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Two new pilot facilities at the Industrial Park, aiming for commercial production of rare-earth minerals

Yara and REEtec are two Norwegian stakeholders working on the SecREEts project, represented here by Sigve Sporstøl, general manager of REEtec (left) and Tom R. Jørgensen, project manager at the Yara Technology Centre. This project has been awarded NOK 125 million by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme.

Two pilot facilities are to be constructed at Herøya Industrial Park (HIP). A Yara demo facility will test the process of extracting earth minerals from its production. The product from Yara will be sent on to REEtec, which is constructing a demo facility for separating the rare earth metals from the raw material that they receive from Yara. 

The REEtec demo facility will be fully tested and handed over by the New Year. The Yara facility will be complete by the autumn of 2019. The aim is to achieve commercial production of rare earth minerals at Herøya.

 “Actual separation trials are the first thing we will be starting with in 2019,” says Sigve Sporstøl, general manager of REEtec. “Yara and REEtec are two Norwegian stakeholders involved in the SecREEts project, which has received funding of NOK 125 million from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme.”

Small market for important products in the green shift

The global market for rare earth minerals stands at approx. 175,000 tonnes annually (2018 figures) and is dominated by Chinese and Australian stakeholders. The EU funding has come about due to a desire for Europe to be independent of other regions as regards to these important raw materials, which are absolutely crucial for new, green technology.

Value chain from mine to finished product

“This is a value chain where each of the different partners occupies a position,” explains Tom R. Jørgensen, project manager at the Yara Technology Centre. “Yara produces fertiliser from the raw material known as apatite. This contains a small amount of rare earth minerals, but they have no function in the fertiliser.”

Yara’s role in Horizon 2020 is to produce a concentrate that REEtec can use when separating out different earth metals. REEtec products will then be shipped on to Less Common Metals (LCM) in the UK, for example, which will make metals from them. LCM is also working on constructing a demo facility for its part of the partnership project.

Finally, Vacuumschmelze (VAC) in Germany will cast out the actual alloy to make permanent supermagnets. These are the strongest magnets available at present and are used in electric cars and wind turbines, for example.

Two demonstration facilities at Herøya Industrial Park

“We are building a test facility where we will look more closely at fertiliser production, ‘borrow’ the production flow and produce the rare earth elements before returning the flow back to fertiliser production,” explains Jørgensen.

“The earth minerals will undergo a treatment process before being sent on to REEtec for separation. We are dependent on only using fertiliser-related chemicals for this as strict requirements are in place as regards the contents of our end products.”

Pilot facility no. 2 – separation at REEtec

Rare earth minerals are rarely found in isolation. They are always found together with other rare earth metals. Some of the rare earth minerals are more interesting than others from a financial standpoint, but it is not possible just to produce the most interesting ones. It is necessary to separate out everything in the raw material, and they are so alike chemically that this is a very demanding process.

REEtec has developed a method for separating out rare earth metals. These metals are used in a number of different products such as wind turbines, LED bulbs, flat screens, mobile phones and many other electronic products.

Revolutionary method

“We have developed a revolutionary new method over the past decade. It is efficient, flexible and extremely eco-friendly as the chemicals we use are then reused,” explains Sporstøl.

Small-scale testing of the REEtec method began at the University of Oslo. When the company saw that the technology worked, the owners funded a pilot facility at Herøya. “Herøya Industrial Park was the natural choice for our pilot,” says Sporstøl. “It gave us access to all the infrastructure we needed, and talented people to help us.”

Excellent results with EU application

The small pilot was operational between 2014 and 2017 and documented the fact that the REEtec technology worked. Towards the end of the trial period, REEtec applied for funding from Innovasjon Norge Telemark to build an industrial-scale demonstration facility in order to show that the technology worked on an industrial scale.

“They awarded us NOK 35 million,” says Sporstøl. “This is the largest amount ever awarded by the Telemark office. We were able to get started thanks to this money and funding from our owners.” During this process, Yara and SINTEF realise that this project was in line with the EU project Horizon 2020.

The project – which has since been named SecREEts – has received NOK 125 million. SINTEF is managing the project, with Yara and REEtec in key positions. A total of nine stakeholders are behind SecREEts, which has a total framework amounting to NOK 200 million.

The aim is to achieve commercial production at Herøya

The REEtec pilot facility was constructed in Building 125 at the industrial park, directly next to Yara’s fertiliser production plant. The project will be continuing over a four-year period, from June 2018 to June 2022.

“We will be carrying out testing over this period – primarily using raw materials from Yara, but using other raw materials as well,” explains Sporstøl. “The aim is to achieve commercial production of rare earth minerals at Herøya. For this to become reality, both Yara and REEtec have to be successful with their demo facilities.”

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