Kiril Mugerman, president and CEO of Quebec-based Geomega Resources, says the company has developed “disruptive technology” to separate and recycle rare earth elements (REEs) used in permanent magnets.
Rather than use hydrochloric or sulfuric acid in its process, Geomega uses a different reagent that Mugerman says has been adapted from another industry and is more environmentally friendly. The company can capture and recycle at least 95 percent of this reagent in its batch process while also recovering niobium, iron and four rare earth elements: neodymium, praseodymium, terbium, dysprosium. Its process recently received a patent from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Infeed materials are reduced to a particle size of 1 to 2 millimeters via shredding before being placed into the digestion chamber for processing, Mugerman says.
Geomega’s process allows the company to “maximize the reagent so that there is minimal to no waste,” he says. What waste there is is treated locally without the need to store trailings.
Geomega’s process produces REE oxides with 99.5 percent purity, Mugerman says.
The company is in the process of constructing a demonstration facility in Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, Quebec, in the Greater Montreal area. Construction of the industrial complex was completed at the end of 2019 with final detail work underway. While the pandemic has delayed progress on the plant, Mugerman says he hopes it will be operational by year-end. Once operational, the plant will be able to process 1.5 metric tons in an eight-hour shift, he says.
Geomega says Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville provides a strategic location as it is only 30 minutes from Montreal and within six hours of major North American cities, such as Boston, New York and Toronto, with access to several major highways and expressways. It also benefits from access to major seaways with the Port of Montreal being 20 minutes away. The port is the largest container transhipment center in the Great Lakes system. The region also is served by Canadian National and Canadian Pacific railways.
Geomega has secured project debt financing in the amount of $1.72 million from the Quebec government to help construct the recycling demonstration plant. Project financing is being provided by Investissement Quebec, which is acting as the agent of the Quebec government through the ESSOR program of the Ministry of Economy and Innovation of Quebec. The funds are being used to purchase equipment, engineering and construction of the demonstration plant.
When the financing was announced in February of this year, Mugerman said, “This significant construction financing of our rare earths magnets recycling facility is a critical first step in demonstrating that our ISR technology is scalable to a larger and potentially commercial scale. The cash flow generated from the commissioning of the plant and the validation of our technology will allow us to move towards processing other rare earth feed supplies, including mining concentrates from Montviel and other mining projects.”
The company is targeting end-of-life rare earth magnets, such as those in computer hard drives and other electronic devices, as feedstock for its demonstration plant. Mugerman says magnets are among the most common applications for rare earth elements, yielding comparatively high volumes of high-value REEs.
Geomega has secured agreements with suppliers of magnet scrap, he says. One such company is Jobmaster Magnet Canada Inc., Oakville, Ontario. The two companies have worked to establish a collection and recycling program with end users and traditional recyclers to return scrap magnets to either Geomega or Jobmaster Magnets to ultimately be recycled using Geomega’s process.
Geomega will be open to licensing its technology, Mugerman says, once the demo plant is up and running, but also is considering owning and operating its own processing facilities.