After a decade-long search for a new source of rare earth minerals that wasn’t located in China, Constantine Karayannopoulos finally found his answer in “monazite” sands in the southeastern U.S., not far off the coast of Georgia.
There was just one small catch: his source of rare earths is literally radioactive, with a decent amount of uranium and thorium mixed in.
But Karayannopoulos, a 30-year veteran of the rare earths sector and chief executive of Toronto-based Neo Performance Materials Inc., would not be deterred by radioactivity, or even a pandemic.
Last April, he started conversations that culminated in a deal earlier this month in which Energy Fuels Inc., a U.S. nuclear energy company has agreed to extract and keep the uranium and thorium, and send the remaining rare earth concentrate to Neo’s facilities in Estonia.
It’s the latest development in the race among companies in the U.S., Canada and other Western countries that are looking to break dependence on China for rare earths minerals, a group of 17 elements with unique properties that make them critical to an array of emerging technologies, perhaps most notably electric vehicles.