Another day, another huge Wyoming rare earth discovery.
The Cowboy State is fast becoming ground zero for a modern-day gold rush for rare earth elements long kept in a Chinese stranglehold.
Earlier this year, Ramaco Resources announced it had found an unconventional deposit of rare earths that could be worth upward of $37 billion, based on an economic analysis by the Wall Street Journal.
A company in Upton, Wyoming, is meanwhile setting up shop on a large rare earth deposit with a novel, developing a new process that promises to speed rare earth processing and make it dramatically more efficient.
Now, a company called American Rare Earths, which owns several thousand rare earth mineral acres near Wheatland, has announced that its high-grade rare earth deposit is even richer than it thought. Maybe so rich, that it could soon be the world’s richest.
Not only that, but it’s present in clay-hosted sediments, which means that the desirable rare earth elements will not require complex cracking operations or the additional processing steps so often needed with hard-rock deposits.
“Being low in the penalty elements of thorium and uranium places Halleck Creek in a unique position of having the best of both worlds — higher grade and easier processing,” CEO Donald Swartz said in an email to Cowboy State Daily. “We are looking forward to the pending assays, and upgrading the resource and rapidly advancing our flagship project.”
Who Is American Rare Earths
American Rare Earths is an Australian-owned subsidiary that owns two rare earth sites in the U.S., the Halleck site in Wyoming and the La Paz project in Arizona.
The Halleck site is just west of Wheatland and northeast of Laramie, not too far from Interstate 25, which puts it close to both transportation and infrastructure, despite its somewhat remote Overton Mountain location.
“What we will be mining and processing is what’s called neodymium and praseodymium, commonly referred to as NDPR,” Swartz told Cowboy State Daily. “And those are the magnet metals that are sort of integral to the green transition. So electric vehicles, windmills, robots, and consumer (goods).”
Those materials have traditionally been sent to China for processing, but changing that is an effort that American Rare Earths wants to be part of.
“China quickly realized the strategic importance of these things,” Swartz said. “And it really built its whole industry and processing and value chain around it. I think the analogy that resonates with me is, if you think of France, they won’t sell you the grapes. They want to sell you the wine.”
Of late, China has been announcing that it won’t export key components of the value chain anymore, however, which is putting the squeeze on American manufacturers that have come to rely on China for the minerals. They are critical to a broad array of technological goods, including everything from computers and cell phones to missiles and national defense.
What’s Ahead And When
American Rare Earths is still working to prove out its resource in Wyoming, but it is already working on its mining permits for Halleck Creek.
“It’s my expectation that we’ll have the test mine and the piloting in the next year,” Swartz said. “The objective would be something in kind of the next three years on the permitting side to get up and going.”
Wyoming, Swartz added, is an ideal location for mining rare earths, thanks to its long mining history.
Wyoming already has a substantial list of commodities it mines ranging from coal and trona to uranium. Adding rare earths to the mix is a natural fit.
“That’s really kind of what attracted me to this,” Swartz said. “You’ve got a lot of exercise with permitting, mining folks, and parts, pieces of equipment that can all be redeployed into this. It’s very straightforward, very similar.”
Given the demand curves in the world for rare earths and the way China has been restricting supply, that’s creating an economically feasible opportunity to stand up new rare earth mines in the United States. And it doesn’t hurt the chances of this emerging sector that the past seven presidential administrations have identified domestic sources of rare earths as vital to the country’s economic and national security goals.
“This deposit, if developed, would be able to supply everything we need for 20-plus years itself for the entire country,” Swartz said. “So, it’s sort of like, that’s why the discussion in Wyoming with folks have really resonated. You can kind of steal the China playbook of it’s not just a mine and a metal, it’s the upstream potential of everything that comes along with it.”
That upstream potential is what attracted American Rare Earth’s general counsel, Joe Evers of Sheridan, to the company. He sees all sorts of synergies coming together in the future.
“Wyoming has world-class resources in every way,” Evers told Cowboy State Daily. “But I think rare earth elements represent an opportunity to kind of build on that foundation of mining expertise we have in the state of Wyoming and bring something that’s critical to the future of our country.”
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.