Results Support Feasibility of Separating Magnetic Rare Earth Oxides, Which are Vital to Electric Vehicles and Critical U.S. Defense Systems
CENTENNIAL, Colo. (February 6, 2023) – NioCorp Developments Ltd. (“NioCorp” or the “Company”) (TSX:NB) (OTCQX:NIOBF) today announced that its demonstration-scale processing plant (the “demonstration plant”) at L3 Process Development in Quebec, Canada has succeeded in producing a high-purity mixed rare earth concentrate from NioCorp’s integrated demonstration plant. These encouraging results lend support to the technical feasibility of separating high-purity oxides of several key magnetic rare earths, on which the U.S. is presently 100% dependent, primarily from China, from ore comprising the Elk Creek Critical Minerals Project (“Project“).
NioCorp’s patent-pending demonstration scale rare earth extraction and purification solvent extraction process operation is ongoing in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, using solutions generated by the upstream operations of the demonstration plant. The rare earths were then precipitated out of solution, producing a solid that contains 6% praseodymium (“Pr“) oxide, 25% neodymium (“Nd”) oxide, 0.35% terbium oxide (“Tb“), and 1.6% dysprosium (“Dy“) oxide, with the balance of the solids consisting primarily of rare earths with minor base metal impurities.
Based on these results, and subject to additional demonstration testing over the coming weeks, L3’s process engineering team have determined that overall recoveries for these four magnetic rare earths are likely to be greater than 92% and meet commercial purity specifications for magnetic rare earth oxides. These results are in line with bench- and pilot-scale testing of L3’s rare earth recovery system, as well as hydrometallurgical performance models that have been run on the rare earth recovery process upon which the demonstration plant is based. They are in line with the Company’s previous published success at demonstration-scale in producing high-purity Scandium oxide at an overall recovery rate of approximately 92%. Scandium behaves very similarly to rare earths in solution while it is being separated and recovered into a high-purity oxide product.
L3 is currently completing the assembly and commissioning of additional solvent extraction steps that will be run in concert with the rest of the demonstration plant to confirm these recovery numbers.
NioCorp is currently focused on demonstrating its ability to recover three high-purity rare earth products: (1) neodymium-praseodymium oxide, which is the principal component of neodymium-iron-boron (“NdFeB“) permanent rare earth magnets; (2) dysprosium oxide, and; (3) terbium oxide. Both Dy and Tb oxide are critical to the type of powerful NdFeB magnets used in the traction motors of electric vehicles. However, very little of these high-purity separated rare earth products are made outside of Asia.
“We are very pleased to be able to deliver these outstanding results to NioCorp using the demonstration plant equipment,” said Eric Larochelle, Co-Owner of L3 Process Development. “We have established a baseline of performance in the demonstration plant solvent extraction system, and expect to maintain or exceed these results as we gain further operating experience with that system.”
“These results are right in line with our expectations and are a reflection of the excellent technical pedigree of the L3 team along with a tremendous amount of hard work to get the demonstration plant built, commissioned, and operating,” said Scott Honan, NioCorp’s Chief Operating Officer. “In the coming weeks, we look forward to seeing additional results from L3’s efforts, including the final portions of the operation involving niobium and titanium separations.”
As no economic analysis has been completed on the rare earth mineral resource comprising a portion of the Elk Creek Project, further studies are required before determining whether extraction of rare earth elements can be reasonably justified and economically viable after taking into account all relevant factors.
Eric Larochelle, B.Eng., Co-Owner, L3 Process Development, a Qualified Person as defined by National Instrument 43-101, has reviewed and approved the technical information, and verified the data, contained in this news release.
Scott Honan, M.Sc., SME-RM, COO of NioCorp Developments Ltd., a Qualified Person as defined by National Instrument 43-101, has reviewed and approved the technical information contained in the news release.
