Canadian company BacTech Environmental Corporation will launch an R&D programme to determine how effective their bioleaching technology works on ore containing REEs.
The company will trial three different types of organisms to assess their capacity to remove REE from ore. BacTech will test aerobic autotrophs, which are currently the microbial mix used in BacTech's processes for gold processing, as well as aerobic heterotrophs and anaerobic autotrophs.
Aerobic autotrophs have demonstrated their ability to break down different kinds of mineral matrices. BacTech will test these materials first given their previous successes in separating ore from metals.
BacTech will initially source materials from REE projects which contain mineralogy that has been responsive to bioleaching in previous experiments. If the bioleach process proves successful, BacTech would undertake more detailed testing of downstream processing methods to be used in specific REE projects.
Bioleaching differs from conventional heap leaching in that it does not use chemicals such as concentrated acids or alkalis for REE extraction. However, bioleaching is only expected to replace one current step of leach extraction in the REE extraction flowsheet.
BacTech chief executive Ross Orr asked public and private entities in the REE sector to connect with the company and provide samples to be used for testing.
Governments around the world have been concerned about China's dominance of the REE market, and many have worked with mining and technology firms to speed up their REE processing sectors.
The company has completed a bankable feasibility study on its bioleaching facility in Ecuador. The Tenguel-based plant was found to have a pre-tax net present value of US$46.9 million with a 48% internal rate of return.
The plant will service local mining projects looking to extract high gold-arsenic material. The 50 tonne-per-day plant is projected to produce approximately 26,000 ounces per year of gold. The plant can process ore from the more than 90 small mines in the area.