Cheetah Resources, owner of the Nechalacho Mine, Canada’s first rare earths mine, is set to begin shipment of last year’s bagged ore from Hay River to Saskatchewan next week.
David Connelly, vice-president of strategy and corporate affairs, reported at the March 21 town council meeting that the company had completed its first season of production with 500 tonnes of the red bastnaesite mineral taken by barge from the East Arm site to the port of Hay River.
“Everything went smoothly and arrived in Hay River and it’s going to lead to the first amount leaving Hay River to go to our processing plant in Saskatoon on the week of the 18th of April,” he said, adding that details on whether rail and/or trucks would be used were still being worked out.
After the inaugural year, the aim for 2022-23 and the next two to three years is to produce 5,000 tonnes of the mineral. That figure is expected to increase further to 25,000 tonnes per year, Connelly said, noting that the amount is roughly equivalent to four-and-a-half times the freight that went through the port in 2020.
He said the first year of production had a large focus on ensuring its shipment links from the mine site to the port to the processing facility ran smoothly.
Ultimately, Cheetah wants to contribute to an ever-growing global market demand for rare earths as part of Canada’s critical minerals and provide an alternative source of rare earths outside of China and Russia.
Specifically, having access to nationally sourced rare earths will help Canada achieve an industrial strategy of converting to the production of electric vehicles from internal gas combustion engines and Paris Accord climate goals,” Connelly said. “Our strategy around achieving Paris Accord goals is very closely tied to the availability of rare earths and other critical minerals.”
Nechalacho gaining attention
Geoff Atkins, managing director of Cheetah, said he’s beginning to see a lot more national attention for Nechalacho being a strategic source of critical minerals, simply because the site is operational.
“The amount of exposure that rare earths and critical minerals are getting is only going to increase and I think the fact that we are actually in operations has really changed the narrative around Nechalacho as a project,” he said. “A lot of other critical minerals projects are still in a theoretical phase, whereas we’re actually real now.”
Atkins said the key focus this year will be continuing operations but also finalizing plans for an expansion of the mine on a nearby, near-surface area called the Tardiff zone.
“We’ve undertaken drilling programs, metallurgical tests, work programs and engineering studies and so our hope would be that within the next 12 months we are in a position to have that project defined for an approval process,” he said.
Following the arrival of the first bags of ore concentrate to the port last October, samples were being inspected by the GNWT Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment to help determine the price, quality and value of the product.
Since then, samples have been sent to chemical labs in Canada to determine an appropriate method of assessment and the NWT’s share of royalties.
Atkins said that that effort is still ongoing.
Hendrik Falck, manager of geology and resource royalty policy with the GNWT’s diamonds, royalties and financial analysis division, said he expects a better understanding of pricing in the near future.
“Results are anticipated shortly as they have been delayed by supply chain issues and Covid challenges experienced by all the Canadian labs,” he stated. “We have been working with the proponent to ensure that the royalty reporting process is well understood and clear, and for us to be able to stay up to date on their processing plans going forward. This will help us plan for future work and ensure that the regulations are properly followed.”
Falck said that identifying price value is not a simple process and involves sourcing contracts between suppliers and companies that use the “unusual commodities.”
“Consequently we will be developing a request for proposals to work with a market intelligence company,” he said. “This process will provide the GNWT with an independent value for the material leaving the NWT.”