“This unique combination, in concert with unprecedented U.S. Federal Government and State of Alaska support for critical minerals development, have placed Ucore on a very short list of potential U.S. government partners capable of alleviating the current HREE supply crisis; and perhaps the sole proponent capable of doing so fully and completely within U.S. soil. Without this feature — a domestic mine-to-metal-to-market capability contained within American borders — the U.S. cannot claim to be independent in any true sense.3 ”
Rare earth elements (“REE“), and heavy REE (“HREE“) in particular, are now among the most valued, sought after and hard to obtain metals at a world level.4 HREE are of critical importance to America’s most essential and prolific industries. These industries span all manner of high-tech applications, from national defense to AI, supercomputing, energy provision, transportation, and many more — areas in which the U.S. is either actively working to maintain its leadership or actively pursuing this status every day. Simply put, no other naturally-occurring materials are of greater strategic importance to the U.S., in terms of competing today, at an international level, with China.
The current and long-running U.S. REE dependency on China has now garnered international attention, culminating in a series of extraordinary initiatives 5 by both the State of Alaska and the U.S. Federal Government (“USG“). These measures, intended to effectively break the Chinese monopoly and establish U.S. independence in crucial areas of industrial and technical development, include: (i) State – An undertaking by the State of Alaska (“AIDEA“) to provide up to $145M in financing to Ucore to establish an Alaska-based framework capable of achieving an independent national REE supply chain; and (ii) Federal – The issuance of five (5) Presidential Determinations (“Determinations“) establishing the essentiality of REE to U.S. national defense. The Determinations are a pre-requisite to authorizing the USG, under the Defense Production Act Title III Program (“DPA“), to procure private capabilities in times of sufficient national crisis, to address U.S. security. Prospective DPA funding for this purpose currently stands at $64.4M.6
The remainder of this press release discusses Ucore’s comprehensive strategic actions plan to achieve the objectives of the foregoing, pursuing the roll-out of a complete HREE mine to metal to market supply chain (the “M3 Plan” or “M Cubed Plan“), fully contained on US soil.
The M3 Plan of Action
Ucore’s M3 Plan to satisfy the needs of an independent American REE supply chain comprises three primary initiatives, commencing immediately: (i) Mine – Advancing the HREE mine at the Bokan-Dotson Ridge Rare Earth Project (“Bokan“) to “shovel-ready” status; (ii) Metal – Developing the associated engineering for the individual REE and co-products processing and separation plant, the Alaska Strategic Metals Complex (the “Alaska SMC“) on the basis of a Solvent Extraction (“SX“) platform, complemented by commercially proven nanotechnology, as available; and (iii) Market – North American market development and cultivation of the customer base for non-Chinese REE products in the Western World.
The following is a summary of recent, ongoing, and planned actions, pursuant to Ucore’s comprehensive M3 Plan:
Component 1 – MINE
Preparation of the Bokan HREE Mine to a “Shovel Ready” Status
In order for the U.S. to address the Chinese REE monopoly and establish independence, domestic sources of REE must be developed, mined and processed. Ucore notes that its Bokan REE resource (the “Mine“), contains the highest-grade of HREE on U.S. soil that has been disclosed in compliance with National Instrument 43-101 (“NI 43-101“) standards.7
In 2011, Ucore commissioned a team of geological, engineering, and metallurgical consultants to complete a preliminary economic assessment (“PEA“) in accordance with the requirements of NI 43-101 8, with the completed document filed on SEDAR on March 14, 2013.
The following consulting firms were commissioned to complete portions of the NI 43-101 technical report:
- Tetra Tech: Overall project management; mineral processing and recovery methods; infrastructure; capital and operating cost estimates; and financial analysis.
- Aurora Geosciences (Alaska) Ltd: Geology; mineral resource estimate; and environmental studies, permitting, and social or community impact.
- Stantec Inc.: Mining, including capital and operating costs.
- Lyntek Incorporated: Mineral processing and metallurgical testing using Dual Energy X-Ray Transmission (“DEXRT“) mineralized material sorting and magnetic separation circuit design and costs.
- IntelliMet LLC: Mineral processing and metallurgical testing with leaching and solid-phase extraction (“SPE“), uranium and thorium removal, leaching and rare earth element separation design and costs.
- Knight Piésold Ltd: Tailings and waste rock management, including capital costs.
As discussed, on March 31, 2014, Ucore announced the unanimous support of the Alaska State Legislature for Senate Bill 99 (2014), which authorized AIDEA to issue up to USD$145 million in bonds for the infrastructure and construction costs of the Bokan Rare Earth Project. The completion of the PEA and the AIDEA announcement was subsequently followed by further geological exploration and a subsequent REE resource upgrade for the Mine deposit (see Ucore press release dated May 11, 2015).
