By Nicole Pollack
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
CASPER – Wyoming leaders are continuing to invest in rare earth elements.
The Wyoming Energy Authority announced this week that it awarded a $4.4 million grant to Rare Element Resources, one of two companies hoping to use a Wyoming rare earths deposit to jump-start the emerging industry.
Rare Element Resources is currently focused on building a demonstration processing facility in Upton, using a proprietary technology that the company will test on ore it has already extracted nearby.
The elements the company is aiming at aren’t actually very rare, but they are hard to find in mineable concentrations. They are crucial components of renewables and a variety of other commonplace technologies including smartphones and computer monitors.
For the state, the rare industry offers a tantalizing opportunity to diversify its economy as demand for coal wanes.
“We just want to help them, give them a bit of a leg up,” said Glen Murrell, executive director of the Energy Authority. “And, simply, we want to see a successful project and the establishment of a successful facility.”
The northeastern Wyoming project is particularly appealing, Murrell said, because in addition to the opportunity it offers statewide, it’s located in a region that would benefit economically from the additional manufacturing jobs.
It will also receive half of its funding — $21.9 billion — from the Department of Energy.
That federal support “shows that the project has gone through a very robust and rigorous screening process, so we can have faith that it is a well-put-together project,” Murrell said.
Brent Berg, Rare Element Resources’ CEO, said the company and the state will now decide, together, how exactly the grant money will be used.
Berg was appointed last month after the previous CEO, Randy Scott, retired.
“We’re already heavily involved in design and have a final design review scheduled for December, and we’ve also started procuring some of the long-lead equipment for the plant,” Berg said. “That reimbursement could be equipment. It could be related to people that are working on the project, and developing the project design and different components of it.”
There’s enough radioactive uranium and thorium present in Rare Element Resources’ deposit that the demonstration plant has to be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The federal agency recently accepted the company’s application for review and may issue a license for the plant as soon as next summer.
“We’re obviously excited about our project and the steps we’re taking to really serve as a cornerstone for the future of the rare earth industry in Wyoming,” Berg said. “We believe there’s no state in the U.S. more capable of producing rare earths, that has a more desirable business climate, than Wyoming.”