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The anticipated three-year rare earths demonstration project at the Nechalacho site on Thor Lake, southeast of Yellowknife, is set to begin operations in 2021, according to a news release issued by the company on July 16.

Geoff Atkins, left, managing director of Vital Metals, stands alongside Don Bubar, CEO of Avalon Advanced Materials, at a Rotary Club of Yellowknife meeting in early 2019. Atkins announced that his company’s low-scale rare earths demonstration project will begin in summer 2021. 
NNSL file photo

“We have adopted a completely different strategy to traditional rare earths developers with a focus on low-cost, near-term cash flow,” Geoff Atkins, managing director of Vital Metals, said in a statement.

“The completion of detailed engineering for the ore sorting plant, with defined capital and operating costs, confirms that Vital remains on track with this strategy, with production due to commence in 2021.

“We look forward to commencing production next year, making Vital the world’s next rare earth producer.”

The project has been touted as unique because it will involve a sensor-based ore sorting plant that will screen and separate the rare earths elements from the ore and crush it in an environmentally clean way – meaning no water or chemicals will be used in the process.

The main focus of the project will be to process neodymium and praseodymium, which have been identified close to the surface in the Nechalacho area – 100 km southeast of Yellowknife. Both rare earths elements are in short supply worldwide in batteries and electric car engines and other products.

Vital Metals owns 100 per cent of the subsidiary overseeing the project – Cheetah Resources Canada – which received final approval of its two land use permits and its water licence from the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board in March.

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According to the company’s July 16 media announcement, mining operations  at the site will begin as early as April 2021 and run into October of next year.

This is to be preceded by “site establishment and preparation works” from this September into next spring, the finalization of a mining contract from September 2020 to Jan. 2021 and mobilization of the mining fleet to the site.

Next year will also see sorting operations commencing, the construction of a rare earths facility and facility operations starting.

In the meantime, there will be preparation and construction of the base for the sorting facility.

“This winter, a winter road will be constructed to deliver additional equipment including the sensor base sorting facility,” explained David Connelly spokesperson with the company. “Extraction of the bulk sample (of the rare earths) will begin next spring with the sensor base sorting to start shortly thereafter.”

The first export of rare earths is expected to occur by barge before freeze up in 2021.

The company states that the project will provide employment for 20 to 25 NWT workers and will impact residents of Lutsel K’e, Fort Resolution, Ndilo, Dettah and Yellowknife.

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Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. He came from Prince Edward County, Ont., and obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University...

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