If the historic uranium recovery from phosphate process were to be revived in the current economic climate, recovery costs would be around $50-70 per pound U3O8 and would be above the current spot market prices for uranium. The PhosEnergy process, however, can deliver low operating costs estimated at $20-25 per pound U3O8 and uranium recoveries estimated at 92% with improved environmental outcomes and reduced waste, the company claims.
The PhosEnergy process is designed as a “bolt-on” that can be added to existing phosphate processing facilities. A fully integrated and process controlled demonstration plant that fits into two 40-foot (12-metre) shipping containers has been built in Australia and is now undergoing final commissioning before being shipped to the USA.
Worldwide, more than 100 million tonnes of phosphate rock is processed into phosphoric acid annually, with major producers in North America, northern Africa and Asia. According to UEQ this could represent potential uranium production of 20 million pounds U3O8 (7690 tU) per year. Total world uranium production from all sources in 2010 was 53,663 tU, with Cameco producing some 16% of that from its interests in Canada, the USA and Kazakhstan.
The demonstration plant will go into operation at the US fertiliser producer’s site in the second half of 2011 where it will operate for 5-6 months. Cameco’s investment will underpin the planned operation of the demonstration plant and an associated pre-feasibility study, according to UEQ. The operations will provide cost and design data to enable the construction of a full-scale commercial facility.
The PhosEnergy process is being developed by Uranium Equities Ltd (UEQ) in conjunction with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). Cameco has now made the second investment under a deal signed in 2009 to partner UEQ in the development and commercialisation of the process. Cameco’s latest $5 million investment brings its total investment in the process to date to $12.5 million out of the possible $16.5 million total investment under the 2009 agreement.
Phosphate rocks, which are processed into the phosphoric acid used to make fertilisers, contain many million tonnes of uranium and are chief among the world’s so-called unconventional uranium resources. Estimates of the amount of uranium in the world’s phosphate rocks range from 9 to 22 million tonnes of uranium. In the past, recovery of uranium as a by-product from the processing of phosphate rocks has contributed some 20,000 tonnes to world uranium production, but the process became uneconomic in the 1990s and was discontinued.
Ability to extract uranium depends on the method of production of the phosphoric acid
Three (main) types
• Di-hydrate All historical production
• Hemi – hydrate bypasses 28% acid stage
• Hemi- Di ?
• Better process control technology
• Solvent contact equipment has improved
• Post treatment equipment has improved
• Solvents are safer
• New technologies (IX, Liquid membranes, etc)
PhosEnergy – Novel pre-treatment and robust and effective extraction technology
The pretreatment and impurity removal stages of the PhosEnergy 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.
A PhosEnergy Process plant could be in production from 2013, and with an anticipated production rate of 1 Mlb U3O8/a, the estimated capital cost is $100M and the estimated operating cost is US$25-30/lb
* CAPEX $100-125/lb/a (cf $150-200 2nd G)
* OPEX $20-30/lb (cf over $50 2nd G)