Japan’s Sumitomo to Construct Rare Earths Recovery Plant in the Philippines

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | March 12, 2013 3:52 PM EST

Japan's Sumitomo Metal Mining Co. has announced it is constructing what could be the Philippines' first foray into rare earths mining, a scandium recovery plant on Palawan Island.

The scandium recovery plant is expected to start construction later this year, and to be operational in 2014.

A silvery-white metallic transition metal, it is used to make high-intensity lightbulbs. It is added to mercury vapor lamps to enable it to emit light that resembles sunlight. Scandium is also added to baseball bats and expensive, sturdy bikes.

SMM, in a statement on its Web site, said scandium is contained in the ore that its majority-owned subsidiary Coral Bay Nickel Corp. (CBNC) uses to produce nickel-cobalt mixed sulfide. CBNC, in turn, buys the ore from Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corp., which is majority-owned by listed miner Nickel Asia Corp.

Palawan-based CBNC operates a high-pressure acid leach (HPAL) plant, also in the same area, to produce nickel-cobalt sulfide.

"For some time SMM has been working to develop a scandium recovery method at its Niihama Research Laboratories in Ehime Prefecture. This effort has now led to the attainment of technology enabling efficient recovery of scandium from the nickel-cobalt mixed sulfide production process," the company said in a statement.

Nickel Asia Corp., meantime, said in its disclosure to the Philippine Stock Exchange on Monday that Taganito HPAL Nickel Corp., which it co-owns with SMM, will adopt the scandium recovery technology if proven successful. The Taganito HPAL is majority-owned by SMM and 22.5 per cent by Nickel Asia.

"If successful, it will represent the country's first production of a rare earth element, an important step in the development of the Philippines' mineral resources," Nickel Asia claimed.

SMM said the trial production of 10 kilograms of scandium per month will likewise start in 2014.

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