
RER is poised to begin making use of the cash injection as soon as it is received.
“We stand ready to meet all the pre-award requirements to finalize the financial award within the coming weeks. Once this is completed, we will progress our team’s plans for the timely design, construction, and operation of the plant, utilizing our proprietary technology,” said Randall Scott, President and CEO, in a press release.
“This funding evidences the federal government’s commitment to secure an American supply chain as we face Chinese dominance in the rare earth market. The company remains focused on being the next domestic rare earth producer, and the DoE funding will provide key support to advance this goal through this demonstration project.”