It’s a First for Everything - What’s that Earth Worth?

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June 17, 2022

GNWT samples material from first Rare Earth Elements mine in the Northwest Territories


The shipment of 501 sacks of rare earth concentrate barged across Great Slave Lake from the Nechalacho Mine last fall marked a number of firsts.

Not only were these the first Rare Earth Elements (REE) mined in the Northwest Territories, but the milestone also made Cheetah Resources Corp. (a Canadian subsidiary of Australian company Vital Metals Ltd.), the first producer of REE in Canada.


This article is included in the Unlocking Our Potential Newsletter – being made available to delegates, this week at PDAC 2022.   You can download our June 2022 edition here


Now the territorial government is working for the first time to calculate a value for the group of 17 chemical elements — used in electronics, clean energy, aerospace and defence industries — to enable royalty collection.


“The extraction of Rare Earth Elements is uncommon in Canada and there is no established trading hub for this set of commodities to establish their worth,” says Hendrik Falck, Manager of Geology and Resource Royalty Policy for the GNWT Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI).

So, in October 2021, staff from ITI’s Diamonds, Royalty and Financial Analysis division took 500 grams (about two baking cups) of the red earth from each sack.


Territorial mining legislation mandates that the government verify reported values of all exported mineral resources. But because the value of REE is decided after the elements are separately processed from the raw concentrate, existing models for valuing minerals like gold, copper or zinc aren’t applicable here.


There’s also a lack of processing capacity for REE outside of China and Australia, Falck says. REE, which are on Canada’s current list of critical minerals, produce strong and lightweight magnetic metals that are temperature resistant. Some have fluorescence and light emission properties used, for example, in lasers.

A valuation of the rare earth concentrate from Nechalacho is to be done by a contracted market intelligence firm. Results will set national precedence for how REE are valued in Canada, Falck says.


Meanwhile, that first mined rare earth concentrate is waiting for processing at a hydrometallurgical plant being constructed by Vital Metals Ltd. in Saskatoon. Commercial production at the plant is expected to start this year with an annual processing target of 1,000 tonnes of rare earth carbonate. That’s a middle stage product in the refining process.


At Nechalacho, Cheetah Resources Corp. plans to see production increase to 5,000 tonnes of rare earth oxide mined annually by 2025.