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Noranda Bauxite and Alumina is seen in Gramercy on Thursday, March 28, 2019. (Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Bonds have been approved to help finance a new $850 million facility that would recycle red mud pond waste from an  alumina plant in St. James Parish.

The board of trustees for the Louisiana Public Facilities Authority, a quasi-public agency that provides bond financing for development of public and private projects, approved a "significant allocation" of tax-exempt private activity bonds that will be used to fund the construction of the new facility in St. James Parish. 

The value of the bonds has not yet been determined, and will be issued in the next few years. The authorization by the board is for no more than $850 million, according to the Louisiana Public Facilities Authority. A public hearing is expected to be scheduled soon. Governor John Bel Edwards approved private activity bonds up to $250 million for the project so far. 

ElementUS is a joint venture between DADA Holdings, which owns New Day Aluminum and operates Noranda Alumina in Gramercy, and Toronto-based green technology business Enervoxa.

ElementUS would extract critical rare earth elements from the residue after bauxite is smelted to draw out the raw material used to make aluminum. 

The companies expect to make a final investment decision by the end of the year. In the meantime, the joint venture partners have raised equity stakes in the project. 

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Some rare earth elements are critical in making consumer products such as batteries, magnets, smartphones and flat-screen televisions but also industrial products such as refining catalysts, aircraft engines, electric vehicles and medical scanning equipment.

The new plant would hire 200 workers and construction would support 2,200 jobs over two years. 

During the alumina extraction process, much more red mud residue is produced than metal. For every 1 ton of alumina produced, upwards of 1.2 tons of red sludge is created.

There are 35 million tons of mineral-rich bauxite residue at the 3,300-acre Gramercy site, the companies said. The residue contains 10 rare earth elements and 15 minerals — among them titanium, iron and other metals — that have been identified as strategic and critical by the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency. That assessment suggests a robust market for materials extracted at the site. 

The facility is expected to process 1 million tons each year.


Email Kristen Mosbrucker at kmosbrucker@theadvocate.com.