Vital Metals’ early stage commissioning of its Saskatoon rare earth extraction plant has officially begun, according to a June 17 update from Bill Braden, media relations manager at Cheetah Resources.

Rare earth ore that was mined at Vital Metals’ Nechalacho project (located approximately 100 km southeast of Yellowknife) during mid-2021 will now be moving into processing and supply chain in keeping with the company’s ongoing next steps.

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“Commissioning and ramp-up of the Saskatoon plant will occur over two phases: the product qualification phase before the throughput ramp-up phase commences,” reads the notice from Vital Metals, the parent company to Cheetah Resources.

Vital Metals’ Saskatoon facility is located near a rare earths processing plant under construction by the Saskatchewan Research Council as part of a rare earths hub in that province.

“Initial focus is production of 2.5 tonnes of rare earth carbonate at specification for delivery to off-take partner REEtec (a Norwegian customer) in accordance with agreed qualification protocols,” the June 17 update stated.

The targeted time frame for delivery of the product to the client is currently set for October 2022.

On top of this, the company will also announced that it has commenced feeding ore into a dense medium separation (DMS) plant — a technique used to separate particles based on specific gravity — as part of commissioning its rare earth extraction facility in Saskatoon.

Vital Metals will commission the provincial facility incrementally over the coming months.

“This is an exciting step for the company as we continue our transition from rare earth developer to operator,” said Geoff Atkins, managing director of Vital Metals.

“We are targeting to produce 2.5 (tonnes) of carbonate for REEtec as an important step of our production qualification process before we commence ramping up our volume,” Atkins stated. “We are forecasting for this to occur in October 2022.”

Under Vital Metals’ amended off-take agreement with REEtec, the miner will incrementally deliver 187.5t NdPr (neodymium and praseodymium, which power the strongest types of rare earth magnets) to REEtec and a minimum of 750 tonnes per year NdPr over five years (totaling 3,750 tonnes of NdPr) contained within approximately 2,000 tonnes of ore per year.

Earlier in 2022, Vital Metals was advised that it will have access to $5 million in funding from PrairiesCan under Canada’s Jobs and Growth Fund to assist with working capital during ramp-up of its operations, including establishing the Saskatoon facility.

“Vital will commence repaying the (loan) in monthly installments over five years from April 2024,” reads the notice.

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