Home » Uganda’s Rare Earths Project Set to Deliver First Product in 2022 

Uganda’s Rare Earths Project Set to Deliver First Product in 2022 

The Makuutu project is one of the largest ionic adsorption clay deposits in the world, with a focus on the magnet rare earths.

by Motoni Olodun

Uganda is poised to become a major player in the global rare earths market, as a new project in the East African country is expected to produce its first mixed rare earth carbonate in early 2022. The Makuutu rare earth project, developed by ASX-listed Ionic Rare Earths (IonicRE), is one of the largest ionic adsorption clay deposits in the world, with a resource estimate of 315 million tonnes at 650 parts per million total rare earth oxides.

Rare earths are a group of 17 elements essential for many high-tech applications, such as electric vehicles, wind turbines, smartphones, and defence systems. However, the global supply of rare earths is dominated by China, which accounts for about 80 per cent of the production and refining capacity. This has raised concerns about the security and sustainability of the rare earths supply chain, especially amid the ongoing trade and geopolitical tensions between China and other countries.

IonicRE aims to address this challenge by developing a low-cost and environmentally friendly rare earths project in Uganda, which has a stable political and regulatory environment, a supportive local community, and a strategic location near the port of Mombasa in Kenya. The company has reported good progress in constructing a technical facility and a demonstration plant at Makuutu, which will optimise the metallurgical process and produce samples for potential customers and off-takers.

The company is also expecting to receive a mining licence for Makuutu soon, which will pave the way for the definitive feasibility study and the stage one development of the project. Stage one development is expected to produce 2,000 tonnes of mixed rare earth carbonate per annum, focusing on the magnet rare earths, such as neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium, and terbium. These are the most valuable and sought-after rare earths, as they are used to make powerful permanent magnets in high demand for the green energy and advanced manufacturing sectors.

According to IonicRE, the Makuutu project has the potential to become a long-term and reliable source of rare earths for the global market, with a projected mine life of over 30 years. The company says the project will also bring significant social and economic benefits to Uganda by creating jobs, generating revenues, and supporting local development.

The Makuutu project is part of a growing trend of rare earths exploration and development in Africa, which is seen as a promising alternative to China’s dominance. Other rare earths projects in Africa include the Songwe Hill project in Malawi, the Ngualla project in Tanzania, the Wigu Hill project in Tanzania, and the Steenkampskraal project in South Africa.

The global rare earths market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 4.2 per cent from 2023 to 2030, reaching around 193,300 tonnes of demand, according to a report by GlobalData. The report also forecasts that the supply gap for rare earths will widen in the coming years as the demand growth will outpace the supply growth. This creates an opportunity for new entrants like IonicRE to fill the gap and diversify the rare earths supply chain.

Source: Mining Weekly

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