About 80-85% of North America’s rare earths supply currently comes from China, a situation that is becoming untenable, given the US-China trade war tensions and coronavirus pandemic.
Shutdowns to manufacturing plants in China that could potentially cut off rare earths imports shone a spotlight on the fact that North America is reliant on China for its rare earths needs.
Canada and the US in 2019 finalized the Canada-US Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration, aimed to advance the countries’ mutual interest in securing domestic rare earths supply chains. The only actively producing rare earths mine in North America is Mountain Pass in California, but the asset is owned by Chinese interests.
Of the 35 minerals and metals the US deemed critical earlier this year, Canada was identified as a major import source for 13.
The $14 billion-a-year rare earth magnet market is being driven mainly by electric vehicles, wind generators, medical devices, smartphones, and aerospace and defense applications.
Canadian uranium explorer Appia Energy (CSE: API) has made a discovery at its 100% owned, 14,334 – hectare Alces Lake property in Saskatchewan that could fill the gap in the North American rare earths markets.
Alces Lake is located north of Lake Athabasca and the Athabasca Basin, about 34 km east of Uranium City and 135 km west of Stony Rapids.
The deposit, according to the company, hosts some of the highest rare earth elements (REE) mineralization in the world, hosted within a number of surface and near surface occurrences that remain open at depth and along strike. At a 4 wt% total rare earth oxide cutoff, Alces Lake average grade is 16.65 wt% Total Rare Earth Oxides (TREO).
“Of global rare earths deposits, Alces Lake has the potential to be no. 2 in terms of grade, it’s one of the richest prospects in the world,” Tom Drivas, CEO, Appia Energy told MINING.COM.
“Our project contains one mineral, which is monazite. With monazite, the processing is well known, we don’t think there will be any challenges with extracting and processing the rare earths – with 99-100% monazite – it makes it simple,” Drivas said.
The monazite, Drivas said, is enriched in valuable critical rare earth elements, namely neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium, and terbium. These four elements account for between 23-25% of the TREO, or ~85% of the potential value at Alces Lake.
At a 16 wt% average grade, Alces Lake grades well above what is required to make the project viable economically, Drivas said.
“To have a successful rare earths project, you need to have the right mix of rare earths, and what we have here is the praseodymium, which is the critical rare earths, about 25% of those could represent 80-85% of the deposit.”
“You need to be in the right environment, and unless you’re in the right jurisdiction you won’t be able to explore or mine,” he said.
Appia will also have the ability to process – the Saskatchewan Research Council has a pilot plant where the company can process up to 2,000 tonnes a year.
“At Alces Lake, the number of zones surface and sub surface, about 20 metres from surface, contain up to 80-85% monazite. This is unheard of in the industry – it is exciting,” Drivas said.
Appia is launching its summer exploration drilling program in June- July, piggybacking on existing permits – and with all necessary applications in the pipeline.
“We think Alces Lake could supply Canada and North America in terms of rare earths feed,” Drivas said. “We’d like to get to the initial resource, and move to the next level as soon as possible. ”