The US Department of Energy (DOE) will allocate up to $120 million for the creation of a rare earths research facility aimed at decreasing the country's dependence on rare earth elements (REEs) from China. The new research center will be called the Critical Materials Institute (CMI) and will bring together leading researchers from academia, the private sector and four DOE national laboratories. The new hub will focus on developing technologies that will enable the US to make better use of materials it has access to as well as on eliminating the need for materials that are subject to supply disruptions, according to a DOE press release. To do so, the CMI will "leverage ... existing research programs into a larger, coordinated effort designed to eliminate materials criticality as an impediment to the commercialization of clean energy technologies." The center will also address challenges across the entire lifecycle of REE materials, from enabling new sources to improving the economics of existing sources to accelerating material development and deployment. The move is partially a response to findings reported in the DOE's December 2011 Critical Materials Strategy document, which notes that supply challenges for five rare earth metals (dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium and yttrium) are likely to affect clean energy technology deployment in the coming years. Japan to launch REE seabed survey Japan confirmed that it will launch a survey of its Pacific seabed in the hope of finding rare earth deposits large enough to supply its high-tech industries and reduce its dependence on China, according to a report from The Japan Times. Researchers from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology are scheduled to begin the probe later this month near Minamitorishima Island, which is located approximately 2,000 kilometres southeast of Tokyo.
The survey follows earlier findings by Tokyo University professor Yasuhiro Kato, who took mud samples from the area in July last year. Kato has told media sources that he estimates that the deposit, located 5,600 meters beneath the seabed, could host enough dysprosium — used in lasers and commercial lighting — to satisfy Japanese domestic demand for the next 400 years.Finding large-scale proven reserves inside Japan's exclusive economic zone would be a significant boost to Japanese industry, which currently relies primarily on REE imports from China. Toyota issues fourth payment for stake in Canadian rare earth project Toyotsu Rare Earth Canada, a subsidiary of Toyota Tsusho (TSE:8015), paid Matamec Explorations (TSXV:MAT) C$1.595 million — the fourth in a series of payments for its committed equity of a 49-percent undivided interest in the Kipawa heavy rare earth element (HREE) deposit. Matamec confirmed the payment last week. As per the terms of the agreement, the Japanese-owned subsidiary paid C$8.5 million for a 25-percent undivided interest in July. In order to secure the remaining 24 percent, Matamec agreed to receive successive payments to reach the agreed upon total. The third payment was issued last month. The company's press release notes that to date, Matamec has received C$12,155,019 of the maximum C$16 million for the completion of a definitive feasibility study on the deposit, which is expected in the second quarter of 2013. Matamec's president and CEO, Andre Gauthier, said, “[t]he partnership with Toyotsu provides Matamec with the financial resources to continue in the execution of its long-term strategic plan to become a leading global rare earth company.” Market round-up Praseodymium/neodymium metal prices remained stable last week, but Chinese suppliers intend to increase offer prices in the near term, according to a report by Metal-Pages. Market sources confirmed that prices for 99-percent praseodymium/neodymium metal are currently around $64,370 to $65,980 per tonne, while some suppliers have increased offer prices to as high as $69,200 per tonne.
A Beijing-based trader noted that praseodymium/neodymium metal prices have been rising recently. “It is difficult to buy the material at low prices and news has been heard that suppliers will adjust up offer prices,” he told Metal-Pages.Lanthanum metal prices remained unchanged in response to persistently weakening downstream demand. A supplier in Southern China said that lanthanum metal prices have been trading around $12,875 per tonne due to weak demand. “Sales of lanthanum metal have been poor and the market is quiet. Prices lower than 12,875/tonne are acceptable,” he explained to Metal-Pages. Sources indicate that tightening supply means that REE prices are unlikely to drop again in the run up to Chinese New Year on February 10. Company news Pele Mountain Resources (TSXV:GEM) sold its Pigeon River project to Zara Resources (CNSX:ZRI) for $700,000 (payable in Zara stock). Al Shefsky, president and CEO of Pele, stated: "[i]n order to better focus on advancing development at our Eco Ridge Mine Rare Earths and Uranium Project, our goal is to find qualified partners to fund and operate our non-core projects or to sell them outright. We believe Zara and its team will capably explore the project and we are pleased to convert our stake into an equity and royalty interest." In 2009, Pele staked the Pigeon River project, which is currently comprised of 418 mining claim units in the Pigeon River area of Northwest Ontario, 80 kilometers southwest of Thunder Bay. The property covers large unexplored magnetic targets near the basal contact of the Duluth Complex. Mkango Resources (TSXV:MKA) renewed its exploration license for its flagship Songwe Hill rare earth project in Malawi for an additional two years. The Phalombe licence has been renewed for a further two years, effective January 20, 2013, and grants the company exclusive rights to carry on prospecting operations for all 17 rare earth elements — such as yttrium, strontium and niobium — as well as a number of other elements, including iron ore, manganese, gold and silver, according to a company press release.
The company's main priority with respect to the Songwe Hill project is completion of scoping metallurgical test work and further mineralogical studies, both of which are partially funded by external research programs in South Africa and the United Kingdom.Securities Disclosure: I, Adam Currie, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article. Related reading: Underwater Rare Earth Discovery: Game Changer or Pipe Dream? US Department of Energy Shifts Focus to Rare Earths from Rare Earth Investing News