"We are excited to be moving towards the production of MREC later in 2023 at Makuutu by the role Makuutu can play in developing a magnet and heavy rare earth supply outside of China."
What have been the main highlights for Makuutu in the past 12 months?
Our Makuutu Rare Earths project in Uganda is the world’s only development-ready ionic adsorption clay (IAC) magnet and heavy rare earths project with its product available for Western consumers.
In late 2022, the Makuutu Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) was approved by Uganda's National Environmental Management (NEMA) and we have had tremendous support from the government and the local community for the project. In early 2023 we completed the stage 1 feasibility study on RL1963, the first tenement progressing to a Mining Licence Application (MLA) at Makuutu. The stage 1 study showed a low capital development and long-life asset potential producing a magnet and heavy rare earths basket. In total, we have another five tenements which are also progressing toward development.
Post completion of the MLA, the government gave approval to start work on the project’s demonstration plant, now in construction and expected to commence producing mixed rare earth carbonate (MREC) products later in 2023. We are also progressing well in securing land access agreements for the land associated with our MLA.
Drilling has been successful this year at two prospective exploration areas at Makuutu – EL00147 to the east, and EL00257 to the northwest. Of the 76 holes RAB Holes drilled, 69 holes returned results with rare earth-bearing clays above the Mineral Resource Estimate cut-off, which will be folded into an updated exploration target to be announced later in 2023. The company has also completed infill core drilling at our RL00007 license to the west to upgrade resource confidence from inferred to indicated, and this will support the next Mineral Resource Estimate (MRE) update in early 2024 and the next MLA later in 2024.
How have operations unfolded at Ionic Technologies?
Over the past 12 months, we have received several grants with strong support from the UK Government. We built a permanent magnet recycling demonstration plant in Belfast where we are now sustainably processing end-of-life magnets into separated, high-purity magnet rare earth oxides (REOs). We recently announced partnerships with UK-based metal and alloy manufacturer Less Common Metals (LCM), and magnet supply chain engagement with the products now being used by Ford for the potential use in electric motors to be manufactured at their Halewood plant in the UK.
With Ionic Technologies, we are producing high-purity separated magnet REO oxides which enable us to form better and faster relationships with metal alloy magnet manufacturers and progress the supply integration from metal alloy manufacturing through to the end user.
What is your assessment of rare earth mining companies’ ability to raise capital?
Raising capital in the current environment is extremely competitive. Key to navigating difficult capital markets is having a downstream integrated approach, rather than concentrating on traditional pure-play mining.
With the offering from Ionic Technologies, we can accelerate development using secondary sourced material. Secondary sourced material is starting to escalate high on the agenda for European end users, and the aim is for 15% of strategic materials to come from recycling by 2030. This opens up the supply chain for the development of the larger primary supply that will come from Makuutu once an alternative supply chain has matured.
How has the new Mining Act reshaped the operating environment in Uganda?
Uganda implemented a new Mining Act in 2022, and we have been working with the Government to get the updated regulations in place to reflect the changes in the Act. The regulations were approved in August 2023, we are now evaluating our strategies for the development of Makuutu, having discussions with the government around our visions for the project, and how we can be a partner in developing a mining industry in Uganda. The Ugandan Government has been extremely supportive of our project – they are a willing partner who is invested in building capacity and understands the role mining can play in developing jobs and revenue for the country.
What are Ionic’s key priorities for the year ahead?
We are excited to be moving towards the production of MREC later in 2023 at Makuutu, and about the role that Makuutu can play in developing a magnet and heavy rare earth supply outside of China.