Molycorp fires up new rare earths plant

Molycorp, the company in the process of expanding and modernizing a mine and processing plant closed down in 2002, this week announced the sequential start-up of its Project Phoenix rare earth manufacturing facility.

Mining at Molycorp's Mountain Pass mine in California has been underway for several weeks, at a rate of about 2,800 short tons of rare earths per day. Molycorp says the new crushing facility has been completed and new ore will be introduced. The initial cracking facility has also been completed and steam tested, with feedstock from stockpiled material planning to be fed into the system. The plant will use LNG for the initial startup until natural gas becomes available after construction of a feeder line expected to be completed in April.

“The launch of Project Phoenix’s sequential start-up is occurring well ahead of our April 1 deadline, and represents the accomplishment of a critical milestone in our project,” said Mark Smith, Molycorp President and Chief Executive Officer. “When this new manufacturing facility is complete and running at full capacity, it will be the most technologically advanced, energy efficient, and environmentally superior rare earth facility in the world.”

Molycorp also confirmed that it remains on track to achieve its full Phase 1 annual production rate of 19,050 mt of rare earth oxide equivalent by the end of the third quarter of 2012.

Molycorp together with Australia’s Lynas will become the dominant suppliers of rare earths outside China, which currently controls more than 90% of world output. Lynas is awaiting final approval for its rare earth processing plant in Malaysia, which would be the world’s largest once in production.

Photo of the Phoenix ore crusher is courtesy of Molycorp.