Deep Reach Technology, Inc. Receives Contract with Army Research Lab to Investigate the Recovery of Critical Rare Earth Elements from the Deep Ocean
Houston, TX (USA) – June 20, 2014
Deep Reach Technology, Inc. awarded $0.9M US Department of Defense Project for Research of Ocean Recovery of Rare Earth Elements and other Strategic Minerals.
A team led by Deep Reach Technology, Inc. (DRT) has been awarded $0.9M in funding from the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL), part of the US Department of Defense (DOD), via a subaward agreement with Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
This cooperative research project, involving eight companies, will investigate the recovery of critical rare earth elements (REEs) and other strategic minerals from resources in the deep ocean, including polymetallic nodules, seafloor sediments, crusts, and seafloor phosphorite deposits. The successful execution of this research could contribute substantially to establishing a secure supply chain for the heavy rare earth elements ultimately ensuring that these raw materials are available for critical DOD applications, green-energy technologies, and high-tech consumer products.
REEs are vital ingredients in many high-tech components used in defense, industrial and green-energy applications. In recent years the REE sector has been dominated by China, which provides approximately 90% of global supply. The heavy REEs dysprosium and yttrium were recently mandated for inclusion in the DOD's National Defense Stockpile, despite not presently being produced in the USA, from US-based sources.
There are a multitude of terrestrial rare earth element deposits under development throughout the world. However, they all face commercialization challenges including complex metallurgy required to extract and process the desired elements from the host ore body and concern over environmental impacts. Several deep-sea resources exist which offer the potential for greatly simplified metallurgical processing due to their simple mineralogy. Geochemical studies of various seafloor materials show that REEs are trapped during initial deposition of the material and that in some cases, the REEs continue to accumulate over time. The technology has already been demonstrated for recovering several valuable minerals from some deep-sea resources, particularly nickel, copper, cobalt, and manganese from nodules. The ARL research seeks to determine if the simplified mineralogy can provide for the economic recovery of the strategically important heavy rare earth elements and any other critical minerals. Other potential advantages of the seafloor resources include: high metal grades compared to many terrestrial deposits, their occurrence with many other valuable minerals and potentially reduced environmental impact.
The assembled team has been selected to capture the broad range and depth of experience needed to evaluate the complex ocean mining and recovery process for REEs. Several team members have participated in large scale ocean mining and other deep-sea projects in the past, particularly for recovery of nodules and seafloor massive sulfides, and ocean renewable energy projects.
Partners in the research include Lyntek Incorporated, Lakewood, CO (USA) for mineral extraction and processing; La Mer Consulting LLC, Hamilton, VA (USA) for technical project management; David Felix (consulting geologist), San Diego, CA (USA) for resource characterization and assessment; UTEC Geomarine Ltd., Newcastle upon Tyne (UK) for seafloor sampling and geotechnical properties; Universal Strategies LLC, Reston, VA (USA) for environmental assessments, Ozean Engineering LLC, Seattle, WA (USA) for evaluation of mining equipment and Cellula Robotics, Ltd., Vancouver, BC, (Canada) for development of specific equipment for potential sampling and resource recovery on the seabed. Other geologists, ocean mining and processing experts will be consulted in the US and abroad as part of this effort. The current contract covers year one of a proposed multi-year research effort. The first phase will include a background investigation into the properties and REE content of the various types of deep deposits, and the state of mining and processing technologies applicable to each type. Following the initial background research one or two of the deep sea resources will be selected for further study. Environmental impact and the potential ultimate commercial attractiveness will be key considerations in selecting appropriate mineral deposits for study. The second phase of the research will include collecting and evaluating samples for laboratory tests to assess collection and processing options.