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Viridis Mining, Ionic to trailblaze rare earths downstream processing with JV

Updated: Apr 17

Operating Dy/Tb separation on the Ionic Technologies pilot plant mixer settler circuit at Ionic Technologies’ facility in Belfast, UK. Credit: File

A planned joint venture between ASX-listed Viridis Mining (ASX: VMM) and Ionic Rare Earths (ASX: IXR) is poised to become Brazil’s first clay-based rare earths downstream processor. The JV will also recycle industrial magnets, harvesting them for their valuable rare earths using Ionic’s recycling technology.

Viridis’ own Colossus rare earths deposit will headline the processing venture, however other rare earths concentrate producers will also be sought out and encouraged to provide feedstock for a planned separation plant in the mineral-rich state of Minas Gerais in Brazil.

A new 50/50 owned JV company will be formed to commercialise the two innovative technologies. Selective Separation Technology (SST) is used for downstream processing while Rare Earth Recycling Technology (RRT) can selectively separate individual rare earths from carbonate.

CEO Rafael Moreno points out that “the Selective Separation Technology itself is unique, as it allows separation of all 17 rare earth elements into their Oxide form directly from a REE carbonate. He says current treatments can only separate pairs of rare earths while the JV technology will allow end users to specify their ‘made to order’ set of high-purity rare earth oxides from a single feed. In addition, ionic liquids and extractants are recyclable.

Downstream flowsheets in separation plants and refineries elsewhere around the world are hampered by rigid designs according to the company. Extraction of only rare earth oxide pairs necessitates construction of separate refineries, resulting in double handling of the same feed.

Whilst the JV will look to build its own full-scale separation plant in Brazil, it will also hold exclusive rights to commercialise SST globally (outside of Uganda and Asia). Outside of Brazil the JV will seek out other rare earths producers and look to create licensing deals for the technology to be “dropped into” existing plants. The partners say they are already in discussions with potential licensing partners with rare earths deposits and original equipment manufacturers that are looking to source refined product.

Ionic clay rare earths mining offers significant advantages over conventional rare earths hard rock mining albeit most processing is currently done out of China. Notably clay-based rare earths mineralisation tends to occur at surface, so minimal stripping is required. No blasting, crushing and milling or tailing dam construction is needed and leaching only requires cheaper salts rather than strong acids with reactions taking place at ambient temperatures.

Viridis’ clay Colossus rare earths resource is hosted within the Poco De Caldas Alkaline Complex. The favourable rare earths host rock occurs in a very deeply weathered tropical environment within a caldera, with homogeneous aluminosilicates ionically bonded with the rare earths. Viridis will shortly move to table a scoping study on Colossus that now takes in the downstream processing opportunity.

Viridis says Ionic’s extraction process is well tested after years of research and development at Ionic Technologies International Ltd (a subsidiary of Ionic Rare Earths) Belfast facility. The Company is already a world leader in recovering rare earths from recycled magnets.

Viridis will also have the rights to Ionic’s magnet recycling technology that can extract valuable rare earths from spent industrial magnets from old electric engines.

Recycling has become popular in the lithium space and as electric vehicles start to age, the opportunity to recycle their industrial magnets will become real.

Viridis and Ionic would appear to be ahead of the curve in clay-based rare earths with most downstream processing currently conducted out of China – and the Chinese tend to keep a tight rein on their technology.

If the new JV can create a viable alternative to Chinese processors in a region that is well endowed for rare earths, it will likely have a serious opportunity on its hands.

Whilst the market has mostly focused on hard rock rare earths to-date, there is a general recognition now that clays just might be easier and cheaper to mine and he who has the technology wins.

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