Monday, 10 January 2011

Rare Earth Mines in California and Australia

For those who want to know, here is the skinny.

The first mine I'll be talking about is Mountain Pass in San Bernardino County, California.

This mine is owned by Molycorp Inc (USA) and previously to the Chinese cornering the market with their cheaper production, it supplied almost the entire global production up till 1995 and finally being shuttered in 2002 due to inability to compete economically with the much cheaper Chinese production.

The mine was mothballed rather than abandoned and is currently in the process of being refurbished and brought back on line. The expectation from Molycorp is that it will be in full production once more by the end of 2011.

The rare earth metals which are in this deposit include Cerium, Lanthanum, Neodymium and Europium. Known remaining reserves are estimated to exceed 20 million tons.

Note that Neodymium is one of the key metals used in high tech and specifically in electric vehicles and the motors of wind turbines as well as ceramic supercapacitors. Lanthanum is used in advanced batteries. Cerium is used in catalysts. Europium is used in LEDs. Dysprosium is another metal that like Neodymimium is used in variation of high magnetic flux magnets.

On another note, one of the other key rare earths, dysprosium is found in a mineral known as monazite which is found in one of the mineral reserves in a mine at Mount Weld in Australia, owned by Lynas Corporation.

Lynas is currently mining (and stockpiling) monazites, which will be ultimately transported to a processing facility. At the present time, they do not have their own facility in Australia (but are in the process of building one) and instead will have to send the monazite to Malaysia to be processed on their behalf.

In addition to the near term ready-for-production sites as above, there is also Hoidas Lake in Northern Saskatchewan which has large deposits of heavy rare earths including dysprosium. Another likely candidate is Strange Lake in Northern Quebec.
Neither Hoidas Lake nor Strange Lake have yet any fixed plan for production.

Addendum: The Company that owns the Hoidas Lake rights (Great Western Minerals) also has access to a site in South Africa with close-to-production reserves of monazite which includes a large quantity of neodymium.

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