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Rare Earth Salts is one step closer to launching a pilot plant in Beatrice following an announcement this week that it has successfully tested a commercial-size “separation cell.”

The startup plans to use new techniques to harvest rare earth elements from would-be mining waste from around the world.

A pilot program, a smaller-scale plant to demonstrate the feasibility of the process, has been in the works to harvest these rare earth elements. This plant would consist of several “cells” separating the elements.

Company officials have been working with a single full-sized cell, and CEO Joseph Brewer said this cell produced as expected, reinforcing his belief a pilot plant would be successful.

“The scale components for us are a necessary piece to decide if we want to move forward or not,” he said. “We have confidence in the technology moving forward.”

What scientists call the rare earths, a group of 17 elements on the periodic table, are readily found in the earth’s crust, similar to copper or cobalt. They are not easily separated, however, leading to the name.

Once removed, the elements are used largely in electronics, such as cell phone screens.

It was previously estimated launching the pilot program would cost $10 million. Brewer said the company is in the fundraising phase to launch the plant, which he hopes will be operational later this year.

“Right now we’re in our planning phase doing equipment design, process design and we’re also in the process of raising operational capital for the demonstration plant,” Brewer said. “We’re also right now working through different logistic aspects and trying to develop relationship with partners to get material from.”

When the plant is operational, Brewer said mining concentrate will be brought to Beatrice by truck, most likely.

Brewer said it’s currently unknown how many cells a plant would consist of.

“The number of cells depends,” he said. “That’s a lot of what the commercial demonstration facility is for, determining those numbers on a full commercial system.”

Brewer added that the news its test cell performed as expected is a positive step, but the company still has a long road ahead.

“We are very excited about it and for us, as much as it is exiting we’re moving into a different phase,” he said. “On a business side moving to the next phase is always a little scary, too. There’s new hurdles and challenges to face for the research and development team. Now we have a different set of challenges on us.

“It’s guarded optimism, I would say. As exciting as it is we try not to relish in it too long and realize there’s a lot of work that has to be done.”

Reach Scott Koperski at scott.koperski@beatricedailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottKoperski.

Reach Scott Koperski at scott.koperski@beatricedailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottKoperski.

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