Australian rare earths miner Lynas Corp (ASX: LYC) has selected the city of Kalgoorlie to build its new cracking and leaching plant to extract low-level radioactivity from the ore mined at its Mt Weld operation, which is then shipped to Malaysia for final treatment.
The world’s only major producer of rare earths outside China said planned to begin building the plant, which will perform the first step of concentrate processing, in 2021. Completion is expected late 2022 or early 2023, it said.
The decision is a further step towards delivering on the Australian Government’s Critical Minerals Strategy and the objective of the Western Australian Government for more downstream processing, Lynas said in the statement.
The miner also said it planned to explore opportunities for the next stage of rare earth processing (upstream solvent extraction) in Western Australia.
Lynas, which controls just over 10% of the global rare earths market, said last month it was fine-tuning funding plans to build a separation plant in Texas.
The facility would be the world’s only large-scale producer of separated medium and heavy rare earth products outside of China, which currently accounts for 70% of global production. Beijing also controls 90% of a $4 billion global market for materials used in magnets and motors that power phones, wind turbines, electric vehicles and military devices.
After relentless attacks in Malaysia from environmental groups and locals fearing the effects of radioactive waste generated by Lynas’ refinery, the miner agreed to relocate it to Western Australia by 2025. The deal was a condition imposed by the Southeast Asian country to renew Lynas operating licence.
Despite their name, the 17 minerals used in magnets and motors that power phones, wind turbines, electric vehicles and military devices are not rare. According to the US Geological Survey (USGS), they are roughly as common as copper. But, because rare earth ores oxidize quickly, extracting them is both difficult and extremely polluting.
In the past three months, The Trump administration has stepped up efforts to ensure the supply of critical minerals from outside China. As part of those initiatives, it recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Greenland to conduct a hyper-spectral survey to map the country’s geology.
Washington has also gained the support of Australia, which has committed to facilitate potential joint ventures to improve rare earth processing capacity and reduce reliance on Chinese rare earths. The mineral agencies of the both countries signed last week a research agreement to quantify their reserves of critical mineral reserves.