Niocorp Developments (TSX:NB) processing plant in Quebec has finished demonstrating its process for removing calcium and magnesium from ore taken from the Elk Creek critical minerals project.
The successful result was part of the company’s phase 1 operations for the plant. It also represented an achievement in the company’s process flow sheet optimization for this project. Also, the process flow sheet was originally designed in tandem by L3 Process Innovation and Niocorp.
“The team at L3 has been working very hard to complete phase 1 of the demonstration plant and deliver results. We look forward to the completion of the remainder of the demonstration plant operations, and most importantly, the rare earth metallurgical performance metrics showing the full potential economic benefits of rare earths for the Elk Creek project,” said Scott Honan, Niocorp’s chief operating officer.
Niocorp is busy with developing a critical mineral project in Nebraska that will produce niobium, scandium and titanium.
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Critical minerals and rare earth metals
Niobium can produce a high-strength, low alloy steel. It’s a lighter, stronger steel used in automobiles as well as structural and pipeline applications. Scandium makes strong alloys with corrosion resistance. It also shows up in advanced solid oxide fuel cells for certain types of batteries. Titanium is used in various lightweight alloys. It commonly shows up in pigments used in paper, paint and plastics, aerospace applications, armour and medical implants.
Magnetic rare earths, like neodynium, praseodymium, terbium and dysprosium, are necessary for making certain types of magnets, which have uses in defense and various civilian applications.
The process for removing calcium and magnesium carbonates from the ore uses thermal treatment and leaching. It’s a well-known and time-tested process, and it’s part of the demonstration’s phase 1 flowsheet. This step worked, producing at scale as a mixed calcium and magnesium carbonate. Removing carbonate minerals like this reduces production steps and increases efficiency.
The Elk Creek resource is primarily carbonate minerals. Its project mineral resource estimate doesn’t include calcium or magnesium because the company hasn’t run the tests to know if the deposit is worthwhile yet. The company, however, is planning on running an assessment and add these two elements to the resource estimate if the test is positive. The company will assess the material taken from the demonstration plant after a financing round.
The phase 1 demonstration plant operations are ongoing as the company prepares phases two and three.