Cameco investing more in uranium-from-phosphate technology
Uranium miner Cameco has increased its investment in an innovative Australian process for extracting uranium as a by-product of phosphate mining.
Posted: Tuesday , 21 Jun 2011
Top Canadian uranium miner, Cameco Corporation, has made a further investment of US$5 million in the PhosEnergy Process being developed with Uranium Equities (UEQ) for the recovery of uranium as a by-product of phosphate fertiliser production.
The third stage investment, to be used to further the jointly held technology, brings Cameco's total investment in the PhosEnergy Process to US$12.5 million and is seen as a further strong endorsement of the potential of the process.
Cameco can elect to invest up to US$16.5 million in the continued development and commercialisation of the process. If Cameco invests the final US$4 million, the ownership of the technology related to the PhosEnergy Process will be: Cameco 63%, Uranium Equities 27%, Original developers 10%
If Cameco earns its interest, it has agreed to provide funding for a minimum of 50% of UEQ's portion of capital expenditure, under terms to be agreed, for the construction of the first commercial plant, repayable out of earnings.
The PhosEnergy Process is a patented "bolt-on" process to recover U3O8 as a by-product at existing phosphate production facilities. UEQ, through USA registered Urtek, has undertaken the development of the technology in conjunction with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), considered to be one of the world leaders in uranium leaching and extraction technology, and a major US-based phosphate producer.
PhosEnergy applies conventional technologies in an innovative manner to achieve low operating costs for uranium production (estimated at US$20-25/lb) and high uranium recoveries (estimated at 92%) with improved environmental outcomes and reduced waste.
Cameco is one of the world's largest uranium producers, accounting for about 16% of the world's production.
The Cameco investment will be applied towards the planned operation of a Demonstration Plant at a US-based fertiliser producer and an associated Pre Feasibility Study (PFS) on the PhosEnergy Process.
Design and construction of the fully integrated and process controlled demonstration plant in Adelaide is complete. It is now undergoing final commissioning before being shipped to the USA.
The demonstration plant is planned to operate for 5-6 months commencing in the second half of this year and will provide cost and design data to enable the construction of a full-scale commercial facility. A PFS is also planned to be completed in parallel.
This demo plant has been constructed to international standards and can easily be transported to, and integrated into, phosphate fertilizer facilities around the world. It encompasses all of the key aspects of the PhosEnergy process within two 40-foot shipping containers.
The process was developed by ANSTO in conjuction with Urtek. It can be incorporated into new projects or be an add-on to existing phosphoric acid facilities, consists of several process steps including: Acid pre-treatment; Impurity removal (if required); Valency modification; Uranium extraction; Uranium purification; Drying; and Packaging.
PhosEnergy applies these conventional technologies in an innovative manner providing several advantages over previously applied technologies including:
- Low operating cost;
- High uranium recovery; and
- Improved environmental outcomes.
The pretreatment and impurity removal stages of the process have demonstrated that the technology is capable of coping with large variations in feed quality, and can be applied to processes that utilize lower quality phosphate rock. In addition, this removal of scaling species and the elimination of the addition of deleterious metal impurities is advantageous to the phosphoric acid producer in terms of operability and fertilizer quality requirements.