Molycorp, Inc., the Western hemisphere’s only producer of rare earth oxides, recently announced that it has entered into a cooperative research and development agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory. The Molycorp-Ames partnership will focus on developing new methods to create commercial-grade rare earth permanent magnets.
The collaboration combines Ames Laboratory’s 60+ years of experience in the critical materials science field with Molycorp’s 58+ years of experience in developing and commercialising innovative rare earth processing technologies.
“We are looking forward to a highly successful partnership between Molycorp and the Ames Laboratory that will incorporate new techniques, processes, and materials into U.S. supply chains,” stated Debra Covey, Ames Laboratory associate laboratory director for Sponsored Research Administration.
“This is a significant first step toward a long and mutually beneficial relationship between these two committed entities,” said Karl Gschneidner Jr., who will lead the research efforts at Ames Laboratory. “The Ames-Molycorp partnership will serve to re-energise applied rare earth research in the U.S., and will begin to ameliorate the current void in intellectual infrastructure in rare earths by training undergraduates, graduate, and post-doctoral students and providing them with research opportunities.”
Ames Laboratory scientists will investigate several compositions of rare earth materials and processing techniques with the goal of making permanent rare earth magnets with properties comparable to currently available neodymium-iron-boron magnets. The material combinations studied will correspond with the relative concentrations of rare earth elements in Molycorp’s Mountain Pass mine, using techniques that are more cost effective and leave a smaller environmental footprint than current methods.
Dr. John L. Burba, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Molycorp, Inc. commented, “It is my hope that this cooperative agreement will lead to breakthroughs in rare earth material manufacture that can advance the state of the art in rare earth magnet design and manufacture as well as strengthen our nation’s productive capacity of these and other critical rare earth materials.”
Based in Colorado, USA, Molycorp, Inc. currently produces around 3,000 metric tons of commercial rare earth materials per year. Molycorp expects an annual production capacity by the end of 2013 of approximately 40,000 metric tons of REO equivalent per year, following its current modernisation and expansion programme. Molycorp intends to provide a range of rare earth products, including high-purity oxides, metals, alloys, and permanent magnets.