Below is our recent interview with Luisa Moreno, President of Defense Metals:
Q: Tell us a bit more about Defense Metals? Why is it different than its competitors?
A: Some of the key advantages of Defense’s Wicheeda deposit include the minerology, which is coarse grain, and it has minerals that contain high percentage of rare earths like bastnasite and monazite. Another important advantage is the location of the deposit, which is accessible by road and not far from power and rail infrastructure, and of course, it is in Canada, a friendly mining jurisdiction.
Q: Tell us more about the challenges that Defense Metals and other rare earths companies are facing?
A: Metallurgy is the main challenge for rare earths projects. For hard rock deposits the first stage is the production of a high-grade floatation concentrate at relatively good recovery rates, which most rare earths projects are not able to achieve. Defense Metals has been able to produce a high-grade mineral concentrate and is continuing to optimize the flowsheet to test for different lithologies and grades. The following stages are hydrometallurgy and separation of the rare earths elements, which needs to be developed in a cost effective manner to compete with Chinese producers. China accounts for most of the rare earths mining and refining production.
Q: Why are rare earths important? And what role does it play in our day to day lives?
A: Rare earths make the strongest magnets known, and they are used in MRI machines, computer hard disks, and in various applications in vehicles, such as, to power electric windows and seats, and in speakers. They are also used in nickel-metal hydride batteries in some hybrid vehicles. Rare earths are also used as catalysts, for instance, to refine petroleum and in automotive catalytic converters for emissions control. Some rare earths are used to make fertilizers and others are used to make phosphors for TV screens or other display devices. They are also used in fluorescent and LED lighting, among many other uses.
Q: What should governments do to help companies like Defense Metals?
A: Governments can help with public relations, to help people understand that mining of rare earths can be done responsibly, and that rare earths are important for the green agenda and other key applications in medicine, agriculture, etc. The government can also prioritize the permitting of mining projects with critical materials, considering that there are only a few rare earths projects with the potential to reach production in the next 5-years.
Q: How will our future look like without enough production of rare earths?
A: Without enough production of rare earths outside China, the world will continue to be dependent on Chinese supply. China already contributes with 85% of the refining capacity and controls the supply chain, being responsible for the largest production of rare earths metals, alloys, magnets and other end products that are critical for the defense industry and green technologies.