(Wyoming Business Report, February 18) -CASPER – On Feb. 11, Casper-based Ablation Technologies LLC earned a patent for a technology the company says can quickly recover upward of 98 percent of uranium from raw ore using only water.
President Jim Coates told the Business Report that the patent frees him up to better attract interest from investors and companies on the lookout for cost savings for mining operations.
“It emboldens us, if you will, to go to the marketplace and talk about the technology without the fear of basically losing it,” he said.
He added that his company recently completed the first large-scale system at their Casper shop. Coates’ technology is essentially “selective mining on a micro basis” that can save an operator 80-90 percent of operating cost, he said. The technology allows the company “to isolate the uranium minerals from the barren fractions of the ore with very high efficiency without using any reagents and in a much more rapid, economic fashion.” He said it only takes a couple of minutes and requires only water.
Coates said many operators have to ship sand and uranium mineral to the mill to make yellowcake, his company can extract the uranium mineral and send it to the mill already separated from the sand.
“That’s its key advantage,” he said, pointing out that culling the waste prior to milling could mean a difference of shipping 50 tons of uranium instead of 1,000 tons of ore to the mill to achieve the same level of recovery. In other words, that 50 tons is the 50 tons that actually contains uranium, and 950 tons of waste need not be shipped from the point of mining.
“So there is no recovery penalty,” Coates said.
Additionally, he pointed out that it allows operators to extract lower-grade ore profitably.
“Some companies have – their numbers not ours – increased reserves by more than 100 percent,” he said. “It’s quite an exciting development.”
While he said up-front costs are difficult to pinpoint because every operators’ system would be built to scale, he said on the back end the capital costs to produce a pound of uranium can drop from $20-30 per pound down to about $1.40 per pound.
In 2012, the company attracted a small partner company called American Strategic Minerals Corp. to manufacture and operate the technology, but that company has since folded, unable to acquire funding for the joint venture. But since then, Ablation has attracted a joint-venture partner in Black Range Minerals Ltd., an Australian company based in Perth with U.S. offices in Colorado.
A uranium market “in the doldrums,” as Coates put it, has hampered his company or Black Range from finding major investors. Most operators, including smaller startups in Wyoming, have shied away from such capital improvements until the price of uranium improves.
“Our joint venture partner has found it very difficult to entice investors into any mineral market at this time except maybe precious metals,” Coates said, indicating the uranium technology market has seen “dismal” interest. “Lack of interest translates into a very difficult marketplace to try and entice investors.”
On the Web: http://www.ablation-tech.com.