NioCorp Developments (TSX: NB; OTC: NIOBF) has announced that its demonstration-scale processing plant in Quebec is now processing ore samples from the Elk Creek critical minerals project. The plant is intended to demonstrate that the company can extract and separate rare earth elements from ore mined from the project site, and that its simplified process for producing niobium, scandium and titanium is both technically and economically feasible.
The demonstration plant will process Elk Creek ore samples in three phases. Phase 1 is designed to demonstrate a new approach to the initial processing of the ore that NioCorp expects to mine from the project site (subject to funding), including calcination, initial leaching and rare earth extraction. Phase 2 is designed to demonstrate an improved process for the second stage of leaching along with niobium and titanium separation.
The third and final phase is designed to demonstrate the technical viability of separating high-purity versions of several target magnetic rare earth products from Elk Creek ore samples, as well as confirming previously achieved high recovery rates for high-purity scandium trioxide. The potential magnetic rare earth products include neodymium-praseodymium oxide, dysprosium oxide and terbium oxide.
NioCorp will utilize conventional solvent extraction (SX) technology to test a rare earth separation approach that is has developed alongside L3 Process. Both NioCorp and L3 have years of collective experience in the SX technology.
"Many of these processes have already been successfully tested at the bench scale. Given our team's years of experience in hydrometallurgy, including rare earth separations, I expect that we will demonstrate positive results. I also look forward to potentially demonstrating how our simplified process flowsheet can more efficiently and cost-effectively produce niobium, scandium and titanium," NioCorp COO Scott Honan said. The demonstration plant testing is expected to be completed over several weeks.
Honan added that once operations have concluded and data analyzed, work can then turn to the design and engineering of the new process flowsheet, which in turn is expected to be incorporated into an updated Elk Creek project feasibility study that incorporates an economic analysis of separated rare earth oxide products and the simplified process flow sheet.
At the Elk Creek project, located 105 km southeast of Lincoln, Nebraska, NioCorp has been looking to develop North America's only niobium-scandium-titanium advanced materials manufacturing facility co-located with an underground mine.
The Elk Creek deposit contains high-grade niobium oxide (Nb2O5), titanium oxide (Ti2O) and scandium, with probable mineral reserves currently sitting at 36.7 million tonnes grading 0.811% Nb2O5, 2.29% Ti2O and 70.2 ppm scandium.
Additional information on the project is posted on www.NioCorp.com.