I’ve just gotten back from the Quest Rare Minerals (TSX: QRM | NYSE MKT: QRM) mini pilot plant site last week. I started considering what had stood out for me on this tour and the answer was simple: formidable metal recoveries. In addition to an impressive infrastructure that I had only seen before at ANSTO, Quest offered a tour of a mini pilot plant that utilizes a tried and tested extraction process.
There seems to be some kind of an anomaly in the mineralogy that works with the metallurgical engineers and increases the mineral recovery, reducing the cost of extraction according to a presentation made by Quest’s Senior Process Metallurgist Yemi Oyediran and Process Metallurgist Mike Robart. They stressed variables such as the recycling of acid and other cost effective attributes; my conclusion was that there was a significant commitment by the team towards maximizing the cost recovery rate.
I asked Peter Cashin, President and CEO of Quest Rare Minerals to comment on Quest’s recovery rate and to explain how they could achieve 80%+ results. Peter explained that “Quest’s Team of metallurgists and metallurgical engineers have succeeded in developing a cost-effective process design, which efficiently recovers the value oxides from the Strange Lake Rare Earth-Zirconium-Niobium deposit. The unusually high metal recoveries (80+%), when compared to our peers, were obtained at low process temperatures as indicated by our extensive deposit research work at McGill University. That work concluded that the heavy rare earth minerals present in the B-Zone deposit formed at geologically low temperatures associated with a strong alteration event which converted what appears to have initially been a light rare earth deposit into one which became highly enriched (45% to 50%) in the heavy and critical rare earths (Nb, Eu, Dy, Tb, Y). In metallurgy, formation temperatures of the economic minerals usually dictates the temperature required to bring them back into solution so that they can be recovered.”
For those of you unfamiliar with Quest Rare Minerals, Quest’s Strange Lake Development Project is situated in one of the world’s best mining locations in the world – Quebec. Allowing the company to access areas with what I have been told is one of the largest-known heavy rare earth elements deposits in the world, this scenario helps place the Strange Lake project in a favorable position to meet long term industry needs. Given its simple, low-cost open-pit operations and Quest’s superior performance levels in critical/rare earth extraction productivity relative to its peer group, the Strange Lake Development Project is positioned to perform strongly.
This potential is being confirmed by laboratory metallurgy recoveries, which continue to beat analyst expectations and peer reports. The recoveries are encouraging and the efficiency of this output sets the stage for uninterrupted operations as Quest’s pilot mill programs start to take shape. This general performance bodes well for the long term outlook and continued progress in the Misery Lake Rare Earth Project too, which has expanded its scope of exploration to include programs for prospecting, geological mapping, and regional till-geochemical sampling. Quest’s ultimate goal is to meet the market’s increased demand for high-tech applications, and the combination of these two projects puts the company in a position to satisfy those increased needs.
The front-end metallurgical development that has been completed at Quest’s pilot plant is based heavily on the results of feed comminution tests and mineralogy studies. This work requires repeated bond work indices tests and detailed QEMSCAN analyses in order to determine the mineralogical composition of extracted ore samples. These samples are divided by chronological region and dual concentration methods are used to reduce the amount of material passing to the thermal sulphation roasting stage.
As a means for aiding Quest’s current extractions projects, gravity and magnetic separation tests are conducted along with the plant’s floatation test programs. The primary objectives of these projects aim for confirmation of bench scale results under continuous conditions. This helps when assessing the validity of each process and the early results of these tests appear to suggest high rates of efficiency in the bench scale work. The conclusions that can be drawn from these early tests support the outlook for the company’s current projects and help strengthen Quest’s ability to meet the increases in demand expected for such products as permanent magnets, phosphors and pigments.
When looking to build on these successes, the newest bench-scale programs aim to improve Quest’s Niobium, Uranium-Thorium, and Yttrium recovery circuits. As Quest launches its larger pilot programs, the company will be able to define individual Yttrium separation processes. This will allow for refinements in Quest’s extraction methods and enable the company to build on its already impressive extraction rates.