Saskatchewan rare earths plant on its way
SRC anticipates REE facility will be fully operational by 2024 Metal Tech News – September 1, 2021
Last updated 9/7/2021 at 2:56pm
A year after the Saskatchewan government announced that it is investing C$31 million in a rare earths processing facility in the Canadian province, construction of this important segment in Canada's burgeoning REE supply chain is well underway.
"Saskatchewan's new rare earth processing facility will be a catalyst to stimulate the resource sector in Saskatchewan and across Canada, providing the early-stage supply chain needed to generate cash-flow, investment and industrial growth of the sector," Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said following last year's funding announcement.
Saskatchewan Research Council, which will own and operate the rare earths processing plant, says the first stage of this plant is well underway.
"With its world-leading REE expertise, SRC is already working with industrial partners to develop company-specific REE concentration facilities in Saskatchewan, which is the precursor process to full REE processing," said Saskatchewan Research Council President and CEO Mike Crabtree. "This facility will allow for an environmentally sustainable, reliable, and strategic supply of REEs to be produced outside of China."
A private sector landlord is handling the construction of the building that will host the rare earths processing facility at an industrial park in Saskatoon, the largest city in Saskatchewan.
This large industrial building will be leased to SRC, which is currently working on the design and procurement of the highly specialized plant equipment for the REE separation facility.
The first stage of this facility will include a plant to process monazite sands, which are primarily a source of the light rare earths such as cerium, lanthanum, praseodymium, neodymium.
An intermediate mixed rare earth product will be produced from the monazite processing unit and then be upgraded into separated rare earth oxides in a solvent extraction unit as the market requires.
SRU expects the monazite processing unit to be operational in early 2023 and the separation unit of the facility is slated to be ready by mid-2024.
Earlier this year, SRC secured up to 800 metric tons of monazite concentrate from Indústrias Nucleares do Brasil's mine and processing facility in Brazil. Slated to be delivered to the Saskatchewan facility in the spring of 2022, this monazite concentrate will be used as a feedstock for the monazite processing facility once operational.
SRC says its facility will require roughly 3,000 metric tons of monazite per year and the Canadian research and technology firm continues to source additional preconcentrated monazite globally prior to commissioning.
The Saskatchewan-based research and technology firm says this facility is the initial phase of a larger plan to establish an REE technology hub. SRC is currently developing the capabilities to produce ingots, magnets, and alloys from the rare earths that come out of its facility.
A key part of SRC's facility includes having a strong logistical plan around the shipping of monazite that requires specialized expertise from a regulatory and procedural perspective.
To this end, SRC has procured the services of a local-to-Saskatchewan, international shipping company, TAM International, who have extensive experience shipping specialized materials. TAM will be providing important logistical and strategic support to SRC throughout the project.
"TAM International is proud to be working with SRC on this incredibly important and strategic project," said TAM International CEO Kurtis Hinz. "Our vast experience in this international market combined with our deep roots here in the province has naturally led to a master services agreement that will assist in developing this project collaboratively."
In addition to developing its own REE facility, SRC has signed an agreement to provide technical support for the construction and operation of Vital Metals Ltd.'s rare earth extraction plant, which is being built near SRC's facility.
Australia-based Vital Metals' Saskatchewan facility will produce rare earth carbonate products from concentrates produced at its Nechalacho project in Northwest Territories.
In June, First Nations mining contractor Nahanni Construction Ltd. began mining high-grade rare earths ore at Nechalacho and in July, Cheetah Resources Corp., Vital Metals' Canadian subsidiary began upgrading the ore to a concentrate with a sensor-based ore sorter at Nechalacho.
Vital will transport this upgraded rare earths material to their Saskatoon-based rare earth extraction plant later this year. This makes Vital Metals the first rare earths producer in Canada and only the second in North America.
SRC's facility could also be a boon for Appia Energy Corp., which is exploring Alces Lake, a high-grade REE and gallium project in the Athabasca Basin area of northern Saskatchewan.
Renowned for the extremely high-grade rare earths that have been discovered there, Alces Lake has also emerged as a potential source of gallium, a critical metal used in next-generation smartphones and communication networks, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), thin-film solar cells, and medical devices.
An electron microprobe study conducted by SRC showed the gallium at Alces Lake is in the same monazite mineral that carries the rare earths there, which bodes well for REE-gallium co-production.
Though Alces Lake is still in the early stages of exploration, the REEs and gallium found in monazite located in Saskatchewan make this an exciting future source of feedstock for the new processing facility being developed by SRC.