The National Mining Association notes the critical role of rare earth minerals and other materials used in clean energy technologies is examined in a recently released report by the US Department of Energy (DOE). Critical Minerals Strategy addresses the challenge of ensuring future reliable access to the essential minerals used in wind turbines, electric vehicles, solar cells and energy efficient lighting. According to Steven Chu, DOE’s secretary of energy, “The availability of a number of these materials is at risk due to their location, vulnerability to supply disruptions and lack of stable substitutes.” In a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, DOE’s assistant secretary for policy and international affairs, David Sandalow, commented that: “With the mines that are projected to come on line by 2015, there is a pretty big gap between where supply will be and demand.”The report identifies 14 elements and related materials for their level of criticality based on factors contributing to risk of supply disruption, including a small global market, lack of supply diversity, market complexities caused by coproduction and geopolitical risks. In its analysis of these critical materials, DOE assesses the risks and opportunities, informs the public dialog and identifies possible program and policy directions.The approach recommended in the report for achieving the combined objectives of mitigating supply risk while promoting a clean energy economy included achieving globally diverse supplies, identifying appropriate substitutes and improving capacity for recycling, reuse and efficiency of use.In related news, Molycorp has received the last of its required environmental permits and can now begin construction on its new rare earth production facility located near the Nevada border in Mountain Pass, California (see International Mining Project News). Mark Smith, CEO of Molycorp, said, “Securing these permits means that construction of our new rare earth manufacturing facility at Mountain Pass will proceed on schedule, with project groundbreaking occurring on January 2, 2011. Additionally, we have begun pre-stripping operations of the mine, which is preparing the way for active mining of fresh ore to commence in 2011.”The project is expected to support roughly 700 jobs per day over the 18-month construction period, with an additional 200-300 permanent jobs when the new facility runs at full capacity, which is scheduled to occur by the end of 2012. The NMA says “this is welcome news with China producing 97% of global rare earth supplies and its recent Ministry of Finance announcement of an increase in export duties on some rare earth products beginning in January.
Hecla Mining Co has entered into a toll milling agreement with Excellon Resources Inc in which sulphide ore from San Sebastian would be trucked 42 km to Excellon’s Miguel Auza flotation mill facility, in Zacatecas, Mexico, for processing.Under the terms of the agreement, Excellon will provide 440 t/d of milling capacity to Hecla and, in due course, the mill will be upgraded to include a copper flotation circuit.“This is a significant step towards extending the life of the San Sebastian mine, and is in keeping with our strategy of maximizing the cash flow and minimizing capital investment by using third-party facilities,” said Phillips S. Baker, Jr., Hecla’s President and CEO. “We will take a bulk sample in the third quarter and if it is positive could begin mining sulphide ore next year. San Sebastian sulphides have the potential for five years of mine life and considerable upside with the recent exploration discoveries. We hope to mine oxides and sulphides concurrently since this agreement does not impact the current arrangement where oxide ore from shallower depths of the mine is being processed at the third-party owned Velardeña mill.”The five-year agreement is subject to due diligence, the successful processing of a 4,400-t bulk sample of sulphide ore from the polymetallic Hugh Zone this summer, and receipt of any regulatory approvals and third-party consents. Hecla has an option to extend the agreement for an additional two years.