Modern Mining March 2022


Rainbow Rare Earths works to fill supply gap From a relatively flat rate in 2020, rare earths elements have seen a meteoric escalation in commodity price, a reflection of dawning market realisation that their demand for use in LEDs, permanent magnets, electric motors, sensors, and many other components used in smartphones, flat screens, and cars, is quickly outstripping supply.

George Bennett, CEO of Rainbow Rare Earths.

R ainbow Rare Earths, a London-listed company with assets in Burundi and South Africa, is working to fill the supply gap. The company announced last month that ongoing test work at the Phalaborwa project in South Africa has pro- vided additional optimisation opportunities for the process flowsheet, and confirmed that the chemi- cal extraction of separated Rare Earth Oxides from gypsum tailings stacked in unconsolidated dumps derived from historic phosphate hard rock mining will be possible. “The world is waking up to the fact that without key materials and commodities, and a ready supply of them, there cannot be any sustainable energy transition, nor a serious commitment to a global net zero emissions target,” says George Bennett, CEO. “It’s all very well to take fossil fuel projects offline, but if there is no reliable supply of what are now called “strategic metals”, such as the rare earths used in the permanent magnets that generate elec- tricity in renewable energy turbines – particularly wind – then net zero is an empty promise.” In the past week, the Pentagon announced plans to boost the stockpile of rare earth elements,

cobalt, and lithium. This comes in the wake of the US Geological Survey publishing the updated list of 50 mineral commodities (the list includes the rare earths Neodymium, Praseodymium, Terbium, and Dysprosium) critical to the US economy and national security, after an extensive multi-US agency (includ- ing the Departments of State, Energy and Defence) assessment. These four rare earth elements are the key rare earths that Phalaborwa will produce. “Mineral criticality is dynamic and reactive to long term projections on supply chain, identifying vulner- ability to potential disruption. While we are an African focused company, the inclusion of Rare Earths in this list as grounds for national security of the world’s largest superpower, evidences the need for new and independent supply. “Currently, 90% of refined rare earth products are supplied to the global market by China. We only have to look at what the events of the past few weeks in Ukraine have done to the gas prices, and to economies on the whole, to see that reliance on one producer, or major producing nation, for stra- tegic commodities has a broad reaching impact on independence and sovereignty.

Core drilling for bulk density and resource definition at Phalaborwa in 2021.

14  MODERN MINING  March 2022

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