CHICAGO -- Switzerland-based trading and mining giant Glencore International AG has confirmed an agreement to jointly develop a previously bankrupt iron mine in Missouri to produce rare earths, iron oxides and pig iron.
The deal with St. Louis-based Wings Enterprises Inc. makes Glencore the first major player in US rare earths development as debate heats up over dependence on foreign and particularly Chinese sources of the minerals.
Wings Enterprises controls the Pea Ridge ore body in Washington County near Sullivan, Mo., which was initially discovered in 1950 and developed by Bethlehem Steel and St. Joseph Lead Co. beginning later in that decade before production began in 1964. More than 30 million tons of iron ore pellets, fines and heavy media were produced by the fully permitted mine before its bankruptcy in 2001.
Glencore and Wings said in a statement that underground production from the mine, which has more than 150 million tonnes of high grade magnetite iron ore reserves and 600,000 tonnes of rare earth oxide reserves, is expected to be restarted in 2012 with full production of 4 million tons per year of +70% iron concentrate is targeted for mid to late 2013.
The statement said initiation of the project and producton of rare earths and iron ore from a tailings lake which could begin within 14 months was still subject to completion of commercial and technical feasibility studies and the availability of financing on competitive terms. The studies are to begin in two months and take up to eight months to complete, the companies said.
The project agreed by Wings and Glencore also calls for construction of a port facility on the Mississippi River near the mine. Glencore will have exclusive marketing rights for the sales of all commodities produced by the mine, the statement said.
According to the St. Louis Business Journal, Wings Enterprises is also working with Sen. Christopher Bond (R.-Mo.) and other lawmakers to develop support for a proposal to build a federally subsidized rare earth refinery along the Mississippi. The company has necessary local permits to develop and operate a pig iron production facility and barge port in Crystal City, Mo.