The plant is expected to initially produce approximately 2,000 tonnes per year of neodymium, praseodymium and/or didymium (NdPr) oxides as well as a heavy rare earth enriched carbonate, containing approximately 50 tonnes per year dysprosium and terbium oxides. It is also expected to produce lanthanum cerium carbonate.
Production from the plant will strengthen Europe's security of supply for rare earths, used in electric vehicles, wind turbines and other green technology and strategic applications, and aligns with European initiatives to create more robust, diversified supply chains, Mkango said.
The plant’s development will be fully underpinned by sustainably sourced, purified mixed rare earth carbonate from Mkango's 51%-owned Songwe Hill operations in Malawi, with other synergies being evaluated.
It will be located within a Polish Special Economic Zone, giving it access to European and international markets.
The companies have signed an exclusive lease option agreement for a site adjacent to Grupa Azoty PULAWY's large scale fertiliser and chemicals complex at Pulawy in Poland, providing it with access to infrastructure as well as reagents and utilities on site. Scoping studies to date indicate that the plant will have highly competitive operating costs.
Feasibility studies for the plant are being undertaken in parallel with Songwe Hill and other opportunities, including Mkango's interest in HyProMag Ltd, which is developing production of short loop recycled rare earth magnets in the UK.
"Development of this plant will underline Mkango's unique positioning in the rare earths sector,” said Mkango chief executive William Dawes.
“Our integrated "mine, refine, recycle" strategy, encompassing sustainably sourced light (NdPr) and heavy (Dy/Tb) rare earths from Malawi and rare earth magnet (NdFeB) recycling in the UK, via our interest in HyProMag, is now enhanced by the opportunity to create a rare earths separation and downstream hub in Poland, working with one of Europe's largest chemical and fertilizer companies.
“Rare earths are a vital component of magnets required in many technologies needed for the green energy transition. Therefore, their security of supply is becoming increasingly important to governments worldwide, especially in Europe and the US.
“We have carried out extensive due diligence on the site and believe the development of the plant in Poland will enhance the sustainable supply of rare earths into Europe, as well as bringing significant benefits to the region, creating new jobs and potential, additional, downstream developments,” he said.
Grupa Azoty PULAWY is part of The Grupa Azoty Group, the European Union's second-largest manufacturer of nitrogen and compound fertilizers, and a major chemicals producer. Its products are exported to more than 20 countries in Europe, the Americas and Asia.
The companies are engaged with financial institutions to accelerate development, and additional strategic partnerships, downstream developments and marketing opportunities are being evaluated, Mkango said.