Molycorp Inc. just announced that it has secured the final funds necessary for the capital build-out of its estimated $781 million expansion and modernization project at its flagship rare-earth oxides facility at Mountain Pass, California. The first phase of its mining project is expected to be operational by next year.
The development is significant because of the growing use of REEs in small yet high power motors and generators, especially the PM generators used in wind turbines. When completed, it will be the first time in a decade that rare-earth oxides are produced in the United States, which once lead the world in such production. Today, 95% of the rare-earth metals needed for today’s technologies are extracted in China.
When Phase 1 of the project completes, sometime in 2012, Molycorp says its manufacturing assets will comprise the world’s first fully integrated rare earth manufacturing supply chain, producing high-purity rare earth oxides, metals, alloys, and neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) permanent magnets, widely used in generators, transportation, defense, and other industries.
A decade ago America was the world’s largest producer of rare-earth metals according to a report in The Economist. But the open-cast mine at Mountain Pass, California, closed in 2002—mostly due to China’s lower labor costs. The country recently began limiting exports to keep the country’s own high-tech industries supplied. By one account, the material exceedes $140/lb.
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