Resignations at Ucore Subsidiary Reflect “New Set of Skills”
The senior management team of Ucore Rare Metals’ subsidiary Innovation Metals has resigned, as the company transitions to commercialization of rare earth element separation technology.
From Lab to Market
This month, Ucore accepted the resignation of Dr. Gareth Hatch, the co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Innovation Metals Company (IMC); Tyler Dinwoodie, IMC’s president and executive director; and Dr. Kurt Forrester, chief operating officer and vice president of metallurgy.
Nova Scotia-based Ucore bought IMC two years ago in order to access its proprietary RapidSX method for separating rare earth elements (REE) from concentrates.
“Ucore is extremely grateful to the IMC technical team’s efforts to progress the RapidSX technology platform towards commercial deployment,” says Ucore Chairman and CEO Pat Ryan. “Since Ucore’s acquisition of IMC in May of 2020, Gareth and his team have very systematically worked towards the completion and development of the technology platform and to ready it for commercial deployment. The company is looking forward to a smooth transition from research and development to the commercial application of this transformative technology to North America’s evolving rare earth element supply chain.”
Ryan explains that by November, Ucore expects that the white-coat science approach to the project will not be what the company needs.
“We need a new set of skills to move forward,” Ryan says.
The RapidSX technology developed by Hatch and his team is the centerpiece of the Strategic Metal Complex that Ucore is planning to build near Ketchikan.
“Dr. Hatch and the people that worked around him, they had developed the early stages of the tech,” Ryan says. “And they felt that it was game-changing tech that could move forward, and they were very much in the white-coat science mode.”
Ryan explains that Ucore bought Innovation Metals at good value because the technology Hatch and his team were developing hadn’t gotten to the point of commercialization yet.
“I am particularly pleased with the significant progress that the IMC team has made in recent months, as we work towards the key objective of constructing and commissioning the Demo Plant,” Hatch said before his resignation.
According to the resignation plan, Hatch will stay in his role until November. Forrester and Dinwoodie will also stay alongside Hatch during that time.
“Gareth and his team, they’ve done a fantastic job,” Ryan says. “And they’ve offered to provide a smooth transition to what we’ll call the commercial team, the process engineers that need to take all this to the next stage, which is actually building the Strategic Metals Complex.”
Race Against China
RapidSX technology is both significantly faster and more environmentally friendly than conventional methods of separating out various rare earth elements, Ryan says.
“The chemistry is the same, but the physics and how the process works makes it all different,” Ryan says.
RapidSX combines industry-standard solvent extraction with a column-based arrangement to speed up the chemical kinetics. Where conventional separation would take weeks, Ucore anticipates results in days or hours.
Separation is the main hurdle for REE development. Despite the name, the elements are not exactly rare on Earth; they are more abundant than gold or silver, and most are more abundant than such ordinary metals as nickel, tin, or lead. However, the chemical properties of REE prevent them from accumulating in rich veins, and, where they are found, they are typically mixed and difficult to isolate.
Currently, most rare earth oxides in the global market come from China. The process of separating REE into oxides does not exist in North America. To create a domestic supply chain, Ucore has a multi-stage plan to secure feedstock from Saskatchewan to be transported to Ketchikan for processing. Once the processing complex is operational, Ucore plans to develop its own REE mine at Bokan Mountain and Dotson Ridge, west of Ketchikan on Prince of Wales Island.