NioCorp Developments CEO Mark Smith talks to a group of investors during a tour on Oct. 6, 2021, about the prospects for a proposed mine the company hopes to build near Elk Creek in southeast Nebraska. NioCorp has signed a deal with a major automaker to sell the rare earth elements it hopes to produce to help Stellantis make more electric vehicles. NioCorp announced the tentative deal Thursday, July 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Josh Funk, File)

OMAHA, Neb. — The Colorado company that wants to mine for critical minerals in southeast Nebraska has signed a deal with Stellantis, giving the automaker access to the rare earth elements used to produce high-powered magnets needed for its electric vehicles.

Centennial-based NioCorp announced the tentative agreement with the automaker whose brands include Chrysler, Alfa Romeo and Maserati on Thursday. The companies didn’t disclose how much Stellantis will pay because those details are still being negotiated, but this deal with such a high-profile buyer will likely provide a boost to NioCorp’s effort to raise $1.1 billion to establish the mine about 80 miles south of Omaha near the town of Elk Creek.

It’s also not clear just how much of the highly sought-after elements Stellantis would be able to buy as part of this agreement because NioCorp is still working to determine whether it will be make economic sense to produce the neodymium-praseodymium oxide, dysprosium oxide, and terbium oxide used to make magnets. The proposed mine’s main product would be niobium that’s used to make steel lighter and stronger.

But most of the rare earth elements available today are produced in China, so President Joe Biden has been pressing for more of them to be mined domestically.

“This could really turbocharge our project financing and help to accelerate moving the project to construction and eventual commercial operation,” NioCorp CEO Mark Smith said.

NioCorp has raised more than $80 million since 2013 to explore the site, but development of the project dates back to the 1970s when a different company first started drilling samples. The proposed mine is expected to create over 400 jobs if it is built.

The Colorado company still has a long ways to go to raise the $1.1 billion it needs to establish the mine. But NioCorp officials are optimistic because they have applied for up to $800 million in financing from the Export-Import Bank of the United States, which is in the process of reviewing the mining company’s applications.

NioCorp Chief Operating Officer Scott Honan tells a group of investors during a tour of the site on Oct. 6, 2021, about the plans for a proposed mine near Elk Creek in southeast Nebraska. (AP Photo/Josh Funk, File)

NioCorp also said Stellantis will consider investing in the mine, but that won’t be decided until after the companies finalize the rare earth purchase agreement.

Stellantis’ Maxime Picat said in a statement that this agreement should help the automaker meet its goals to produce more electric vehicles and cut its carbon emissions.

Currently, America imports all the niobium and scandium and most of the titanium and rare earths that NioCorp hopes to produce. The only U.S. mine that produces rare earths now is run by MP Materials in Mountain Pass, California.

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