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Australian energy materials business focused on downstream rare earths and graphite processing to service high-growth E-mobility and renewable energy sectors

RapidSX™ – REE Processing

Hexagon’s strategy is to develop an energy-materials business employing a fast-track to cash-flow strategy, initially focused on REE processing by commercialising the demonstrated RapidSX approach to REE separation.

This strategy, to invest in the ‘downstream’ of the REE supply chain is premised on three key insights.

  • Short-term cash generation is a core focus
  • RapidSX separation and purification of REEs offers lower risk, higher and more stable margins than other stages of the REE supply chain.
  • It is the right place and time to develop an ‘energy materials’ processing business

In 2019 Hexagon was introduced to private Canadian company Innovation Metals Corp. (IMC) through Hexagon’s downstream graphite test work being undertaken in North America. IMC developed the RapidSX process, which is expected to be faster, cheaper and less capital-intensive than the conventional solvent-extraction (SX) technology currently utilised, for example in China.

RapidSX has the potential to ensure more diversity of global REE supply, to enable a range of current and proposed REE projects to deliver better returns, improved margins and create greater supply-chain diversity for global REE materials customers.

What is RapidSX™?

RapidSX is an SX-based REE separation processing technology developed by IMC with the assistance of US$1.8 million in funding support from the US Government through the US Army Research Laboratory.

SX is a well-established processing method for extracting metals from solutions. RapidSX uses the same chemistry as conventional SX – but with a proprietary column-based platform that significantly accelerates the process, reducing capital costs and potentially lowering operating costs.

The RapidSX approach can be applied to a variety of metal feeds for separation such as REEs, nickel-cobalt, lithium and potentially for environmental clean-up applications. The most advanced application and closest to commercialisation is for the separation of REEs into various high-purity REEs oxides (REOs) ready for sale.

Why RapidSX™ compared to conventional SX?

Conventional SX circuits generally have low metal selectivity which necessitates many, many stages for effective separations, as presented schematically in the conceptual figure below labelled “Present”.

© 2020 Hexagon Energy Materials Ltd

This conventional SX circuit set up requires significant land area for the SX mixer-settler units and large volumes of expensive reagents which results in high capital cost and a high level of ‘work-in-progress’ (WIP) metal inventories, creating a significant time lag from when metals first enter the circuits to when they are precipitated out on the other end and available for sale. Because they are more difficult to separate from each other, circuits targeting the separation of mixed or single HREEs require more separation steps and staging when compared to circuits targeting various LREEs. This potentially generates an increased capital and operating cost threshold for HREE recovery to be economic.

RapidSX has been demonstrated to address these issues through pilot-scale test programs undertaken on both LREE and HREE feedstock types As the figures above illustrate schematically, and the table below summarises, RapidSX requires significantly less staging – thereby reducing the footprint and number of separation units as well as having a much lower WIP metal inventory with a pipeline of hours or days compared to weeks and months.

Findings to date indicate:

  • Increased Separation Kinetics
    Reduced metal residence time
  • Low CapEx
    Considerably reduced footprint
  • Low OpEx
    Significantly reduced separation times
    <$2/kg for LREOs and <$12/kg for HREOs*
  • Commercially Available
    All construction materials, equipment and chemistry are readily available with no ‘black-box’ technology