The Australia-based company setting up shop at Nechalacho is hoping to employ local labour to run a work program there this summer.
Longtime proprietor Avalon Advanced Materials Inc. finalized an agreement on June 24 with Cheetah Resources Pty Ltd., an Australian company that was acquired by Vital Metals Ltd. the next day, for Cheetah to obtain the near-surface rights to the project.
“The arrangement with Vital is that all of the project team with Cheetah remains in place, so there’s no change there,” said Geoff Atkins, who has moved from Cheetah to being managing director of Vital Metals, adding that this deal brings the project the funding it needs to progress.
Atkins was a member of the Cheetah team who met with potential project partners in Yellowknife earlier this year.
Cheetah is focussed on developing neodymium and praseodymium, both short in supply worldwide and in demand for technologies such as electric car engines.
These minerals are present near the surface at the Nechalacho site, 100 km southeast of Yellowknife at Thor Lake. The team will operate a work program this summer to confirm the resources at the site and test the technology to help them prepare for possibly mining those minerals.
If the project progresses as planned, the team intends to operate a low-cost, small-scale project there that will not use water or chemicals to process the ore.
The ore will be crushed and then machine-sorted, leaving behind just sand as a byproduct.
Atkins said a similar process has been used successfully in the diamond industry and that recent changes in the technology has made it more applicable to a broader range of projects, such as what may take place at Nechalacho.
“That’s something that’s very exciting, providing the opportunity for far more sustainable work programs on the right mine sites.”
While both Cheetah and Vital are Australian companies, and Avalon is based out of Toronto, the team intends to partner with local businesses as much as possible this summer and onwards.
“We see this as a huge opportunity for local work. With a project like this, realistically it should involve the local community,”said Atkins.
“We don’t want to have to bring people in from outside. With the nature of the project, truthfully, I believe that for it to be successful, it has to be done in partnership with local community.”
The core team from Cheetah all worked before at Lynas Corporation Ltd., an Australian rare earths developer, and all have more than 10 years’ experience working in rare earths projects.
Avalon retains ownership of the mineral resources below 150 metres above sea level and will remain actively involved both in Cheetah’s work and in further exploration on the site.
It will provide management services to Cheetah, in the geological, community and Indigenous relations and environmental areas.
Avalon president and CEO Don Bubar called the project, and the collaboration agreement, “innovative”in a news release announcing the final deal with Cheetah.
“With China now controlling at least 80 per cent of global rare earth supply, and threatening to restrict exports, new domestic supply chains to serve the North American market must be created to reduce reliance on supplies of rare earths from China,”stated Bubar.