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Fluorspar, rare earths: Two potential new sources of fluorspar are associated with rare earth mines in Canada and China
Production of fluorspar as a by-product of rare earth mining is being considered in at least two locations worldwide.
Commerce Resources of Canada has announced plans for its advanced-stage Ashram rare earth deposit in northern Quebéc, to upgrade the mine’s potential fluorspar by-product. Using a lab in Colorado, Commerce Resources plans to work on upgrading the deposit’s fluorspar from metallurgical grade metspar to higher grade acidspar. This pilot plant work will complement Commerce Resources’ pre-feasibility studies as the Ashram deposit progresses.
Meanwhile, at the world’s largest existing rare earths mine in China, Baotou Steel Union’s tailings project has also made a recent breakthrough in its fluorspar beneficiation technology. The company can now recover 95% CaF2 concentrate and is working towards becoming a fluorspar producer from rare earth mine tailings.
Both fluorspar and rare earths have been designated as critical minerals by governments around the world and China dominates supply of both materials. Recent US initiatives to secure domestic and allied sources include the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, which recently passed the US House of Representatives and Senate. In June 2020, Canada and the USA reaffirmed their commitment to the Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration announced in January, which is intended to encourage investment and development in North American mining projects and supply chains.
Rare earth deposits occur in over 20 autonomous regions and provinces of China and are found mainly in Inner Mongolia in the north of China, Sichuan in central China, and Jiangxi in the east. The most important deposit is in the Baiyun Obo iron ore-mining district, 153 km north of Baotou, Inner Mongolia, which is the largest rare earths deposit in the world and which accounted for 40% of global rare earth TREO supply in 2019. Scientists there recently filed a patent on a new method for separating fluorspar from rare earth tailings and noted the method will contribute to environmental protection at the mine.
This article was written by Kerry Satterthwaite.