NWT Heads Mine-to-Motor Rare Earth Supply Chain

News Type: 
Blog Entries

November 15, 2022

It was another first for the Northwest Territories mining sector as Vital Metals unveiled its multimillion-dollar rare earth processing facility in Saskatoon in September.

With it, the NWT-based Nechelacho Mine, the first rare earth element mine in Canada, also took its place as the all-important first link in an international mine-to-motor supply chain that will see NWT rare earths processed in Saskatoon for use in German-made electric vehicles.

This article is included in the latest edition of the Unlocking Our Potential Magazine.  Look for it at this year’s Yellowknife Geoscience Forum or you can read it (on line) here.   

Over 200 leaders representing the global rare-earth industry gathered for a Rare Earth Summit cosponsored by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce's Critical Minerals Council, Vital Metals, and the Saskatchewan Research Council; and staged to celebrate Vital's success in establishing a responsibly sourced supply chain of rare earths for friends and allies.

Among them, Government of the Northwest Territories’ Industry and Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek, who, with representatives from 11 Canadian jurisdictions and four countries, posed with a symbolic supply chain to mark the event.

Hon. Caroline Wawzonek, Minister of Industry Tourism and Investment, Government of the Northwest Territories. PHOTO: Vital Metals/Bill Braden


“This is a pivotal time for the NWT,” the Minister noted. “Resource availability, technology, market demand and global -and therefore political - interest are coming together to create a positive climate for investment.

The new Saskatoon facility will process ore from the NWT into a high purity, mixed rare earth carbonate. This product will be exported to REEtec in Norway and to Ucore in the United States for separation into individual magnetic rare earth metals.

So far, the 3,087-square-metre facility in Saskatoon, built at a cost of more than $20 million, has received 1,500 tonnes of REE rocks mined at Nechalacho.

Located in an industrial complex, the processing facility is in an area earmarked to become a REE hub that will include a $55-million REE processing plant funded by the Saskatchewan government and owned and operated by the Saskatchewan Research Council.

In 2023, the first batch of mixed REE concentrate, produced from Vital's facility, will be stored in 45 gallon containers and shipped off to REEtec's rare earth separation plant in Norway. There, the individual REEs will be separated from each other and processed into bars and sent on to vehicle-makers.

By 2025, Nechalacho aims to produce 25,000 tonnes of concentrate a year.

As government and industry dignitaries toured the new Vital Metals facility, the NWT celebrated its part in the historic event by showcasing its investment potential, Spectacular tourism attractions and rich Indigenous cultures and traditions.

Meanwhile, the unmistakable sound of drummers from the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, the first in Canada to lead mining operations in their traditional territory at the Nechalacho project, provided a fitting northern soundtrack to the event.