Australia’s Vital Metals (ASX: VML) is getting ready to kick off mining operations at its Nechalacho rare earths project in Canada’s Northwest Territories, which will make it the country’s first producer of the elements used in magnets for electric vehicles, aerospace, defence and electronics.
The Sydney-based company, which will also be the second rare earths miner in North America, said that the mining fleet had been mobilized to the site this week. It noted that mining contractor Det’on Cho Nahanni Construction will start operations at the North T zone within the next few days.
“We have been progressively achieving all the steps necessary to commence mining and rare earths production at Nechalacho over the past 12 months, and mobilization of the mining fleet is another important milestone,” Vital Metals’ managing director Geoff Atkins said in the statement.
The company plans to build the rare earths mine in two stages, focusing on the North T zone resource first. In a second stage, Vital will target the much larger Tardiff deposit.
The North T zone will be mined as a small open-pit operation, with the material then transported to the company’s on-site ore sorter. The product will then be sent for further processing at a rare earth extraction plant to be built in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
The contractor is expected to undertake mining and crushing in a single campaign between March and September this year, with mined ore to be stockpiled for use in ore sorting operations between 2021 and 2023.
A second mining campaign will be required in 2024 to replenish stockpiles, the company said.
The news come on the heels of the company’s completion of a $33.2 million (A$43m) institutional placement to fund the mine’s development.
Vital aims to produce a minimum of 5,000 tonnes of contained rare earth oxide by 2025. The company has inked an offtake deal with REEtec for Stage 1 production at Nechalacho, with the supply of 1,000 t/y for an initial five-year period.
Earlier this month, privately-held USA Rare Earth invested in Search Minerals Inc’s rare earths project in Newfoundland, eastern Canada.
While USA Rare Earth already controls a rare earth deposit in Texas, executives said they wanted access to more of the minerals used to make electronics and weapons.
“You can’t just rely on projects in the US for supply,” Pini Althaus, USA Rare Earth’s CEO said at the time. “You have to collaborate with Canada.”
The US Department of Commerce has launched a program to help American miners and battery makers expand into Canada. The move is part of a strategy to boost regional production of minerals used to make EVs and counter Chinese market dominance.