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Rainbow Rare Earths in SA is WhyAfrica’s Pick Of The Week

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The old Foskor mine in Phalaborwa, South Africa. Image credit: Leon Louw for WhyAfrica

Rainbow Rare Earths in SA is WhyAfrica’s Pick Of The Week

With no need for hard rock mining, crushing or milling which reduces operational costs significantly, Rainbow Rare Earths reclamation project close to Phalaborwa in the Limpopo Province of South Africa is WhyAfrica’s Pick Of The Week.    

Rainbow Rare Earths is hydraulically reclaiming about 35 million tonnes of phosphogypsum for concentrated Rare Earth Elements (REE) in old stockpiles left by historic mining at state-owned Foskor’s Phalaborwa operation. Although the economic extraction of REEs from phosphogypsum has historically been a challenge, new methods developed by Rainbow Rare Earths has proven that it can be economically viable.

The cost of beneficiating the REEs with an estimated average in situ grade of 0.6% Total Rare Earth Oxides (TREOs) is expected to be substantially lower than for a mined mineral REE project. In addition, good local infrastructure will enable the company to haul to material to site for reprocessing in a cost-efficient manner.

The project also has environmental benefits, as it will redeposit clean, benign gypsum on a new stack, and will treat the existing water from the stack for reuse in a closed circuit, reducing legacy issues and overall water usage. According to Rainbow Rare Earths CEO, George Bennett, the process will also use fewer reagents when compared to other rare earths projects.

Updated technical report

The company recently released an updated Technical Report on the processing flowsheet to extract rare earth elements from the phosphogypsum stacks at the Phalaborwa Project.

The flowsheet has been developed in parallel with K-Technologies, Inc., USA (K-Tech). Compared to the initial processing options considered when work commenced, several key enhancements have been made, resulting in significant anticipated capital and operating cost savings for the Phalaborwa Preliminary Economic Assessment (PEA) which is currently being finalised.  As detailed in the Technical Report, the flowsheet for the PEA will comprise the following key steps:

  • Phosphogypsum will be reclaimed hydraulically from the existing stacks and pumped to the processing facility removing soluble impurities prior to the leach process.
  • A fluoride leach regime will be employed to remove fluoride from the gypsum stream, allowing rare earth grades in the pregnant leach solution to be maximised and producing reagents from the fluoride for use elsewhere in the processing circuit, reducing operating costs.
  • The fluoride leached phosphogypsum progresses to a rare earth counter current sulphuric acid leach system for the extraction of the target rare earth elements.  This allows for successful recycling of the various acid streams to optimise the overall processing costs.
  • A rapid consolidation process for the rare earths in the pregnant leach solution allows the rare earths to be concentrated with primary impurity rejection.  This process replaces the originally anticipated nano filtration system, which significantly improves the overall acid recycling, thereby reducing operating costs.
  • The rapid consolidation process feeds the downstream continuous ion exchange and continuous ion chromatography processes to deliver separated rare earth oxides.  The flow rates to these processes are considerably lower than anticipated using nano filtration techniques resulting in significant capital and operating cost savings.

Work is now ongoing to finalise the Phalaborwa PEA, which is expected to be completed at the end of September / early October 2022.

Application for international patents

According to Bennett, Rainbow and K-Tech anticipate the potential for wider application of this innovative processing flowsheet than solely the Phalaborwa Project. “As a result, Rainbow and K-Tech are jointly applying for international patents.  Rainbow is in the process of identifying global projects where the technology could be used to unlock further sources of rare earths from phosphogypsum,” says Bennett.

“Working alongside our partners at K-Tech we have continually seen opportunities for refinement and optimisation as the flowsheet has developed.  We anticipate that this process will continue as we progress from the PEA to PFS and BFS at Phalaborwa, alongside test work at other phosphogypsum opportunities, giving scope for both capital and operating cost reductions from the Phalaborwa PEA.

We believe that this work further demonstrates Rainbow’s ability to overcome the historical technical, environmental, and economic challenges related to extracting rare earths from phosphogypsum, enabling us to unlock a valuable, near-term source of permanent magnetic metals required so urgently to drive the global green energy revolution,” says Bennett.

Rainbow Rare Earths in SA is WhyAfrica’s Pick Of The Week

WhyAfrica does research and reports about natural resources and the primary sectors of African economies, and the infrastructure, equipment and engineering methods needed to extract and utilise these resources in an efficient, responsible, sustainable, ethic and environmentally friendly way, so that it will benefit the people of Africa.

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Rainbow Rare Earths in SA is WhyAfrica’s Pick Of The Week   

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