LINCOLN — A Canadian firm has enlisted one of the world's foremost authorities in mining rare metals to help develop a $300 million mine proposed in southeast Nebraska.
Quantum Rare Earth Developments Corp. announced Monday that Mark A. Smith has joined the company's advisory board, and that the firm's name will be changed to NioCorp Developments Ltd.
The company wants to mine niobium, a valuable steel-hardener, found in deposits 500 feet deep near Elk Creek, Neb.
Drilling of test bores in that area, 70 miles south of Omaha, ceased last summer. A Quantum Rare Earth official said Monday that $10 million to $20 million must be raised to restart testing to verify deposits they label as “the highest grade undeveloped niobium deposit in North America.”
Smith, a former chief executive officer and president of Chevron Mining, was involved in the original mine explorations in southeast Nebraska in the 1970s and 1980s with Molycorp Inc. He was more recently involved in the world's largest niobium mine in Brazil, which now provides 85 percent of the world's supply.
The addition of Smith will not only aid in finding investors, but in developing the mine to production, said Peter Dickie, president and CEO of Quantum Rare Earth, which is based in Vancouver, British Columbia.
It represents, Dickie said, “a tremendous vote of confidence” for the project.
“He's well connected to the niobium scene,” he said. “He's going to attract a lot more significant investors that will help us develop this project.”
A local member of the Quantum Rare Earth advisory board, former State Sen. Tony Fulton of Lincoln, echoed Dickie's comments.
“This is great news for southeast Nebraska and Nebraska in general,” Fulton said.
Niobium is used to harden steel and make steel more heat-resistant when, for instance, it's used on the afterburners of jet airplanes.
There's been exploration of deposits of niobium and rare earth minerals in southeast Nebraska off and on over the past 40 years.
In 2010, Quantum Rare Earth signed five-year leases with farmers in the Elk Creek and Steinauer, Neb., areas to drill and re-explore the deposits. That gives some urgency in moving ahead with the project.
Dickie said the economic downturn had dulled interest in the mine, but that recently, he's seen an uptick in contacts from potential investors.
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