Can rare earth elements be a unique opportunity for Chile?

Bnamericas Published: Tuesday, December 13, 2022
Can rare earth elements be a unique opportunity for Chile?

Although rare earth elements (REE) are more common than their name suggests, these metallic minerals are usually highly costly to produce because of technical and environmental issues involved in extracting and separating them. 

Despite these hurdles, Chile has an opportunity to become a player in the production of these 17 soft, heavy metals, which include scandium, yttrium, cerium, promethium, neodymium and others, elements that are crucial for production of electric vehicles, batteries and renewable energy systems, as well as having a wide range of technological applications. 

The country has deposits of REE in the south in ionic clays and also huge tailings dumps from its copper and other mines, in which some of these elements have been found to be abundant. 

"Chile has a historic opportunity due to its ionic clay deposits, which represent 10% of world [REE] extraction and production," Rodrigo Ceballos, CEO of Hochschild Mining spin-off Aclara Resources, said in a webinar organized by Fundación Chilena del Pacífico on Monday to address the industrialization of mining resources and particularly REE. 

“In rare earths we have a lot to contribute,” Dorotea López, director of international studies at Universidad de Chile, told BNamericas at the end of November.

López spearheaded a study presented during the webinar indicating that there is a lack of precise information on the amount of REE deposits in Chile, but pointing to the very large amounts of mine tailings produced by the country’s mining industry. This suggests “Chile has concrete opportunities in rare earths,” said Andres Bórquez, academic coordinator at the institute of international studies at Universidad de Chile.

Unfortunately, there is currently no cadastre of REE in Chile because of the high levels of complexity involved in cataloging the different deposits of these minerals, so this makes exploration studies more expensive and difficult, adding another obstacle for those interested in this niche. 

China is by far the biggest world player in the production of REE, accounting for around 80% of global output, according to data from the US Geological Survey, although Europe and the US are looking to increase their own sources. 

“The question is how do we produce minerals with minimal environmental impact and with real economic feasibility,” said Ceballos, who outlined an REE project in Penco, southern Chile, on which Aclara Resources is working.

BNamericas asked in the webinar for when the production is estimated at the Penco Module project, to which Ceballos replied "we expect to submit the environmental impact assessment in the second quarter of 2023 and according to plans we would start producing in 2026. In addition, we are carrying out exploration in other areas".

Aclara plans to invest around US$129mn in the project in 2023-26. The proposed 6km2 site is 15km from Concepción in the Biobío region and contains ionic clay deposits that have abundant REE. It would produce REE concentrate at a processing plant.  

Ceballos added that there are only three ionic clay projects in the world. "One is ours, another is in Brazil and the other is in Uganda," he said.

The Penco operation would have a 12-year mine life, with the possibility of expansion in the future, Aclara said in a corporate presentation. That would enable the miner to become a key producer of this group of metallic minerals, supplying consumers in the clean energy, technology and electromobility industries. 

Subscribe to the most trusted business intelligence platform in Latin America. Let us show you our solutions for Suppliers, Contractors, Operators, Government, Legal, Financial and Insurance.

Subscribe to Latin America’s most trusted business intelligence platform.

Other projects in: Mining & Metals (Chile)

Get critical information about thousands of Mining & Metals projects in Latin America: what stages they're in, capex, related companies, contacts and more.

  • Project: Capricornio
  • Current stage: Blurred
  • Updated: 1 day ago
  • Project: Margarita
  • Current stage: Blurred
  • Updated: 1 week ago
  • Project: Mostazal
  • Current stage: Blurred
  • Updated: 2 weeks ago

Other companies in: Mining & Metals (Chile)

Get critical information about thousands of Mining & Metals companies in Latin America: their projects, contacts, shareholders, related news and more.

  • Company: FLSmidth S.A.  (FLSmidth Chile)
  • FLSmidth S.A (FLSmitdth Chile) is the Chilean subsidiary of FLSmidth & Co. A/S, the Danish supplier of equipment and services to the global cement and minerals industries. Headq...
  • Company: Itasca Chile SpA  (Itasca Chile)
  • Itasca S.A. is the Chilean subsidiary of international consulting group Itasca International Inc., and provides engineering consulting services, including geotechnics and geomec...
  • Company: Albemarle Chile
  • Albemarle Chile is a branch of the US company Albemarle Corporation, a firm which develops, manufactures, and trades high added value and technologically advanced chemical produ...
  • Company: CleanTech Lithium Ltd.  (CTL)
  • CleanTech Lithium Ltd, formerly Chilean Lithium Salars Spa, is a lithium producer with three strategic projects in Chile, all located in the Atacama Region. Currently, CTL is fo...
  • Company: Skava Consulting S.A.  (Skava Consulting)
  • Skava Consulting is a Chilean engineering firm which provides services to the infrastructure and mining sectors with a focus on subterranean works. Among the services offered by...
  • Company: Besalco S.A.  (Besalco)
  • Chilean construction and engineering group Besalco S.A. (Besalco) is controlled by the Bezanilla-Saavedra family and was established in 1944. With operations in three countries,...