Avalon Rare Metals closer to new plant

Avalon Rare Metals’ new processing agreement with French chemical company Solvay moves the Toronto business a step closer to building a hydrometallurgical refinery in Geismar on property the company has already optioned.

Avalon reported Monday that it had signed a 10-year deal for Solvay to process rare earth concentrate into pure rare earth oxides at Solvay’s plant in La Rochelle, France. Solvay also will provide technical support for further design, engineering and commissioning of Avalon’s hydrometallurgical processing plant in Geismar.

Avalon had planned to build the hydrometallurgical refinery in Pine Point in Canada’s Northwest Territories, where Avalon owns what may be a large new source of the heavy rare earths key to clean technology and high-tech applications. The Nechelado Deposit remains the most advanced potential new source of heavy rare earths outside of China, which provides most of the world’s supply of the resource, according to Avalon.

Avalon announced Geismar as the proposed site of the $300 million facility in August 2012. The plant, if built, would employ 175 people.

In a 2013 presentation, Avalon said Geismar’s strategic advantages include access to road, marine and rail transportation.

The entire project — the mine, processing facility and the Geismar refinery — will cost an estimated $1.6 billion, according to Avalon.

Heavy rare earths are expensive and complex to mine, according to Resource Invesment News.

The metals are used in making flat-screen displays, the coating that allows data storage on DVDs and CDs, the magnets used in electric and hybrid cars, microwave filters, and to strengthen aluminum and magnesium alloys, among other things.

Investment banker Goldman Sachs estimates heavy rare earths will sell for $216 a pound in 2014.