Canada’s first rare earths producer reports first run at plant beats expectations

Vital Metals became the first rare earth producer in Canada by starting ore production from the Nechalacho project in the Northwest Territories in June 2021. Credit: Vital Metals

Vital Metals (ASX: VML) has reported that results from the first feed of the dense media separation (DMS) unit at its Saskatoon rare earths extraction facility in Saskatchewan, Canada, is comparable to the TREO grade achieved from laboratory metallurgical testwork in its first run.

The company is the first rare earth producer in Canada and the second in North America, besides California’s Mountain Pass mine. Vital is processing ore from the company’s Nechalacho operation in Canada’s Northwest Territories, where mining began in mid-2021.

Vital’s Saskatoon plant will have initial throughput capacity of 1,000 tonnes per year of rare earth oxide (REO) excluding cerium, which is equivalent to ~470t NdPr/year.

Results show the DMS plant Sinks achieved comparable grades to those seen in testwork, with 43.7% total rare earth oxide (TREO) achieved from the DMS Cyclone at Saskatoon, compared to 44.6% TREO achieved in laboratory conditions at SGS.

The DMS unit also achieved 75.2% recovery in its first run for a single pass, processing ~2,300kg of concentrate mined at Vital’s Nechalacho rare earth project, sorted onsite and then crushed at the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) facility adjacent to Vital’s Saskatoon plant as part of a rare earths hub.

“The fact that on the first run we hit the laboratory test grades for total rare earths with 75% recovery with low grade feed material is above expectations,” Vital Metals managing director Geoff Atkins said in a media statement.

“There will be work to do with optimising our process over the coming months but these initial results demonstrate incredible potential. It gives us a great level of confidence for future commissioning activities through the remaining process,” Atkins said.

“We look forward to continuing our commissioning process with the production of our 2.5T qualification sample followed by production ramp-up.”