LOW OPERATING COST SOLUTION
Currently, there is estimated to be more than US$1 billion in lost uranium per annum worldwide. The PhosEnergy Process provides the potential to utilise this untapped resource and to substantially reduce the capital and operating costs of the extraction of by-product uranium from phosphate streams when compared to existing technologies.
The PhosEnergy Process also improves the operability of the extraction process and reduces the production of radioactive process wastes when compared to the extraction processes historically applied. The PhosEnergy Process, based on results achieved to date, will be capable of exceeding the stringent environmental standards currently applied to both the broader uranium extraction industries and the phosphoric acid industry.
The estimated low operating costs indicate commercially robust production is achievable via the PhosEnergy Process in volatile market conditions. These estimated production costs will place the PhosEnergy Process in the lowest quartile of ‘new’ uranium production.
Based on results achieved to date, the application of the PhosEnergy Process provides the potential for Uranium Equities Limited to secure a significant position in the future production of uranium from phosphate operations on a worldwide basis.
A patented uranium recovery process
The PhosEnergy Process is a patented process developed by Uranium Equities Limited in association with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technical Organisation (ANSTO) for the recovery of uranium, as a by-product, in the manufacture of phosphate based fertilizers.
The PhosEnergy Process has been proven to demonstration plant scale and supported by an independent Pre-Feasibility Level Engineering Study with results establishing a robust process capable of achieving high levels of uranium recovery at the lower end of the cost curve.
PhosEnergy applies conventional technologies in an innovative manner to achieve:
- Low operating cost,
- High uranium recovery, and
- Improved environmental outcomes,
without material impact to the phosphate process.
Near term production
Development of the PhosEnergy Process has progressed past demonstration plant scale on two phosphoric acid feed sources with positive results.
The A$2.5 million Demonstration Plant, constructed in Australia, is a completely mobile unit, complies with international standards, and can be quickly deployed to phosphoric acid plants anywhere in the world.
The Demonstration Plant, was commissioned in May 2012 in the USA and operated during June to August 2012 on phosphate streams from two different fertiliser facilities with exceptional results, including:
- Consistently high uranium recovery (greater than 90 per cent) from the phosphate stream during steady-state operation;
- No deleterious build-up of impurities in the extraction media across multiple cycles;
- Chemical and reagent consumptions within expected range;
- Purification and concentration of uranium is achievable without significant uranium losses;
- The chemistry of the phosphate stream is unaffected except for the removal of uranium; and
- A concentrated product was shipped to a uranium production facility where a saleable product can be produced.
This state-of-the-art plant is fully process controlled and data can be managed via the internet anywhere in the world, facilitating the gathering of the key data in order to test the efficacy of the PhosEnergy Process under industrial conditions.
The Demonstration Plant encompasses all of the key aspects of the PhosEnergy Process within two 40-foot shipping containers.
Utilising design data gathered during successful Demonstration Plant operations carried out in 2012, an independent Pre-Feasibility Study (PFS) level Engineering Study (the Study) of the PhosEnergy Process has supported the viability and low-cost nature of the process.
The Study, which UEQ and Cameco commissioned through a global engineering and professional services consultancy, estimated a capital cost of US$156 million for a base case PhosEnergy plant located at the site of a 1Mtpa P2O5 phosphate facility in the south east United States capable of producing approximately 880,000 lb U3O8/a at an estimated cash operating cost of less than US$18 per pound.
This cost structure places the PhosEnergy Process in the bottom half of the cost curve for all uranium production worldwide and in the first quartile of operating cost estimates for ’new’ uranium production coming online over the next 5 years. These costs are half the predicted operating costs associated with technologies used during the 1970s and 1980s in the recovery of uranium as a by-product from phosphate streams.
In UEQs opinion, even at current spot uranium prices, a facility of this nature would be capable of generating strong cash operating margins – highlighting the robust economics of the PhosEnergy Process and its potential to underpin an exciting business opportunity for UEQ and its partner, Cameco Corporation.
The next phase of commercialisation is expected to comprise an on-site demonstration of the PhosEnergy Process at the site of an existing phosphate producer in North America, and this phase will underpin a Definitive Feasibility Study and enable UEQ to address full scale commercialisation from the PhosEnergy Process.
Commercial discussions around the split in revenue on a commercial application of the PhosEnergy Process on an operating phosphate facility will be required to allow an investment decision to progress the project further.
These commercial negotiations will consider the capital risk taken by both parties, the phosphate producer’s appetite for exposure to the uranium market and the long mine life of phosphate projects – generally over 20 years.
The initial focus for commercialisation is expected to be the phosphate fertiliser industry in the USA, where UEQ estimates there is an opportunity to recover approximately 6 Mlb U3O8/a. Operating in the USA also has several potential synergies with Cameco’s existing US operations.