From a technical development perspective, Ucore is now ready to commence the engineering and permitting required to prepare the Mine for construction (i.e. a “Shovel Ready” Mine); and to update the financial data/projections in the PEA from the 2013 values to establish the minimum threshold market conditions which would allow mine construction to commence. Unlike the PEA, however, the forthcoming updated Bokan economic analysis will now factor in co-product metals from the Mine, a collateral asset of significant prospective value. The initial findings from the first iteration of the co-product metals report (“CPM“) are scheduled to be compiled and released in the coming days.
The Company estimates the project can be fully permitted and Shovel Ready in less than 30 months from receipt of the necessary funding for these pre-construction activities. Ucore will then be positioned to commence mine site construction, mining, and mill processing upon acceptance of the project by AIDEA and receipt of additional capital market and customer offtake support.
This strategic action has commenced, with a re-evaluation study of co-products available in the existing Bokan flow sheet, with thanks to specific funding furnished in early September 2019, by Ucore major shareholder, Orca Holdings, LLC.9
Component 2 – METAL
Preparation of Detailed Planning, Engineering and IP Acquisition for the Alaska SMC
The Alaska SMC REE processing and separation facility is planned to be located in Ketchikan, Alaska, and to be the first physical component of the Mine. Notably, the Alaska SMC will be designed to process REE concentrate not just from the Bokan HREE Mine, but from other U.S. and U.S. allied-nation sources, into individual REE oxides for the burgeoning North American REE market.
As contemplated by the Ucore September 4, 2019, press release, the Alaska SMC will be a hybrid technology REE processing and separation facility founded on the most advanced, efficient, and environmentally sound application of SX technologies in the world. Where possible, SX will be coupled with the most promising aspects of nanotechnology strategically applied to maximize the throughput, efficiency, and purity of the produced individual rare earth oxides. The innovation behind the “one-of-a-kind” SuperLig®-One pilot plant commissioned by Ucore in collaboration with IBC Advanced Technologies, Inc.10 and which produced 99.99% purified Dysprosium will set the aspirations for the project. Ucore’s mandate of ensuring the utilization of a green, efficient, and proven next-generation technology will be the driving determination behind all technologies associated with the Alaska SMC.
In addition to this strategic initiative aligning with the goals of the DPA Title III Program and a potential forthcoming request for proposals, Ucore has engaged in preliminary discussions with AIDEA (see Ucore’s press release dated Oct. 22, 2018) regarding the development of the Alaska SMC as a funded component of the Mine. The engineering and detailed planning effort will lead to the next phase of funding discussions and mechanisms with AIDEA, the USG, and private initiatives now underway.
This strategic action will be funded by the Company and has commenced, with Ucore’s senior executives recently meeting with preeminent global suppliers of SX technology.
Component 3 – MARKET
Strategic Development of the North American REE Market
The third and final near term component of the Ucore roll-out action involves the carefully planned outreach to best-in-class North American end users. As is well known, China controls approximately 84%11 of the current international REE market. Notably, China is actively buying rare earth, cobalt, lithium, and other critical mineral assets in South America, Africa, Australia and Greenland, and is now a minority owner in the Mountain Pass light REE mine in Nevada 12, a trend observed by Ucore Chairman, Pat Ryan:
“China is setting themselves up to control their technological needs domestically first and are beyond a doubt self-sufficient with REEs today. Their intent is to continue to control exports and pricing; the time is now to change the flow of world metals going to China and to set up North America for the next several decades of critical minerals infrastructure growth through Ucore’s and other North American companies’ initiatives.”
Two primary end markets have been the focus of Ucore’s senior executive team over the past 18 months:
“American OEMs now face an unrelenting REE supply problem in this moment of market disruption,” commented Pat Ryan, Ucore Chairman, and specialist in OEM supply chain issues. “Some have termed this situation as the automotive industry’s ‘tobacco moment’, as American and international OEM’s phase out internal combustion engines. It’s all about CO2 emissions, climate change, and pollution-related health problems. GM has positioned Cadillac as its leading brand of EV, with no less than 20 new models planned for 2023. In Europe, the VW Group has unveiled its ‘Roadmap E’ strategy. The permanent magnet market for Tesla’s Model 3 long-range EV is estimated to be in the billions of dollars and Toyota has accelerated its EV mass-manufacturing plan by 5 years such that half of its global sales will be EVs by 2025.”
Pursuant to non-disclosure agreements, the Ucore team has now completed numerous meetings with industry front-runners, both in America and Japan14, exploring opportunities such as supply offtake agreements.
These strategic marketing actions will continue and intensify in H2 2019 and beyond. Readers are encouraged to look for ongoing updates to these, and other aspects of Ucore’s M3 Plan in the weeks and months ahead.
Ucore Rare Metals is a development-phase company focused on rare and critical metals resources, extraction and beneficiation technologies with near term potential for production, growth and scalability. The Company has a 100% ownership stake in the Bokan-Dotson Ridge Rare Earth Project. On March 31, 2014, Ucore announced the unanimous support of the Alaska State Legislature for Senate Bill 99 (2014), which authorized the AIDEA to issue up to USD $145 million in bonds for the infrastructure and construction costs of the Bokan-Dotson Ridge Rare Earth Project.