NioCorp eyes rare earth magnet recycling

Illustration of NioCorp’s planned Elk Creek facility. (Image courtesy of NioCorp Presentation.)

Rare earth miner NioCorp Developments (TSX: NB) plans to start a research project to evaluate the feasibility of recycling rare earth permanent magnets. 

This effort would be part of the company’s proposed Elk Creek critical minerals project in southeast Nebraska, US. NioCorp believes the research could improve the sustainability and strategic significance of Elk Creek.

The initiative will focus on creating a process to efficiently convert used neodymium-iron-boron magnets into separated rare earth oxides for new magnet production. 

“The process flow sheet that we have designed for the Elk Creek project may be able to recycle rare earth magnets with virtually no changes to its current configuration,” chief operating officer Scott Honan said in the statement.

The approach could potentially expand NioCorp’s future production capabilities of key rare earth oxides, depending on the success of their feasibility studies and securing adequate project financing.

Despite US efforts to find alternative sources of rare earths, the nation remains heavily dependent on China and Chinese-owned companies for these critical materials.

The US government is hoping to find new deposits of minerals and metals by digitizing information from 100-year-old geological maps and by flying survey planes all over the country. 

The Biden administration is also financing programs to recover valuable minerals and metals from waste piles of old mines. 

The importance of having a domestic supply of critical metals became evident in 2010, after China blocked exports of rare earths to Japan during a dispute over a fishing trawler incident, sending prices soaring.

Since then, tensions between Washington and Beijing have escalated, prompting fears about politically and economically motivated supply-chain disruptions.