Jaye Pickarts, COO of Rare Element Resources, on why the company thinks that thorium research is important.
Rare Element Resources Ltd. is a publicly traded mineral resource company focused on exploration and development of rare earth element deposits, specifically those with significant distribution of critical rare earths. The Company is advancing development of the Bear Lodge Project, located in northeast Wyoming.
Our current plan does not anticipate the sale of thorium, but we will continue to follow this emerging technology.
Rare Element Resources was in the news recently with the announcement that it has filed a utility patent application with the US Patent and Trademark Office that combines its initial provisional patent on the "Rare Earth Element Extraction" process technology, filed in January 2013, with its "Extraction of Thorium from Rare Earth Compounds and Related Methods" provisional patent, filed in November 2013. Collectively, this extraction technology enhances the recovery of rare earth elements from ores mined from the Company's Bear Lodge Project, improving the efficiency of the process and isolating the thorium for easy and safe third-party disposal.
Jaye Pickarts, Chief Operating Officer of Rare Element Resources, admits however that thorium removal continues to be a problem for many rare earth (RE) projects. “If you look at a number of the proposed RE processes flow sheets, you will see they have not sufficiently addressed this issue. One of the conventional methods is solvent extraction, which does not remove 100% of the thorium and requires both large capital expenditures and high operating costs,” he said in an exclusive interview.
"The pilot plant test work completed this past year confirmed our ability to scale up the patent-pending process and validated its success at selectively precipitating the rare earths found in the Bear Lodge ore, producing a 97%-pure rare earth concentrate," states Pickarts, and adds, "The ability to selectively isolate and economically remove thorium means that we will be able to provide a safe and value-added product to our customers. Our test work also identified several other opportunities to both lower operating costs and generate additional revenues, including optimizing reagent use, possible byproduct recovery and downstream elemental separation, which we are currently studying."
The utility patent, entitled "Extraction of Metals from Metallic Compounds" was filed by Rare Element Resources Ltd. on January 18, 2014.
On the efficiency of the new technology and also its separation accuracy and economic efficiency, Pickarts comments: “The amount of thorium in our RE ore body is relatively small in comparison to a number of our peers but must be removed almost 100% in order to meet potential customers’ specifications. The costs associated with our technology is relatively low but that is also influenced by the fact that the stream mass is very small. The secondary advantage is that by precipitating and recovering the thorium in a separate stream, we could potentially sell the thorium (if the commercial market grows as some are predicting). Additionally, we will have a byproduct stream that is thorium free, from which other commercially viable products could potentially be recovered and sold.”
Rare Element Resources also announced that Dr. James G. Clark, Vice President of Exploration, is returning to an advisory and consulting role with the company after six years in his current executive position. This move reflects the company’s continued progress from advanced-stage exploration toward mine development.
"Under Jim’s direction over the last 10 years, first as a consultant and more recently as an officer of the Company, we were able to take a small rare earth deposit and re-define it as a world-class critical rare earth district,” stated Randall J. Scott, President and Chief Executive Officer. “Jim’s understanding of the geology and mineralogy of the Project is unparalleled, and his contribution to the success of the Company is immeasurable. With our focus on bringing the Bear Lodge Project into development and ultimately production, this new arrangement allows us ready access to Jim’s knowledge-base while we shift our attention to mine development, with an emphasis on pit design and ore control.”
There is, of course, still quite a bit of caution when talking thorium. Pickarts however states that explorations will continue despite the challenges: “There have been many published articles about the advantages of using thorium as an energy source. Our current plan does not anticipate the sale of thorium, but we will continue to follow this emerging technology.”