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The state gives money to help build a rare earth element processing facility near Upton

Rare Element Resources

Rare Element Resources received a $4.4 million grant from the Wyoming Energy Authority (WEA) to be used for the advancement of the company’s rare earth element processing facility near Upton.

Rare earth elements are used in a variety of industries and economic sectors. They’re used in the transportation, healthcare sectors as well as in power generation, petroleum refining, and consumer electronics, such as cell phones. Currently, the vast majority of the world’s rare earth minerals come from China, which has sparked security and market concerns about importing these elements from an adversarial country.

The facility is in the final stages of the design phase. Construction is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2023 with operations possibly getting underway in early 2024.

“We're obviously really excited about the project and the step we're taking to serve as a cornerstone for the future of the rare earth industry in Wyoming,” said Brent Berg, the new president and CEO of Rare Element Resources who took over on Nov. 1. “I think this is a great demonstration by the state of Wyoming and the partnership with us to develop this new sector in Wyoming.”

The grant is a cost reimbursement award for future expenditure for the project, which totals approximately $44 million. Back in October 2021, Rare Element Resources received a $21.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. That was when the project formally began. They later raised additional funds to begin work on it.

“The $4.4 million grant really helps us in terms of personnel support, as well as design [and] equipment,” Berg said. “We've actually already ordered some of the long lead equipment that are that's needed for this plant to construct and operate.”

The project’s 40-month timeline is contingent on receiving a permit from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is currently reviewing the company’s application. A decision is expected by July 2023. If approved, construction can begin.

Around 30 workers will be needed for the construction of the facility. Once finished, the company estimates about 15 employees will be required conduct the day-to-day operations for it.

“The need for domestic rare earth elements is a necessity for both our ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy and also our energy security,” said Glen Murrell, Executive Director of the WEA in a press release. “Given that Wyoming is home to one of the highest-grade rare earth deposits in North America, we felt supporting Rare Element Resources’ demonstration plant in Upton was vital. We look forward to supporting this project and supporting the development of the critical minerals industry in Wyoming.”

Berg expressed optimism about what the facility could bring about for the state’s economy.

“I think the project just shows its innovation and catapults growth of the new and emerging energy sector in Wyoming,” he said. “As I said before, we're really excited about it and we're certainly excited about the partnership with the state.”

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.

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