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Molycorp Plans Near-Zero-Wastewater Facility

California-based rare earth mining company Molycorp says its Project Phoenix facility in Mountain Pass, Calif., will have near-zero wastewater discharge.

The $895 million project, which begins sequential start-up this week, will mine for the minerals bastnasite and monazite, and will use acids and bases – mostly hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide – to separate out 17 rare earth minerals. This process results in a salt-water byproduct, which traditionally companies will pump into evaporation ponds.

But in the case of the Phoenix Project, Molycorp is using a chlor-alkali process to split the water back up into hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide, to start the process anew. This not only saves wastewater storage and associated permitting costs, but eliminates the need to buy 15 to 20 truck loads of acids and bases each day, public affairs manager Andy Davis says.

The Phoenix Project will also use half the amount of ore traditionally consumed for the same amount of end product, Davis says, and the plant will re-use waste heat and waste steam.

The company has built its own CHP plant on site, which Davis says reduces electricity costs from 16 cents to three cents per kWh. It also cuts GHGs by almost 20 percent.

And the CHP plant provides an important reliability boon. Being at the end of an electric line, the plant would be at significant risk of blackouts, if it were dependent on the local utility,

The mining facility is expected to reach a Phase 1 rate of production of 19,050 metric tons a year by the third quarter in 2012. The facility, when fully optimized, could achieve a cash cost of production of $2.77 per kilogram averaged across all production, which is about half the cost of production at global mining operations in China, Rare Earth Investing News reported.

The company said that its research into recycling and reuse to improve production costs and environmental performance have been ongoing since 2004. Part of its breakthrough in wastewater management has come from that research.

The company researched a cerium-based water filtration medium that can remove contaminants from water, including heavy metals, biological pathogens, organic carbons, pesticides, herbicides and pharmaceuticals. Cerium makes up nearly half of the rare earth ore at Mountain Pass, the company said.

Molycorp commercialized the product in September 2010 as a non-toxic water treatment product called XSORBX. The product passed NSF 53 and NSF 61 drinking water testing protocols, and Molycorp’s testing was verified by the Water Quality Association, the company said.

Molycorp announced in early January that 78 percent of its Phase 1 rare earth production from Mountain Pass has been secured by signed customer agreements or has been committed to production of XSORBX products.

The developments, according to investment services firm Five Star Equities, have helped Rare Earth stocks outperform the broader market by a large margin. The Market Vectors Rare Earth/Strategic Metals ETF (REMX) is up more than 9 percent since January 17, 2012, Five Star Equities reported.

Although China produces about 95 percent of global rare earth supplies, the nation says that excessive production is depleting its reserves and damaging its environment, according to Five Star Equities, which looked at investment opportunities in Molycorp and Canadian-based exploration company Quest Rare Minerals.

Photo: Molycorp

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