Just days after President Donald Trump's government announced niobium, scandium and titanium as officially "critical minerals" to the US, the mine developer has awarded a major contract to Rockwell industrial giant Automation (NYSE:ROK).
Rockwell is set to engineer, design and procure the process automation and instrumentation for NioCorp’s mining and processing facility at Elk Creek, where these three metals are expected to be produced as early as 2021.
“We selected Rockwell Automation and its partners to automate our process equipment and power control systems with the goals of optimizing material handling and processing, increasing efficiencies and reducing time to market,” said Mark Smith, executive chairman and chief executive at NioCorp.
"Their combination of industry expertise, proven methodologies and advanced automation technology should help us develop a truly world-class mine that can initiate the first-ever greenfield mining and processing of niobium and scandium in the United States."
Rockwell will be the main automation contractor for this project, and the system integration will be provided through its MAVERICK Technologies firm, which specializes in process automation solutions.
The three critical materials are used in the aerospace, defense, automotive, clean energy and commercial aviation sectors and currently, the US is currently 100% dependent on foreign nations to provide them.
Elk Creek is known to be the highest-grade niobium deposit in North America and once in full-scale production, it is expected to produce more than 7,000 tonnes of ferroniobium, 103 tonnes of scandium trioxide and over 11,000 tonnes of titanium dioxide each year, with a 32-year operating life.
The pre-tax net present value (NPV) has been pegged at US$2.3bn at an 8% discount rate, with an internal rate of return (IRR) of 24.3%.
NioCorp shares closed in Toronto on Friday 25% higher at C$0.65 on the day.