The first bag of rare earths ore concentrate was filled for shipment as a key piece of rock sorting technology was put into operation as Cheetah Resources Nechalacho Mine, July 21.
The TOMRA sensor-based sorter, a low-environmental impact machine that separates the red rare earth from the white quartz enriched rock received a special ceremonial commissioning at the Thor Lake mine southeast of Yellowknife.
Senior members of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation and Russell Tjossemw, a process engineer from TOMRA were among those in attendance for the celebration.
“Up to that point (July 21) people were digging and crushing rock on site but had not been actually pushing the button on the sorter to see how or if it would work,” explained David Connelly, vice president of corporate affairs and strategy. “It did work and separated the white quartz waste rock from heavy red rock which is the rare earth ore.”
The sorter is a significant part of the rare earths mining process because it uses a conveyor belt and sensor to identify and separate bastnäsite rare earths minerals from white quartz rock scattered near surface about the site.
The machine allows for a high-technology, low-environmental impact process during the extraction using no chemicals or tailings.
The company says that the separation process also allows very little use of water or diesel.
Tjossemw provided guidance for the use of the machine as specially trained sorter operators Jeremy Catholique of Lutsel K’e, and Cruze Jerome of Inuvik, were at the machine’s controls.
“Jeremy and Cruze are excellent students,” Tjossemw said in a news release from Cheetah Resources. “Mining is changing. While sorter technology is widely used in diamond mining, this is the first time that sensor-based sorting has been used as a single step to produce a metal ore concentrate. It is much more environmentally friendly.”
YKDFN Elder and Councillor Jonas Sangris, YKDFN Coun. William Lines and Matthew Edler, executive vice-president of Cheetah and Vital Metals cut a ceremonial ribbon for the use of the sorter with a hunting knife.
YKDFN drummers were also present to perform a ceremonial drumming and prayers and guests watched as the first bag of concentrate was filled during the event.
Cheetah has been especially active in recent weeks as Connelly and Edler both visited Town of Hay River council on July 20 to promote the company’s desire to increase southbound shipment of traffic of mined ore by marine, trail and truck.
They were also present to help organize celebrations this fall in Hay River to rejuvenate the town as a transportation hub in the Northwest Territories.
The mining company is in the first year of a three-year demonstration program of mining Canada’s first rare earths project.
The company is planning on scaling up production in 2024 once permitting and surface lease agreements have been completed.
NNSL Media visited the Nechalacho site as part of a media tour in April which showcased some of the main production sites and workers involved.
Cheetah is making a point of promoting its high number of Indigenous employees that include the Yellowknives Dene First Nation-owned Det’on Cho Corporation that is contracted to do the on-site extraction.
According to the company, more than 70 per cent of the 40 Cheetah employees are Indigenous and include management and supervisor positions.
A planned official opening of the mine is expected to take place in the fall before the first shipment of ore concentrate is barged to Hay River for further processing down south.