The owner of the NWT’s first rare earths mine will take part in a Saskatchewan ceremony on Tuesday to celebrate the province’s role as a “continental hub” for the industry.
Vital Metals is building an extraction facility in Saskatoon that will take concentrated ore from the territory’s Nechalacho mine, east of Yellowknife, and turn it into a carbonate for export – initially to Norwegian firm Reetec, Vital’s first client.
The company has been given a $5-million federal loan to help build the facility. The Saskatchewan government is building a rare earths processing plant next door – which does a slightly different job – for $55 million.
Nechalacho has been operational since 2021. It is Canada’s first operating rare earths mine, a fact highlighted by Vital in a news release celebrating progress at the Saskatchewan facilities. Its extraction plant remains under construction, but Vital has begun shipping ore to the province by rail via Hay River. The plant is expected to fully launch by the last quarter of 2022, Vital said earlier this month.
Dignitaries will tour Vital’s plant on Tuesday amid a day-long series of events related to the industry.
“The world is watching us,” stated David Connelly, Vital’s vice-president of strategy and corporate affairs, in Tuesday’s news release, calling Nechalacho and the Saskatoon extraction facility “the cornerstones of an independent mine-to-motor supply chain.”
Vital sacked its managing director, Geoff Atkins, last month, with no reason given for the dismissal. The company said on September 8 an “international search is under way” for a replacement.
The company is also hoping to secure deals with German car manufacturers after talks earlier this month.
Rare earths are considered important for various forms of green technology, despite the environmental footprint involved in extracting them. Canada labels them critical minerals, meaning the creation of a supply chain within the country is considered to be in the national interest.