Rare Earth & Critical Metal Supplies
by Adding Value to Bauxite Residue Waste,
Limonitic Laterite, and Recycling
Rare earth elements (REEs) are crucial materials in many of the most innovative technology areas, including smartphones, motors for electric vehicles, electricity generators in wind turbines, lasers, cameras, medical imaging, lithium-ion batteries, satellite communication, superconductors, solid oxide electrolysis, and military equipment. There is also widespread use of REEs in less sexy applications. In recent years, the supply chains for REEs have become dominated by Chinese suppliers. The US and western governments and technology businesses realized that the Chinese domination of REE supplies represented a strategic weakness for western economies and security. In 2019, this precipitated the President of the US to invoke the Defense Production Act to strengthen the domestic industrial base and supply chains for REEs and other critical minerals "that are vital to the Nation's economic and national security interests." This presidential focus is maintained. Two Planet Steel is now a member of the Consortium of Rare Earth Technologies (CREaTe), a new organization dedicated to securing supplies of REEs to the US and its allies.
Two Planet Steel can cleanly deliver REE and critical metal products and intermediate concentrates. Here are the main steps in our flowsheet:
Here are the important points:
Preferred Input Feeds:
The preferred input feeds are bauxite residue, an industrial toxic waste with high iron content, and limonitic laterite. Enormous quantities of waste bauxite residue are readily available in the US and some of its closest allies. Other preferred inputs are consolidated wastes containing large amounts of iron and significant REEs. Today, the primary sources of such consolidated wastes are waste streams from NFB (Neodymium Iron Boron) magnet manufacturers and some alloy manufacturers. However, in the future, other sources will include scrap yards recycling electric vehicles and, perhaps, others.
FIC and MusVaP:
A new process called FIC (fast iron carbonylation) is under development at Two Planet Steel. FIC extracts iron and nickel from mixed material feeds. FIC is a core technology of Two Planet Steel's material processing.
FIC will enable multi-step, value-adding processing (MusVaP) of mixed input feeds, like bauxite residue waste, limonitic laterite, and neodymium iron boron magnet wastes.
An implementation of FIC-enabled MusVaP on bauxite residue will add value and should produce intermediate concentrates of light REEs, other concentrates of heavy REEs, high purity nickel and iron powders, possibly some small amounts of cobalt, a lot of vanadium, a concentrate of scandium oxide, and a concentrate of oxides of sodium, silicon, aluminum, and other minor fractions. Other companies and research groups have developed processing to convert the last concentrate into a variety of things including alumina, sodium hydroxide, (near-neutral pH) feed to cement production, building materials, geopolymers, coagulants, and sorbents. MusVaP can continue with the refining of the concentrates of light REEs and heavy REEs to their individual elements (likely done by specialist refiners). Further potential value-adding steps are electrolytic smelting of alumina to aluminum, electrochemical reduction of scandium oxide to scandium, and metallothermic reduction of scandium oxide to scandium/aluminum alloy.
FIC-enabled MusVaP implemented on bauxite residue cleans up toxic waste, improves local water safety, and transforms waste sites (most close to urban and suburban areas) back into land that can either be put to urban use, made into parks, or given over to local wildlife.
FIC-enabled MusVaP implemented on partially reduced limonitic laterite will also extract REEs and numerous other critical metals. Perhaps the most consequential of these critical metal extractions are those of nickel and cobalt for use in NCM (nickel cobalt manganese) lithium-ion batteries. However, market forces will determine the importance of such extractions, and the rise of LFP (lithium iron phosphate) lithium-ion batteries is likely to suppress demand for the mining of laterite to obtain nickel and cobalt. Beyond REEs, other critical and valuable metals found in limonitic laterite are copper, aluminum, platinum group metals (PGMs), silver, gold, chromium, manganese, and niobium. There are many sources of limonitic laterite globally. Sources that are likely to be especially attractive will be ones with unusually high concentrations of iridium (a PGM). Unlocking more iridium will allow more extensive adoption of proton-exchange membrane (PEM) electrolysis — large-scale PEM electrolysis would make building needed renewable energy storage easier to achieve.
Two Planet Steel is currently seeking funding from the US federal government to demonstrate FIC-enabled MusVaP on feeds of bauxite residue, limonitic laterite, and NFB magnet waste at a small pilot scale.
At this time, expressions of interest in FIC-enabled MusVaP from potential future suppliers, customers of REEs, LFP & NCM batteries, and other stakeholders are of primary interest to Two Planet Steel. Timely expressions of interest pointed toward obtaining federal funding for Two Planet Steel R & D will lead to favored future dealings with Two Planet Steel.
June 6th, 2022