Montero Mining and Exploration (CVE:MON) said Tuesday it has assembled a new team of mineral processing and chemical engineers to support the development of a rare earth metals separation refinery, designed to process ore material from its Wigu Hill project in Tanzania.
The team is comprised of both in-house employees, and consultants, and is to be headed by Geoff Skelton, the former head of development at the Impala Platinum hydro-metallurgical refinery. Skelton has more than 30 years of experience in base and precious metals hyrdometallurgical plant design and operations in South Africa.
He spent 21 years with Impala Platinum Refineries, filling roles including general and project manager, where he was responsible for the hydrometallurgical separations processes that are incorporated within Impala’s refinery in Springs, South Africa.
"Montero’s new engineering team will lead and support Mintek’s Mineral Processing and Hydrometallurgical optimization process to a feasibility study and eventually construction of a process plant and refinery operation," said Montero president and CEO, Dr. Tony Harwood.
"The team have a proven track record in minerals processing and hydrometallurgical test work, process design, feasibility, construction and production operations and will be key in achieving our plan to fast-track mining and production of rare earths from the Wigu Hill Project in Tanzania."
To support Skelton in his role, Mike Freeman, former senior chemist of Molycorp Minerals Richard Amata, Russell Heins, and Serame Mashoeng will head the hydrometallurgical operations to produce saleable rare earth chemical products from the refinery.
Meanwhile, Dr. Adrian Hind, and Martyn Hay, will lead the mineral processing operations of the bastnaesite concentrate from the mining operation at Wigu Hill.
The team will be supported by Mike Evans, project manager for Wigu Hill, and Mike Spratley, a project mining engineer consultant.
Montero's team will also work together with Mintek, South Africa's national mineral research organization and the company's research provider. They will work together on further research and development on the hydrometallurgical processes, minerals processing for the mining operation and to develop Montero’s approach to the rare earth separation stage refinery and requisite test work campaign, the company said.
In September, the company announced an initial inferred resource of 3.3 million tonnes on only the eastern ridge of its Wigu Hill rare earth project, suggesting the potential for more resources.
The estimate of the Tembo and Twiga deposits, prepared by AMEC Earth & Environmental Services, indicates an inferred resource of 3.3 million tonnes at a grade of 2.6% light rare earth oxide (LREO5).
Rare earth elements, a group of 15 metals, are critical in the development of emerging green technologies and high-tech applications, from electric and hybrid vehicles and wind and hydro power turbines, to LCD screens, MRI, X-ray machines, mobile devices and other computing equipment.
Currently, China produces 97% of world supply the metals. With the rising prices of rare earths, and China's control over export quotas, it is becoming more and more critical to secure other supply.
Montero is working on upgrading its resource, and has hired Turgis Consulting to perform a scoping study on the property.