Rare earths are now being mined in Canada
Historic milestone reached with first scoop of Nechalacho ore Metal Tech News – July 7, 2021
Last updated 7/12/2022 at 12:37pm
On June 28, First Nations mining contractor Nahanni Construction Ltd. dug a scoop of ore from the North T open pit at Vital Metals Ltd.'s Nechalacho project in Northwest Territories that marked a momentous milestone – Canada is now a rare earths-producing nation.
This first REE ore mined at Nechalacho comes just two years after Australia-based Vital came up with a unique plan to take advantage of relatively small but high-grade mineralization coming to the surface at the project to rapidly produce the rare earths widely used in today's high-tech devices.
North T has 101,000 metric tons of resources averaging 9.01% total rare earth oxides, compared to other global deposits that tend to average around 1% TREO or less.
The high-grade North T ore being mined by Nahanni Construction will be further upgraded with an ore sorter delivered to Nechalacho this spring.
Working with Nahanni Construction Ltd., a Northwest Territories-based company 51% owned by Det'on Cho Corporation, which is in turn owned by the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.
"The Yellowknives Dene First Nation is pleased to be the first Indigenous group in Canada to be responsible for mineral extraction on their traditional territory," Yellowknives Dene First Nations Chief Ernest Betsina said earlier this year. "When indigenous people conduct the mining operations, they are better able to control the process, resulting in better safeguarding of the environment."
Without the need for a complex ore processing facility, the coming Nechalacho Mine is something akin to a gravel quarry – simply mine and crush near surface rock and sort out the best material to be transported.
Tests of the x-ray transmission (XRT) ore sorting technology being used upgraded Nechalacho material with an average grade of 10.5% rare earth oxides to a rough concentrate averaging 36% REO, while retaining about 70% of the available rare earths.
In June, Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor) announced that it had extended a 0%, C$1.26 million loan to Cheetah to help fund the establishment of ore-sorting technology at Nechalacho.
With ore now being mined from the North T pit, Cheetah Resource Corp., Vital's Canada-based subsidiary, can begin upgrading the ore into even higher-grade concentrates that will be shipped to Vital's rare earth carbonate production plant adjacent to Saskatchewan Research Council's REE processing facility in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
"We will continue to ramp up crushing and ore sorting with full production rates expected to be achieved in July," said Vital Metals Managing Director Geoff Atkins. "Beneficiated material will be stockpiled for transport to our extraction plant in Saskatoon."
Mixed rare earth carbonate products produced in Saskatchewan will be further upgraded into rare earth oxides that go into electric vehicles, wind turbines, computer hard drives, and a plethora of other high-tech devices.
REEtec, a Norway-based company that has developed an efficient and environmentally sound REE separation technology, has entered into a contract to produce 1,000 metric tons of separated rare earth oxides annually, not counting the cerium, over the first five years.
With plans in the works to grow the scale of its operations at Nechalacho, Vital's offtake and profit-sharing agreement with REEtec provides the companies with an option to increase this offtake volume up to 5,000 metric tons of rare earth oxides per year, minus the cerium.
Overall, the Upper Zone at Nechalacho hosts 94.7 million metric tons of measured and indicated resources averaging 1.46% (1.3 million metric tons) total rare earth oxides. Drilling carried out early this year has begun to define other high-grade zones that will provide ore for a planned stage-2 expansion at Nechalacho.
In the meantime, ore being mined and processed from North T marks exciting achievements for Vital, Canada, and its First Nations.
"We look forward to keeping the market updated throughout the ramp up process in what is a very significant milestone for the company and North America," said Atkins.