Geoff Atkins, former managing director of Vital Metals, with a sample from the Nechalacho site. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
The company hoping to establish a rare-earth minerals mine east of Yellowknife says it expects to begin small-scale operations next year.
Rare earths like neodymium and praseodymiumare used in a range of energy-efficient products, such as the magnets in the motors that power electric vehicles.
Vital Metals says preparation of its Nechalacho site, on Thor Lake, will start in September and October then continue in the first three months of next year.
Vital says mining operations are expected to begin in April 2021, with work at a rare-earth extraction facility beginning in October 2021.
Geoff Atkins, the company’s managing director, last year told Cabin Radio he intended to create “a small-scale demonstration plant” at Nechalacho before the project eventually grows.
“The nature of the rare-earth business is such that we need to start small to prove to our customers that we’re able to provide a product,” he said in November 2019.
“By starting small, it enables us to move a lot faster than what you would with a typical operation.”
Vital’s latest update, issued last week, states a $3.7-million ore sorting plant is being manufactured that will sit within a 40-foot shipping container at the site.
The Nechalacho project had been inactive for years thanks to a previously quiet market for rare earth elements. In 2015, for example, some prices fell by as much as 50 percent – meaning almost no work took place at Nechalacho in 2016 and 2017.
Avalon Advanced Materials subsequently sold its Nechalacho near-surface mineral rights to a company named Cheetah Resources, which is now entirely owned by Vital Metals.
In the past, Avalon has suggested the cost of turning Nechalacho into a mine would be $1.5 billion, many times the cost of other projects farther south.
Atkins, though, has said Vital is “not looking to set up a large, typical mining operation.”
In 2019, he forecast around 30 people would be required at the site once it is operational.