A factory designed for sustainable recovery of scarce minerals essential to making batteries for EVs and wind turbines is being proposed in Britain’s booming energy hub around the Humber estuary. Its developers Pensana say the facility at Saltend is a world’s first.
The Humber Industrial Cluster is already a centre for energy innovation, including green hydrogen and wind turbine servicing.
Pensana chairman Paul Atherley told investors today that the Saltend project, approved recently by Humberside planners, would recover 12,500 tonnes of rare earth oxides per year, including 4,500 tonnes of oxides used in magnetisable metals, known as NdPrs. The plant’s output would equate to 5% of world demand predicted for 2025.
The $125 million plant, yet to be financed, would create up to 100 jobs. Processing material including rare earth sulphates from the firm’s mine in Angola, the Humberside plant would be the world’s first major separation facility to be built in a decade, and only the third of its kind located outside China.
China currently supplies an estimated 98% of Europe’s rare earth magnets. Pensana points to fears that in coming years its leaders may hold back exports, as they strive to meet their own decarbonisation goals.
Atherley told investors the Saltend facility will look to take advantage of the recently granted Humber Freeport status to create a high value processing hub in the UK.
Driven by demand from industries including electric vehicles and offshore wind, global demand for rare earths is expected to increase five-fold by 2030, he noted.
Atherley claimed strong economics underpinned the investment, with analysts forecasting predicting the price of NdPr oxide will increase at an annualised rate of between 4.8 % and 9.9%. The plant will earn back its $125 million cost in two years, the company believes.
Subject to financing being finalised, both the Saltend plant and its feeder mine in Angola would proceed later this year, the company said.
The Saltend plant has received first phase progression from the UK Government’s £1 billion Automotive Transformation Fund, which seeks to support the national transition to electric vehicles.
Backing may come too from Pensana’s major shareholder, the Angolan Sovereign Wealth Fund. The company is in talks with other financial institutions.
Dr Jeremy Beeton, director general of the London 2012 Olympics and Para Olympics, joined Pensana as a non-executive director in March.
Pensana’s share price fell back 9.28% by 11:30 this morning, as investors anticipated a call for new equity.