Signal of Ottawa support for Canada's rare earths supply chain Metal Tech News - January 18, 2023
In a show of support for Canadian production of the minerals critical to clean energy technologies, Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Vital Metals Ltd.'s rare earth processing facility in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
"The world wants clean technology, and Canada has the resources, the expertise, and the skilled workers to meet that demand," Trudeau said during his Jan. 16 stop in Saskatchewan. "By developing and processing our critical minerals here in Canada – the first step in the clean technology supply chain – we can create good middle-class jobs all while keeping our air clean for generations to come."
Leveraging its advantageous locale and the brain power of the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC), Saskatoon has established itself as a vital link in Canada's rare earths supply chain –transforming ore and other mixed rare earths products into the individual elements essential to modern technologies.
This is why Vital Metals selected Saskatoon as the site for a rare earth processing plant that upgrades ore from the company's Nechalacho Mine in Northwest Territories, the first rare earths operation in Canada.
The mixed rare earths product produced at Vital's Saskatoon plant will be sold to European, Canadian and American facilities that will separate the product into the individual rare earth elements needed for electric vehicles, wind turbines, and a wide range of other high-tech and consumer goods.
"People are realizing that this extraordinary transformation toward more electric vehicles, more advanced high-tech solutions in everything we do, requires more access to advanced materials and rare earth elements," Trudeau said while visiting Vitals' rare earth processing plant being developed in Saskatoon's industrial sector. "That's why the world is looking to Canada, because Canada has incredible amounts of critical minerals and rare earth elements that the world needs."
More information on the rare earths processing hub being established in Saskatchewan can be read at A rare earth supply chain master link in the September 23, 2022 edition of Metal Tech News.
During his visit to the rare earths processing plant in Saskatchewan, Trudeau emphasized the need to develop Canada's incredible minerals wealth "in partnership and respect with Indigenous people."
Indigenous participation and environmental stewardship have been priorities for Vital since it began establishing a Canadian rare earths supply chain with the development of the Nechalacho Mine.
One of the reasons Vital chose Nechalacho in the first place is the project hosts very high-grade rare earths ore that comes to the surface. This meant that the company could quickly begin producing critical rare earths with a very small environmental footprint.
Nahanni Construction, a Northwest Territories-based dirt-moving company majority-owned by the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, began mining this near-surface, high-grade ore in 2021.
The ore dug up by Nahanni is fed through a TOMRA X-ray transmission (XRT) sorter, which can upgrade the already high-grade ore at Nechalacho to a concentrate that runs above 30% rare earth oxides by simply identifying and separating the rocks with rare earths in them.
Without the need for a complex processing facility or tailings storage, this mining and ore upgrade process at Nechalacho is akin to a gravel quarry – simply mine and crush near-surface rock and sort out the best material with little or no water and zero chemicals.
Maximizing the social benefits and minimizing the environmental impacts is expected to make the rare earths now being produced in Canada sought after by automakers and tech companies that are prioritizing the ESG credentials of the commodities they buy.
"Environmental responsibility is top of mind. One of the things we've consistently heard, whether it's talking to big companies like Volkswagen, big American companies looking to invest in Canada, they want to know that the processes are as green as possible," Trudeau said.
The upgraded ore from this process is then bagged up and shipped via barge and train to the Saskatoon plant toured by the Canadian Prime Minister.
To keep pace with the growing demand for responsibly mined and processed rare earths, especially the neodymium and praseodymium needed for the rare earth magnets that go into highly efficient EV motors, Vital Metals Managing Director John Dorward said the company is now looking at scaling up its Canadian rare earths supply chain.
"Canadian rare earths are critical for powering Canada's transition to the green and digital economy for our own industry, our friends and our allies," said Dorward. "We are engaging with our stakeholders about plans to expand mining operations and value-added processing from 500 tonnes (metric tons) per year of NdPr to potentially 4,000 tonnes to meet ever-growing demand."
Vital first unveiled a strategy for scaling up rare earth operations in December. This work begins with plans to expand operations at Nechalacho.
Vital says its expansion plans are being guided by Canada's recently unveiled critical minerals strategy, and the company will continue to "work closely with Canada to build the rare earth extraction and processing value chains to supply the green and emerging industries of Canada and its aligned countries."
"Much of the reason that we have been able to advance our vision has been due to the support of the Government of Canada," Dorward said.
Trudeau's visit to the Saskatoon rare earth processing plant is a signal of Ottawa's ongoing support for Vital's vision of establishing an expanded rare earths supply chain in Canada.
Further details of Vital Metals' plans to expand rare earths mining at Nechalacho can be read at A Vital pivot in rare earths strategy in the January 6, 2023 edition of North of 60 Mining News.