Rainbow produces rare earths, including Neodymium and Praseodymium, which are critical building blocks in the clean energy transition. Used in permanent magnets for motors and turbines, these rare earth elements are fundamental to global decarbonisation. The Company is focused on producing these metals in an environmentally-responsible manner.

We are committed to sound environmental management, continually improving our performance and endeavouring to minimise the impacts of our operations on the physical environment.

Environmental management is a key element of Rainbow’s OHS system and is overseen by the SHEC. The Company complies with applicable environmental laws and regulations. The Company has conducted Environmental and Social Impact Studies at Gakara and new studies are undertaken prior to extending mining into new areas of the licence.

Generating rare earths from waste to power the green revolution

The low-carbon technologies required to facilitate the green revolution carry an intensive demand for minerals; accelerated by evolving emissions legislation and targets, rare earths demand is expected to be driven by growing electric vehicle production and offshore wind exploitation.

Central to this demand are rare earth elements – in particular, Neodymium, Praseodymium and Dysprosium – which are used to make compact high-strength permanent magnets employed in hybrid and electric vehicles and wind turbines. These permanent magnets are also used in satellite technology for the aerospace and the defence industries. For more information on rare earths, see Market.

Unlocking value from historical waste

By processing of material from historical waste in the form of phosphogypsum stacks at Phalaborwa, we aim to make a positive environmental contribution by producing integral raw materials for the green revolution and removing environmental liabilities, to the greatest extent possible.

The phosphogypsum stacks at Phalaborwa are the result of 50-60 years of waste residue deposition from Sasol’s phosphoric acid production. Sasol still carries the majority of the liability for this waste, however by re-processing the material, we have the opportunity to neutralise acid water and redeposit benign gypsum, suitable for use in building and other industries, on a new stack, built according to International Finance Corporation (“IFC”) Performance Standards and Equator Principles.

The internationally recognised consultant KnightsPiesold currently manages the gypsum stacks and has an environmental plan in place. An Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (“ESIA”) will be conducted at Phalaborwa prior to commencing operations.

As the rare earths at Phalaborwa are contained within existing stacks of waste gypsum residue, the project does not carry the environmental challenges often associated with extracting rare earths from the ground.

Responsible water management

There is circa 700,000m3 of acid water associated with the phosphogypsum stacks at Phalaborwa and Rainbow is investigating the optimal ways of treating and reusing this as part of our overall water management strategy.

Water neutralisation test work has confirmed the ability to treat the existing water from the stacks and reuse it in a closed circuit as plant process water. This not only reduces the substantial legacy issue of acid water from historic work (prior to the Company’s involvement) but will also reduce overall freshwater usage in the flowsheet. Any water discharged to the environment will be done so in line with regulations.

Key environmental considerations – energy use, radioactivity and reagents

With fewer expected processing steps, anticipated lower energy and reagent requirements than a traditional rare earths project, the production of concentrate at Phalaborwa is expected to have fewer negative environmental impacts.

Sulphuric acid, a key reagent for the Project, is produced as a waste stream at the copper operation next to Phalaborwa – by using this sulphuric acid, Rainbow has the opportunity to recycle a by-product, as well as reduce the carbon footprint which would be associated with reagent transportation, due to the proximity to the Project. Gakara does not use reagents in its trial processing circuit.

Very low levels of radioactivity have been confirmed within the gypsum extracted from Phalaborwa, significantly below the International Atomic Energy Agency (“IAEA”) guidelines, therefore exempting the Project from regulation pertaining to radioactivity. Most rare earth projects have higher levels which then require the producer to remove and store radioactivity which carries significant environmental (and cost) challenges.

The pilot plant at Gakara employs simple gravity processing to deliver a high-grade concentrate with low levels of radioactivity suitable for export, thereby producing one of the “greenest” rare earth concentrates in the world.

1 IEA, The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions