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CEO Corner

Sharing Our Progress 

outside shovel picWhat better way to spend a beautiful fall afternoon in Wyoming than with your friends – federal, state and local leaders, community members and shareholders – sharing the progress we’ve made and our vision for the future. Rare Element Resources, along with General Atomics, had that pleasure when we held an open house on Monday, October 9, in Upton, WY, to celebrate our ceremonial groundbreaking on our rare earth processing and separation demonstration plant.

It was great to see so many familiar faces at the Upton Community Center. As I stood before the standing-room-only crowd, I realized that only in Wyoming would you find such strong support from such a diverse group of people for an undertaking that is critical not only to the community but for the state and the nation.

Project supporter, Governor Gordon, could not join us in person but sent an inspiring message of congratulations via a pre-recorded video that we played for those gathered. Jennifer Thomson from his staff attended as his representative.

barrasso CroppedWe were fortunate to be joined by Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), who reminded us through his remarks how uniquely suited the great state of Wyoming is, through its rich history of responsible mineral development, to play a key role as our nation strives for self-reliance and away from dependence on others for critical rare earth minerals. He shared his vision of what a rare earth supply chain could look like for the people of Wyoming and his fears for a nation that must rely on China for these essential building blocks, for not only our high-tech world but for many military defense applications.

Also in attendance were members of the staff from both Senator Lummis’ and Congresswoman Hageman’s offices. Among our other friends from the State in the room were Chuck Gray, Wyoming Secretary of State; Curt Meier, Wyoming State Treasurer; Rob Creager, Executive Director Wyoming Energy Authority; Representatives Don Burkhart, Chip Neiman, and Allen Slagle and Brandi Harlow, Wyoming Business Council.

Mayor TrandahlUpton Mayor, Nick Trandahl, spoke about the Company’s history with the town and expressed his appreciation and ongoing support for the project. He also shared his personal experience with rare earths. He told about his time in the army and firsthand knowledge of the importance of rare earths in weapon guidance systems. He continues to see Bear Lodge as a very important project in what he deemed “these increasingly turbulent times.”

Neal Blue croppedNeal Blue, Chairman of General Atomics and defense industry titan, gave the audience insight into how critical rare earths are in permanent magnet motors (PMM) and how important PMM are in electric propulsion and energy generation. As one of the largest military contractors, he also pointed out the role rare earths play in allowing micro-processing to continue to reduce in size to the atomic level and in military applications, like the launch and recovery systems for aircraft carriers. He expressed his concern about the enormous economic leverage China has through their current monopoly of rare earths and stated how important it is that America retain its leading edge in providing advance technology. He sees the demonstration plant as being a significant first step in addressing those concerns. Linden Blue, Co-Chairman, and Alec Gordon, COO of GA-EMS, also attended the event in demonstration of the significance of the project to General Atomics.

VRI want to personally thank the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources, the Shell 3D Visualization Center, Cole James and Program Manager, Kyle Summerfield, for the work they did in creating what I think was a very unique experience – allowing us to share our plans for the demonstration plant with visitors through a virtual reality tour. This immersive experience let participants feel like they were walking inside the plant amongst the processing equipment, which is currently being assembled offsite and will be moved to the site in the coming months.

modelThe UW College of Engineering and Physical Sciences’ Innovation WYrkshop Makerspace, led by Rebecca Austin and including students Nick Matter, Madison Manning, Colter Helm and Joel Kirchner, provided the 3D model of the plant to help people visualize what we will be constructing in Upton over the next several months.

The goal of the demonstration plant is to produce a separated, high-purity neodymium and praseodymium oxide as well as other rare earth products. Data generated by the demonstration plant will be used for design scale up of the process and equipment and to generate the economic data for a commercial-size facility. Members of the design team from General Atomics and Rare Element Resources were present to answer questions from our guests.

