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By ZACHARY HALASCHAK
Daily News Staff Writer
UCore Rare Earth Metals, which is planning to build a rare earth elements separation plant in Ketchikan, has released a tentative timetable of operations.
According to a Monday press release, UCore is planning to start production at a local separation facility beginning in 2020.
Randy McGillivray, vice president of business development for UCore, told the Daily News on Monday that the company has narrowed its search for a location for its new facility that will separate rare earth elements from around the world.
“We’ve been looking around Ketchikan, and we have sort of three different properties in mind,” McGillivray said.
In the press release, UCore laid out its schedule — all the way out to 2024.
“At some point in 2020 we’re hoping to start the plant,” McGillivray said. “And really it’s the sizing, so that’s the equipment is sized to take 1,000 tons per year.”
He said that as production ramps up; each year’s output is expected to essentially double. Monday’s announcement provides the following schedule:
• 2018-2019: Design, financing and construction.
• 2019-2020: Construction, commissioning and production.
• 2020-2021: Processing output of 1,000 tons of rare earth compounds.
• 2021-2022: Processing output of 2,500 tons of rare earth compounds.
• 2023-2024: Processing output of 5,000+ tons of rare earth compounds.
According to McGillivray, UCore would not initially be processing locally sourced earth minerals, but rather would process byproduct material from other project sites around the world.
McGillivray told the Daily News that the Bokan-Dotson Ridge project could be a ways off, depending on the prices of various rare-earth commodities.
“The best way to say it is we’d have to see a recovery in the rare earth prices to initiate an EIS or permitting for the Bokan-Dotson Ridge project,” McGillivray explained. “… There’s two ways to look at it, like if rare earth prices came back in a strong way then that would be great incentive to raise money to initiate permitting to catch that upswing.
“The other thing is that if we turn the corner here and produce the separation plant, import byproduct material from other projects, then we’ll be able to start generating revenue and that way we can take that revenue and invest it into the Bokan-Ridge project, even if prices are low anticipating a rebound,” he added.
Typically rare-earth separation is messy work with a potentially detrimental environmental impact, but McGillivray explained that the new UCore facility in Ketchikan would be the first of its kind.
“It would be the first plant in the world using molecular recognition technology for rare earths,” McGillivray said.
“The reason that it is environmentally sensitive is that it does not use solvent extraction,” McGillivray said. “… The industry was quite happy to have that sort of solvent extraction technology go away to Asia, whereas this technology uses a closed circuit.”
He went on to explain that although the technology has been used for other metal separation operations, there has never been a rare-earth elements separation facility that uses the molecular recognition technology.
McGillivray explained that in addition to the new, environmentally conscious measures, the construction and design of the facility itself breaks the mold.
“It’s a huge milestone for the company, we’re doing it sort of differently than you would do a normal mine project,” McGillivray said. “Usually you build the mine first, and build the mill and processing (plant) subsequent to defining the mining resource. But in this case, we’re sort of turning the corner and becoming more focused on the technology side of it and providing a service to North America.”
In the Monday press release, UCore COO Michael Schrider said that the project would be a positive addition to the community.
“The residents of Ketchikan have expressed great interest in our Alaska (strategic metals complex) project,” Schrider wrote. “We’re pleased to finally be in a position to reveal our initial schedule highlights as well as additional aspects of the design and planning process as they materialize in the immediate term.”
McGillivray told the Daily News that the rare earth elements would have a variety of buyers and applications, including “local, domestic, security and military use, as well as the energy sector.”
“So, it’s pretty exciting for the company,” McGillivray added.