Ionic Rare Earths Receives Provisional Mining License for Ugandan Rare Earth Project

by | 2. Jan 2024 - 10:20 | Economy

Furthest developed heavy rare earth venture with product not committed to China.

Australian mining firm Ionic Rare Earths has been granted a provisional mining license for the Makuutu project by the Ugandan Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines, the company announced Tuesday (PDF). The deposit, located 120 km east of Uganda’s capital, Kampala, is currently owned 60 percent by Ionic, which will increase to 94 percent following an agreement with fellow project developer Rwenzori Rare Metals. A simultaneously constructed demonstration plant continues to advance, and the first product is expected to be mined within the first quarter of 2024.

Makuutu is a so-called ion adsorption clay deposit. Extraction of rare earth elements from these clays can be done at a lower cost than more common rock deposits such as carbonatites or igneous rocks because fewer production steps are required. In addition, ion adsorption clays are the most important source of heavy REEs, which are less common than their light REE counterparts. Currently, China and neighboring Myanmar are the most important sources of heavy REEs.

Decoupling Away From China?

Ionic added that this supply concentration could shift as Makuutu is the most advanced Ionic adsorption clay project in development today with product not committed to the People’s Republic. However, China has indicated interest in the project in the past. In 2021, Ionic signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding with Chinese company Chinalco Rare Earth & Metals to develop Makuutu further. In addition, the Ugandan government actively pursues the signing of deals with the Middle Kingdom. For example, Uganda’s state minister for energy emphasized opportunities for Chinese investments in the country’s mineral and energy resources sectors. As part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, trade between the two countries has steadily increased in recent years, customs data show; and representatives have committed to continuing cooperation.

Uganda is not the only country seeking to mine its heavy REE deposits. In Brazil, Chilean mining company Aclara Resources is developing its Carina project in the Brazilian state of Goiás and has published promising test results from initial tests last October.

Photo: iStock/Sunshine Seeds

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