Production has started at a Massachusetts-based rare earth refinery – the first in the US.
Phoenix Tailings, the company behind the startup, uses the rare earth refinery to meet critical supply chain demands by refining neodymium, dysprosium, and other rare earth metals in the US.
The metals are the first to be produced commercially in the US, showcasing the power of American ingenuity and innovation in reshoring these critical materials from China.
Why does the US need rare earths?
The US must establish a secure rare earth supply chain, as the country currently relies on 90% of these imports from China.
These critical materials are vital to almost everything manufactured today, from smartphones and electric vehicles to satellites and fighter planes. Every aspect of modern manufacturing uses at least one of these 17 elements.
The US Inflation Reduction Act aims to extract rare earths from environmentally friendly sources, and a domestic rare earth refinery will help to meet this target.
“We are currently seeing a rush of new players in the rare earth space focused on the extraction or concentrate production. Unfortunately, these materials still need to be sent to China to be refined,” said Nick Myers, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Phoenix Tailings.
“At Phoenix Tailings, we are solving this critical gap with our technology to reduce America’s dependence on foreign governments. That’s one of the reasons we are so excited about the commercial production capacity at our rare earth refinery.”
How will the facility produce rare earths at a large scale?
Leveraging its novel proprietary process that produces these metals with zero toxic byproducts and zero direct carbon emissions, Phoenix Tailings has been able to significantly expand the rare earth refinery through funding from the Department of Energy ARPA-E programme, as well as Venture Capital Investors Accomplice, and Olive Tree, MCJ Climate Fund & Valley Ridge.
The company has demonstrated product viability at a pilot scale in its R&D facility, and this new facility will focus on commercial operation. It will produce 120 tonnes per year at full capacity before further expansion.
The facility is currently producing the rare earth metals neodymium and dysprosium, which are essential in building high-strength magnets and nuclear reactors.
Traditional metal production incurs environmental costs and causes significant destruction to societies. This destruction limits the expansion of metal production in developed countries.
The rare earth refinery uses carbon-friendly methods
Phoenix Tailings Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder, Dr Tomas Villalón Jr, commented: “We have the goal of a clean, electrified future, but we are currently relying on a supply chain dominated by a Chinese monopoly that produces critical metals like rare earths with a process so toxic, it is prohibited in the US.
“Our rare earth refinery uses the waste known as tailings that have been left behind at mining sites around the country to produce rare earths with zero toxic byproducts and zero direct carbon emissions.”
Phoenix Tailings’ zero-emissions manufacturing equipment was designed to be a self-enclosed unit, ensuring that rare earth metals can be produced in any warehouse with enough space for the machine. Producing rare earth metals in a carbon-neutral and zero-emission manner protects public health, worker safety, and the environment.
The following video details more about Phoenix Tailings’ work: