Demand for Rare Earth Elements (REE) has surged due to electric vehicles, renewable energy technology and ICT growth.
REEs present unique extraction challenges as they are typically found in dispersed, small amounts and in association with other minerals such as uranium.
As such, mining companies are pursuing commercial deposits, such as those in Africa, with several noteworthy projects already underway.
Phalaborwa Project: South Africa
London listed Rainbow Rare Earths owns the Phalaborwa project, located in South Africa’s Limpopo province. With an estimated mineral resource of 30.4 million tons, the project represents one of the world’s lowest-cost producers of separated magnet rare-earth oxides. Currently, a prefeasibility study is underway following the publishing of a preliminary economic assessment in October 2022 – the findings of which revealed strong economic outcome.
Lofdal Project: Namibia
The Lofdal project in Namibia is owned by Canadian-based mineral company Namibia Critical Metals. With a production capacity of 2,000 t/y of Total Rare Earth Oxide (TREO), the project has the potential to produce both dysprosium and terbium: two of the world’s most valuable REEs. Namibia Critical Minerals is developing the project in collaboration with Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Cooperation. The company also recently signed a letter of intent with testing, inspection and certification company SGS Canada to kickstart a pilot plant testing on a five-ton sample from the deposit.
Longonjo Project: Angola
The Longonko REE project is an open-pit mine and flotation concentration plant located in Angola. Owned by UK-based Pensana, the mine has an estimated mineral resource of 313 million tons. The project is expected to produce 40,000 t/y, which will be processed at a refinery in the UK. In 2022, Pensana entered the construction stage of the project. The mine has a lifespan of 20 years.
Makuutu Project: Uganda
Uganda’s Makuutu REE project covers six licenses over an area of 298 km². Developed by Australia’s Ionic Rare Earths, the project has a total mineral resource estimate of 532 million tons. The company published the feasibility study for phase one of the project in March 2023, a phase which envisages the production of 1,300 t/y over the first ten years and 1,160 t/y over 35 years. Uganda’s Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development granted the company approval for the demonstration plant in April 2023.
Ngualla Project: Tanzania
Australian-based Peak Rare Earths is developing the Ngualla Rare Earth project in Tanzania, containing one of the world’s largest high-grade and low-cost Neodymium Praseodymium rare earth deposits. The mine has an estimated mineral resource of 18.5 million tons, with resources set to be processed by a concentration plant located on site. A bankable feasibility study was completed in October 2022 while an offtake strategic cooperation agreement was inked with Chinese group Shenghe Resources in the same month. In May 2023, the company was granted a special mining license.
Songwe Project: Malawi
Canadian mineral exploration and development company Mkango Resources is developing the Songwe Hills REE project in Malawi. With mineral resources of 18.1 million tons, the open-pit mine has an 18-year lifespan and is expected to produce an average 5,954 t/y. Mining operations are expected to start in February 2025 with processing accelerating by July that same year.
Steenkampskraal Project: South Africa
South Africa’s Steenkampskraal Project is a unique operation that contains all fifteen REE. The mine comprises an existing project owned and operated by Anglo American until 1963, and has an estimated mineral resource of 15,630 tons of neodymium, 4,459 tons of praseodymium, 867 tons of dysprosium and 182 tons of terbium. With the one of the highest-grade rare-earth deposits in the world, the mine is set to produce 2,700 t/y of TREO for more than 20 years.