In August 2022, Rainbow entered into a master agreement with OCP, the Moroccan world-leading producer of phosphate products, and UM6P, a Moroccan university with a strong focus on science, technology and innovation, to further investigate and develop the optimal technique for the extraction of rare earth elements from sedimentary-sourced phosphogypsum.

As at Phalaborwa and Uberaba, the OCP phosphogypsum material is generated as a by-product from their phosphoric acid production operations; however, it differs in that the original source rock is a sedimentary phosphate rock. Sedimentary ores are typically lower grade in rare earths than hardrock carbonatites, but they make up the bulk of phosphoric acid production worldwide (estimated at ca. 90%). Therefore, these sedimentary ores represent a significant, and as yet untapped, potential global resource of rare earths.

Test results of initial upgraded samples of the OCP phosphogypsum material, carried out by SGS Laboratories in Johannesburg, indicated the following:

  • an average grade of 0.40% TREO; and
  • the OCP basket contains all four of the magnet rare earths, NdPr, Dy and Tb, with NdPr representing ca. 14.3% of the basket.

Rainbow, OCP and UM6P will continue to jointly run a test programme aimed at developing an economically viable process to extract rare earths from sedimentary-sourced phosphogypsum. This collaborative effort will evaluate possible economic process routes to upgrade and extract rare earths from the relatively low grade feedstock.

This test programme will require a longer timeframe than that required for the Phalaborwa project, as there are more steps to the process that must each be shown to be economically viable.

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Key facts

  • 0.40% average grade TREO
  • Nd, Pr, Dy, Tb basket contains all four magnet REEs
  • 14% proportion of NdPr within the basket