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Wednesday, 03/24/2021 9:28:35 AM

Wednesday, March 24, 2021 9:28:35 AM

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Jack Lifton on Rare Earth Supply Chains and Value Chains

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By Jack Lifton on Mar 23, 2021

Rare earth sector analysts have finally recognized that a project’s place in a total supply chain is very important to

Rare earth sector analysts have finally recognized that a project’s place in a total supply chain is very important to its economic viability. Before a junior mining deposit goes into (usually expensive and time consuming) development into a producing mine there must first be an evaluation of what possible product(s) of that mine are demanded by the next step in the supply chain and what price(s) they may bring when the mine begins production. Most such evaluations are at best extrapolation and at worst pure speculation due to unpredictable commodity price cycles. Even for producing mines like MP Materials Corp. (NYSE: MP) and Lynas Rare Earths Limited (ASX: LYC) their places in the total supply chain differentiates them from each other because of the different value of their current respective delivered products.

The sale of rare earth permanent magnets brings a majority of the revenue in the total rare earth products supply chain. But no non-Chinese company has ever been vertically integrated from a mine to a magnet maker. The closest that a Western owned company (Canadian) has come to being a total rare earth permanent magnet supplier is Neo Performance Materials Inc. (TSX: NEO), which has everything (in the total rare earth permanent magnet supply chain) but a mine. Neo Performance sells rare earth products (oxides and chemicals) as well as rare earth enabled products (e.g., magnets) and has been consistently profitable with revenues exceeding $500,000,000 per year. This year, 2021, Neo will shortly begin taking delivery from America’s Energy Fuels Inc. (NYSE American: UUUU | TSX: EFR) of 70 tons per month of clean mixed rare earth carbonates (MREC) extracted from domestic American monazite. Energy Fuels is the first American company to produce rare earth concentrates free of radioactive elements and interfering ions in at least 25 years. The MREC can be put into solution directly at Neo’s European rare earth separation plant and fed into the system as a pregnant leach solution (PLS). Thus, Neo Performance can deliver to its customers downstream products, such as separated oxides, metals and magnet alloy powders and bonded magnets (made at its Thailand operations) that are produced by a total rare earth supply chain with no Chinese involvement.

Energy Fuels reports that its monazite extraction/purification system to produce clean MRECs is profitable. MP says that its bastnaesite ore concentrates now sold exclusively to China’s Shenghe Resources are profitable. Lynas says that its in-house separated rare earth oxides are sold at a profit. For rare earth juniors, the successful (I.e., profitable) sale of ore or clean mixed rare earth carbonates is the key metric and few of them succeed.

The total rare earths’ (enabled products) supply chain has the following composition:

1 Mining,
2 Extraction of the rare earths from the mining concentrates and the preparation of a clean, pre-PLS, mixed rare earths product,
3 Separation of the mixed rare earths into individual oxides and blends,
4 Manufacturing of chemical products, such as phosphors and catalysts, and of individual metals and alloys forms, and
5 Manufacturing of rare earth permanent magnets from rare earth alloys.

Historically mining companies have done steps 1,2, and sometimes 3, while specialized smaller companies have done steps 4 and 5 as separate ventures.

The rare earths’ value chain is not the same as the supply chain. It is very difficult to make money mining, extracting, or even separating mixed rare earths into individual rare earths and blends.

MP and Lynas are the largest, rare earth miners outside of China. Lynas and Neo Performance are the largest processors of rare earths to separate them by solvent extraction outside of China, and Energy Fuels is the sole producer of clean mixed rare earth carbonates in the Americas.

I am watching the following juniors: USA Rare Earths, Rare Element Resources Ltd. (OTCQB: REEMF), Vital Metals Limited (ASX: VML), and Appia Energy Corp. (CSE: API | OTCQB: APAAF).

The next five years will be the critical time for the development of a domestic American or European total rare earth enabled products supply chain. Canada is at a crossroads; it may build a domestic supply chain anchored on mines and going downstream with licensed European separation, metal and alloy making, and magnet making, or it may build a trans-Atlantic one with the EU.

The game’s afoot.

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