Don't look for any mollycoddling of the earth here. Molycorp mines and produces lanthanide and molybdenum compounds, concentrates, and oxides using open-pit mining techniques. Lanthanides (which include cerium, lanthanum, and yttrium) are used in everything from cell phones and computers to X-ray film and television glass. The company is staking its future on the production of rare earth oxides (REOs). Molycorp went public in July 2010 with an initial public offering (IPO). Since its IPO, it has been making acquisitions and investing in joint ventures to further its growth. In its biggest takeover to date, Molycorp acquired rare earth processor Neo Material Technologies for about $1.3 billion in 2012.
The combination of the two companies broadens Molycorp's portfolio to include production of magnetic powders and rare metals such as gallium, indium, and rhenium, as well as zirconium oxide. It also gives Molycorp more exposure to Chinese markets. China now makes up about 70% of the global rare earth consumption. The acquisition allows Molycorp to expand its production capabilities to include Neo Material's magnet powder products, used to produce neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) bonded rare earth magnets -- the world's strongest magnets.
Molycorp is the only REO producer in the Western hemisphere and owns the world's largest rare earth project outside of China. Following a "mine-to-magnets" strategy, the company expects to be one of the world's top producers of rare earth products, including oxides, metals, alloys, and magnets. Rare earths are used in hybrid and electric vehicles, wind power turbines, fiber optics, lasers, disk drives, aviation guidance and control systems, global positioning systems, and advanced water treatment technology.
The company also launched the initial phase of its Project Phoenix rare earth manufacturing facility in California in 2012. It believes the plant will be the most technological advanced and energy-efficient rare earth facility in the world. The company expects to achieve an annual production rate of 19,050 metric tons of rare earth oxide equivalent in 2012.
In 2011 Molycorp, through a subsidiary, acquired a controlling stake in AS Silmet, one of only two REO processing facilities in Europe, in a deal valued at about $89 million. The acquisition provides Molycorp with its first European base of operations and doubles the company's current annual production capacity to 6,000 tons. Molycorp will process the output from its Mountain Pass, California, mine at the AS Silmet facility in Estonia, reducing that plant's dependence on REO materials sourced from China.
Molycorp also acquired the rare-earth alloy and metal producer Santoku America for $17.5 million in 2011. Arizona-based Santoku America was a subsidiary of Japanese company Santoku Corp. The acquisition allows Molycorp to begin manufacturing and selling rare earth alloys for use in magnets found in electric and hybrid cars, wind turbines, electronics, and other applications.
In late 2011 Molycorp, Daido Steel, and Mitsubishi announced plans for a joint venture to make and sell neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) permanent rare earth magnets. The joint venture with a 30%, 35.5%, and 34.5% ownership respectively is scheduled to be operational in 2013. The company will use a new approach, licensed from Intermetallics (another Daido and Mitsubishi joint venture), to manufacture the magnets for motors in electric and hybrid vehicles, wind power generators, and home and industrial applications.
Molycorp has an estimated total proven reserves of 88 million pounds and probable reserves of more than 2 billion pounds of REO. The company's Mountain Pass facility, when its upgrade is completed, will have the ability to mine, crush, mill, and separate rare earth ore to produce individual rare earth elements (REE). Global consumption of REEs is projected to steadily increase due to continuing growth in existing applications and increased innovation and development of new end uses.
Resource Capital Funds owns some 32% of Molycorp following its IPO. Sumitomo Corp. invested $130 million in the company for a guaranteed seven-year supply of REOs.