RER prepares to begin construction

By: 
Alexis Barker, News Edtior

Image courtesy of Rare Element Resources

A map from Rare Element Resources shows both the Bear Lodge Project and site for the upcoming demonstration plant for rare earth elements outside of Upton. 

 

A project over 10 years in the making is coming to fruition as Rare Element Resources plans to break ground in Upton on its demonstration-scale processing and separation plant for rare earth elements next month, according to President and CEO Brent Berg, who updated people on the project during a presentation on Oct. 9. 

 

State leaders flocked to Weston County to rally around Rare Element Resources as the company held an open house to present the project to the community and celebrate the next step in the Upton demonstration plant and Bear Lodge Project, which is where the rare minerals will be mined outside of Sundance. 

 

“It is important to acknowledge all of your hard work reaching this milestone,” Gov. Mark Gordon said in a prerecorded message, noting that the extraction and separation process demonstration plant has been a long time coming. “For decades, China has controlled the rare earth minerals market, from mining to processing to magnet production. It’s critical to our national defense, energy security and just our everyday lives here in the United States to re-enter and retake this market. And, for Wyoming, it is exciting to help lead the way in this re-entry.” 

 

Gordon added that he remembers the excitement former Sen. Mike Enzi had when the project was announced a decade ago. He also remarked on the partnership Wyoming has with the company and the U.S. Department of Energy, helping to make the demonstration plant a possibility through help with state and federal funding.

 

As previously reported in the News Letter Journal’s July 7, 2022, story “Upton to house RER demo plant,” the Department of Energy is funding nearly half of the $44 million budget, with RER coming up with the rest. 

 

“I look forward to this demonstration plant becoming operational next year, proving out the processing technology and seeing the Bear Lodge Project come to fruition,” Gordon concluded. 

 

According to the project timeline, construction is expected to take approximately seven months, with operations at the plant anticipated to begin in the second quarter of 2024. Equipment is scheduled to be on-site by the end of March, Berg said. 

 

Operations will last eight to 10 months, with decommissioning of the demonstration plant anticipated in the second and third quarters of 2025. 

 

The location of the plant, Berg said, is at the Upton Logistics Industrial Center on the 8.2-acre Brownfields site. He noted that the site cleanup is completed, and utilities are currently being upgraded. 

 

Also presenting during the open house was Neal Blue, CEO of General Atomics. He explained that the plant will be a demonstration plant with the purpose of demonstrating the “scalability” of a real production facility to create real contributions of rare earth minerals. 

 

“This will take time and successful deployment of advanced technology,” he said. 

 

As previously reported in the NLJ’s Oct. 6, 2022, edition in the story “RER Demo Plant on schedule,” General Atomics, an affiliate of Synchron, is spearheading the project and is one of the largest shareholders of RER. 

 


 

According to Berg, General Atomics has assembled the brightest scientists and engineers to test and retest this process technology that “we are about to deploy at scale.” 

 

“We are about to embark on a unique innovative process that is not being done elsewhere,” he said. 

 

Berg explained that the proprietary technology that will be used at the demonstration plant is different from what is being done elsewhere when it comes to rare earth elements. He noted that the demonstration plant will allow for the process to be refined. 

 

The objective of the project, Berg said, is to demonstrate the separation of produce neodymium praseodymium (NdPr) and other rare earth elements at high purity; produce up to 15 tons of NdPr at over 99.5% purity as well as lanthanum, SEG (primarily consisting of samarium, europium, and gadolinium) and heavy rare earth element concentrates, which would be subject to further refining; provide clear pathways for the separation of other rare earth elements, including samarium, dysprosium and terbium; and to demonstrate a process capable of treating rare earth oxide concentrate from other sources, either in the U.S. or obtained as a result of initiatives from allied countries. 

 

Advantages of the process include, according to Berg, 92%-97% recovery from run-of-mine material; high-efficiency solvent extraction producing greater than 99.5% pure NdPr and other rare earth oxides; first-of-a-kind, real-time control software for process optimization and 100% separation of radionuclides for disposal at a licensed facility. 

 

The elements mined and produced in Crook and Weston counties have applications in many aspects of life including magnets, defense technologies, metal alloys, catalysts, ceramics, glass and polishing and phosphors, according to Berg’s presentation. Blue added that the most significant reason for the RER project is the production of permanent magnet motors, which are used in electric vehicles including the Tesla Model 3 and the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford. 

 

The most critical needs, the presentation says, are in cloud technology, aircraft parts, MagLev (derived from magnet levitation) technology, automotive and energy. 

 

As previously reported by the NLJ in the story “RER secures final federal permit” published on Aug. 2, 2023, “the elements contained at the Bear Lodge Project are less common and more valuable than other rare earths, and the company claims they are essential for high-strength permanent magnets, electronics, fiber optics, laser systems for medical technology and defense. They are also vital to green energy development because they are necessary in technologies for electric vehicles, solar panels and wind turbines.”

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