Molycorp Plans to Restart Mining at Mountain Pass

Molycorp Minerals announced in early August 2009 that it has begun preparations for renewed mining of its Mountain Pass, California, rare earth deposit. Molycorp is currently producing about 4 million lb/y of rare earth products from previously mined ore. Current planning calls for a ramp up to production of 40 million lb/y of rare earth products over a three-year period.

Renewal of mining at Mountain Pass requires dewatering of the open-pit mine, which has not been worked since 2002, and removal of overburden to expose fresh ore. The dewatering process is expected to take about 12 months, followed by an additional 12 months for removal of overburden.

Molycorp CEO Mark Smith stated that because the Mountain Pass orebody is so rich, continuous mining is not necessary to produce enough ore to keep Molycorp’s rare earth production facilities running full time. Beginning in 2012, the company plans to conduct a mining campaign to produce and stockpile enough new ore to support operations for an additional two to three years. Thereafter, mining campaigns will be conducted at two- or three-year intervals to support production of finished rare earth products at the planned rate of 40 million lb/y.

Molycorp supplies a variety of rare earth materials that are critical to some emerging green-energy technologies, high-tech applications, and numerous defense systems. Each of Toyota’s hybrid Prius automobiles, for instance, uses 2.2 lb of the rare earth neodymium and 22 to 33 lb of the rare earth lanthanum.

In recent years, China has supplied as much as 97% of world-wide rare earth demand. However, Reuters reports, China has been cutting its exports by 10% per year since 2004, both to supply its growing domestic demand and to force companies that use rare earth in products they produce to relocate manufacturing facilities to China. Looming rare earth shortages are offering encouragement to Molycorp to increase its production goals. Elsewhere, junior exploration companies have also stepped up their efforts to locate economic rare earth deposits, especially in Canada, Australia and South Africa.

As featured in Womp 2009 Vol 08 -