Molycorp miningA bankruptcy trustee has scraped up the money to keep the sole U.S. source of rare earths safely in mothballs as its former owner, Molycorp, exits chapter 11.

Molycorp failed to sell the Mountain Pass mine in San Bernardino County, California, as part of its bankruptcy case. Molycorp is morphing into Neo Performance Materials, exiting bankruptcy and leaving Mountain Pass behind.

Mountain Pass is parked in its own chapter 11 bankruptcy, with a future that, until Tuesday, appeared uncertain. Paul Harner, the chapter 11 trustee in charge of the mine, warned recently there was no point in continuing the Mountain Pass bankruptcy as there was no money to do anything with the property. He asked a judge to shut down the bankruptcy owing to lack of funding.

Two days after, Mr. Harner revealed that Lexon Insurance has offered to lend the estate $4.2 million to maintain the mine and continue the search for a buyer. Long idle, Mountain Pass still costs money to keep in a safe condition and California environmental authorities are watching.

“At the minimum, we want to make sure they keep the lights on, the gates locked and the pump running,” said Patty Kouyoumdjian, executive officer at the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, part of California’s network of water safety overseers. Pumps at Mountain Pass confine groundwater contaminated with barium, nitrate, radium and uranium, Ms. Kouyoumdjian said. While Mountain Pass is in a remote area, drought-stricken California is protective of all its water, she said.

Oaktree Capital Management, which will control the new business, had argued against tossing Mountain Pass out of bankruptcy to fend for itself without the protective legal shield.

Read more at The Wall Street Journal


Norther Minerals Brown Range pilot plantThe company looking to build Australia’s first heavy rare earths mine has received government approval to build a pilot processing plant near Halls Creek in the Kimberley. Northern Minerals, which owns the Browns Range deposit near the Western Australia-Northern Territory border, is aiming to start mining next year.

Managing director George Bauk said the WA Government’s approval was a “significant step” for the project, even though a pilot plant was not in the company’s original plans.

“Last year we were on track to build our full-scale operation, but due to financial markets and other events we’ve looked at an alternative strategy, which includes the development of a pilot plant,” he said.

“As part of that we’ve had to go and make some modifications to some of our approvals, and the project management plan, which has just received approval from the WA Department of Mines and Petroleum, is a significant step forward in getting our final approvals in place to commence construction of the pilot plant.”

“Being the first major mine outside of China in the heavy rare earths space, it’s really important to make sure you get the confidence of the supply chain and prove the ability to deliver a product that meets the specifications,” he said.

The pilot plant, at a scale of 10 per cent of the proposed full-scale operation, has a designed front end throughput of 60,000 tonnes per annum. The pilot plant is scheduled to operate for three years, in which time a decision to commit to the full-scale operation is expected to be made.

Read more at ABC


Helicopter airborne survey MalawiMkango Resources has identified two more potential rare earths targets in Malawi from an airborne survey funded by the World Bank.

The survey covered Mkango’s Phalombe licence though not the flagship Songwe Hill project where a pre-feasibility study has already been carried out.

Nkalonje and Namangale, two other vent systems in the Phalombe licence, were indicated by the survey as having potential for rare earths.

In both cases, the survey recorded strong thorium radiometric anomalies coincident with the vents, which are known as a highly effective tool for rare earths exploration, though they do not feature large areas of outcropping carbonatite, the host rock for rare earths at Songwe Hill.

Outcrops of carbonatite veins and dykes however may indicate a possible carbonatite body below surface, in particular at Nkalonje.

William Dawes, Mkango’s chief executive, said: “The airborne survey further supports the rare earths exploration potential of the broader Phalombe licence area.

The Songwe project itself has significant resource upside, both laterally and to depth, and together with other targets in the Phalombe licence, underpins Mkango’s potential to be a long term, sustainable producer of rare earths.”

Read more at Proactive Investors


SrTiO3 and NdTiO3 junctionCrystal diagram for a SrTiO3/NdTiO3/ SrTiO3(001) junction. Source: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

By modifying the composition of ultra-thin layers of dissimilar metal oxides that do not normally conduct electricity, scientists from US DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory demonstrated how to generate and control an electrical current at the junction where the layers meet. The team made significant advances in one method used to characterize these materials.

This work represents a major advance in the field of thin-film engineering. It shows that the properties of materials can be controlled at the level of the individual particles that constitute the materials. Some of the materials in the investigated structures are only one atomic layer thick, and yet their properties can be controlled.

The materials required for the next generation of electronic devices, including cell phones and laptop computers must be able to operate on a size scale much smaller and more energy efficient than is possible with today’s materials. This work represents a significant step in that direction.

Ultra-thin, alternating layers of neodymium titanium oxide (NdTiO3) and strontium titanium oxide (SrTiO3) were deposited by generating beams of the constituent elements (Nd, Ti, Sr, and O) in an ultra-clean vacuum environment, and aiming these beams at a small wafer of a crystalline oxide. This oxide wafer functioned as the foundation for the layered thin-film material, allowing the atoms to crystallize into the desired structure. The sequencing of the elemental beams allowed the layered structure to be precisely controlled, down to the level of single atomic layers.

They characterized the composite material using a number of materials analysis methods. However, accurate interpretation of some of these data, specifically x-ray photoelectron spectra, required advanced theoretical modelling. These modelling yielded definitive insights into how changes in composition brought about by both environmental factors and film growth processing conditions were effecting the electronic environment surrounding the titanium atoms. The scientists then measured and interpreted the electrical properties of the multi-layer structure in light of accurate knowledge of the valence and dielectric environment of titanium atoms in the different layers.

The result is unique and a powerful insight into how to make a two-dimensional electron gas in which the carrier concentration can be precisely controlled and engineered to reach a sufficiently high value to enable a new generation of ultra-small transistors to be envisaged.



Olympics e-waste medalJapan is exploring the feasibility of forging the Olympic 2020 medals using precious metals salvaged from electronic waste. Members of Japan’s Olympic organizing committee tabled the idea to government officials and companies earlier this year, local media reports said.

Olympic host cities have traditionally obtained the metal from mining firms. But Japan, which lacks its own mineral resources, is keen to take the theme of a sustainable future a step further.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has developed strict criteria for the world’s greatest sporting event, and this extends to how the medals should be produced. The Rio Olympics, for example, used gold that was extracted without the use of mercury and a third of the silver and bronze used came from recycled sources.

Discarded consumer electronics such as smartphones and tablets contain small amounts of precious and rare earth metals, including platinum, palladium, gold, silver, lithium, cobalt and nickel. Scrap cars and home appliances such as fridges and air conditioners also contain these scarce metals, along with base metals, including iron, copper, lead and zinc.

Japan has one of the highest recycling rates in Asia, according to OECD data. However, this mainly applies to plastic, paper and glass. About 650,000 tonnes of small electronics and home appliances are discarded in Japan every year, the Nikkei newspaper said. However, it is estimated that less than 100,000 tonnes is collected for recycling.

So for the 2020 Games, Japan will probably have to ask individual countries or companies to contribute towards the recycled metal collection effort.

The amount of metal needed will depend on the size and number of medals, since each year, they seem to get bigger and heavier. Five new sports have also been added to the Tokyo 2020 competition, including baseball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing.

The 2016 Rio Olympics had the largest medals of any games, weighing in at 500g each and 1cm thick in the middle. The Brazilian Mint produced 5,130 medals in total, up from the 4,700 made by London’s Royal Mint for the 2012 Games.

Read more at BBC