# # #
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Jim Sims, Corporate Communications Officer, NioCorp Developments Ltd., 720-639-4650, [email protected]
NioCorp is developing a critical minerals project in Southeast Nebraska that will produce niobium, scandium, and titanium. The Company also is evaluating the potential to produce several rare earths from the Project. Niobium is used to produce specialty alloys as well as High Strength, Low Alloy (“HSLA”) steel, which is a lighter, stronger steel used in automotive, structural, and pipeline applications. Scandium is a specialty metal that can be combined with Aluminum to make alloys with increased strength and improved corrosion resistance. Scandium is also a critical component of advanced solid oxide fuel cells. Titanium is used in various lightweight alloys and is a key component of pigments used in paper, paint and plastics and is also used for aerospace applications, armor, and medical implants. Magnetic rare earths, such as neodymium, praseodymium, terbium, and dysprosium are critical to the making of Neodymium-Iron-Boron (“NdFeB”) magnets, which are used across a wide variety of defense and civilian applications.
This press release contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of the United States Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 and forward-looking information within the meaning of applicable Canadian securities laws. Forward-looking statements may include, but are not limited to, statements about the technical feasibility of separating rare earth oxides, expected final product recovery rates of separated rare earth oxides, the potential to produce rare earth products for the Project, and NioCorp’s expectation and ability to produce niobium, scandium, and titanium at the Elk Creek Project. Forward-looking statements are typically identified by words such as “plan,” “believe,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “intend,” “outlook,” “estimate,” “forecast,” “project,” “continue,” “could,” “may,” “might,” “possible,” “potential,” “predict,” “should,” “would” and other similar words and expressions, but the absence of these words does not mean that a statement is not forward-looking.
The forward-looking statements are based on the current expectations of the management of NioCorp and are inherently subject to uncertainties and changes in circumstances and their potential effects and speak only as of the date of such statement. There can be no assurance that future developments will be those that have been anticipated. Forward-looking statements reflect material expectations and assumptions, including, without limitation, expectations, and assumptions relating to: the translatability of the demonstration-scale process to separate high-purity oxides of several magnetic rare earths from ore to the ore that NioCorp expects to extract from the Elk Creek Project. Such expectations and assumptions are inherently subject to uncertainties and contingencies regarding future events and, as such, are subject to change. Forward-looking statements involve a number of risks, uncertainties or other factors that may cause actual results or performance to be materially different from those expressed or implied by these forward-looking statements. These risks and uncertainties include, but are not limited to, those discussed and identified in public filings made by NioCorp with the SEC and with the applicable Canadian securities regulatory authorities and the following: NioCorp’s ability to operate as a going concern; NioCorp’s requirement of significant additional capital; NioCorp’s limited operating history; NioCorp’s history of losses; cost increases for NioCorp’s exploration and, if warranted, development projects; a disruption in, or failure of, NioCorp’s information technology systems, including those related to cybersecurity; equipment and supply shortages; current and future off take agreements, joint ventures, and partnerships; NioCorp’s ability to attract qualified management; the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic or other global health crises on NioCorp’s business plans, financial condition and liquidity; estimates of mineral resources and reserves; mineral exploration and production activities; feasibility study results; changes in demand for and price of commodities (such as fuel and electricity) and currencies; changes or disruptions in the securities markets; legislative, political or economic developments; the need to obtain permits and comply with laws and regulations and other regulatory requirements; the possibility that actual results of work may differ from projections/expectations or may not realize the perceived potential of NioCorp’s projects; risks of accidents, equipment breakdowns, and labor disputes or other unanticipated difficulties or interruptions; the possibility of cost overruns or unanticipated expenses in development programs; operating or technical difficulties in connection with exploration, mining, or development activities; the speculative nature of mineral exploration and development, including the risks of diminishing quantities of grades of reserves and resources; claims on the title to NioCorp’s properties; potential future litigation; and NioCorp’s lack of insurance covering all of NioCorp’s operations.
Should one or more of these risks or uncertainties materialize or should any of the assumptions made by the management of NioCorp prove incorrect, actual results may vary in material respects from those projected in these forward-looking statements.
All subsequent written and oral forward-looking statements concerning the matters addressed herein and attributable to NioCorp or any person acting on its behalf are expressly qualified in their entirety by the cautionary statements contained or referred to herein. Except to the extent required by applicable law or regulation, NioCorp undertakes no obligation to update these forward-looking statements to reflect events or circumstances after the date hereof to reflect the occurrence of unanticipated events.