This community gathering highlighted the strong partnerships that have been built, and how the people of Wyoming band together when working towards a common goal. I believe our rare earth demonstration plant is a big first step in what will continue to be a great partnership with the state of Wyoming. It is also a major milestone in our quest to build a secure, domestic supply chain for the rare earths so critical to our country’s economic health, our continued technology leadership, and our national security.

Thanks to all who took time to celebrate with us.


CEO Corner Prior Commentary

What We Need Means We Need Mining

Oct 14, 2023

As Americans, we are fortunate to live in a society where we generally have access to important technology for medical care, transportation, communication devices, and more. Many Americans would have difficulty conceptualizing a world in which that access does not exist. Would you be willing to wait for years for technological devices like the latest version of your favorite cellphone or an MRI machine due to lack of supply? What about not being able to buy the latest, lightweight tablet or computer but instead going back to one that is bigger and bulkier? These things seem inconvenient, but what if as a nation we could not develop or maintain our defense systems or achieve our carbon reduction goals because we don’t have the materials essential for the necessary high-tech applications, such as fighter jets, electric vehicles and wind turbines? These are all real risks represented by China’s dominance of the rare earth (RE) supply chain. With over 85% of the refined REs and 90% of the downstream products being produced in China in 2022, there are currently no alternative sources available today that are secure and mined with sound environmental practices.

In order to remain a strong nation, the United States has to embrace mining of not only REs but other critical minerals. Where else are the elements essential to our modern lifestyle going to come from on a consistent and reliable basis? Also why shift our environmental burdens elsewhere when we have arguably the most protective regulatory oversight of any nation? Wait – before you say, “anywhere else,” let us talk about the risks that poses to our economic and national security and the world as a whole.

There is an old saying that “if you can’t grow it, you have to mine it.” Let us start by agreeing that modern life depends on mining. Your mobile phone, computer, appliances, and car are smaller and more efficient because of REs’ special properties. Then let us talk about our forefathers. They understood that a strong nation was dependent on mining, and they developed land management policies that included the right to develop mineral assets found on public lands. These policies have not been taken lightly. Knowing proper oversight was necessary to develop mineral assets sustainably, public land management agencies like the United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management were established.

Fast forward to today. The view of “anywhere else” has driven most mining out of the US, which has resulted in our reliance on mineral imports from other countries. This has compromised not only our economic health but our national security. High-tech industries accounted for 12% of our total employment and 23% of our output in 2021. What happens if the US is denied access to rare earth exports for one reason or another? Chip makers are right now trying to assess the economic impact of China’s recent export ban on gallium and germanium. The economic implications of rare earth restrictions or stoppage would be substantial and could take years to recover from. What about the many defense applications for REs? Are you comfortable being mostly, or in some cases completely dependent, on the import of key materials for our communication systems, fighter jets, and other defense technologies?

But let us go to one of my biggest concerns. “Anywhere else” means mining is done in countries with insufficient environmental regulations and protections. As an environmental engineer, I find this troubling. China’s dominance in the RE market has been in part supported by their minimalistic environmental regulations. If we believe in the concept of environmental protection, why can we not open our minds and hearts to look at mining with a broader perspective? Doesn’t it make sense that mining be done in countries with practical regulations and oversight to limit the global environmental impacts?

Innovation in the form of our proprietary rare earth processing and separation technology has the ability to move the RE industry forward in a significant way. The system we have designed will minimize waste streams, making it much more attractive environmentally than existing technology, while improving the economics of recovery.  This will help make US products more competitive. But innovation is driven by economics. For companies to spend the type of R&D dollars we are investing, economic recovery must be possible and that means advancing the Bear Lodge Rare Earth Project into development. This will provide mining sector employment and bring economic diversity to Wyoming. It will also help to address both the economic and national security issues related to REs. Most importantly, it will be developed responsibly, paying the utmost attention to the environment.

Jobs, industrial diversification, economic and national security, and responsible development – all these factors suggest that we need mining and that includes development of the Bear Lodge Project.