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Federal government pitches $6M for Sask. rare earth processing facility


The federal government is making another major investment in the rare earth processing industry in Saskatchewan.

Dan Vandal, Minister responsible for PrairiesCan, was at the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) on Thursday to announce $6 million in funding to support the council’s rare earth processing facility, alongside local leaders and provincial minister Jeremy Harrison.

“This is an important investment, not just for Saskatchewan, not just for Saskatoon, but for the entire country,” said Vandal.

The funding will help SRC develop a process to recover rare earth oxides from radioactive monazite tailings, as well as refine an automated metal smelting process to commercialize various rare earth elements.

“This is a commercial plant we’re building here, and we’re going to be selling the metal to partners and other companies around the world,” said Harrison, minister responsible for SRC.

The federal government says 23 of the 31 rare earth elements can be found in Saskatchewan. In order to attract private investment in upstream or downstream industries, the processing technology needs to compete with China — the current industry leader.

“Do you put the midstream in place after the mines come online, or do you put the midstream in place before,” said Mike Crabtree, president and CEO of Saskatchewan Research Council.

“The choice was to do that before, to build out that midstream capability so that our mining companies have a route to added value here in Saskatchewan, and here in Canada.”

Crabtree says their monazite process can recover up to 10 per cent more rare earth elements that would have been lost in tailings.

“That makes a really significant difference to the profitability of the plant and the process,” he said. “But as importantly, it improves the sustainability and the environmental impact from the tailings.”

The other component is the automated metal smelting process, which is safer, more efficient and scalable.

“What we don't want to have is people stirring hot metal for 24 hours a day, in shifts but for 24 hours a day,” said Crabtree. “With those individuals who would have been stirring hot metal in shifts, they will be involved in other parts of the process and it also allows us to very cost effectively expand the process itself. So rather than have 12 people over three furnaces, we can have 12 people over maybe 10 furnaces, or 12 furnaces.”

Crabtree says that efficiency is important to compete with China.

“Productivity means competitiveness, and that's why it's essential in this market, that we are able to compete effectively with the Chinese product,” he said.

When asked about the similarity to its 2023 funding announcements with Vital Metals, which halted construction on its Saskatoon facility last April, Vandal says these projects are completely different.

“Vital Metals was unfortunate, these projects are completely separate,” he said, adding that rare earth production is important for a net zero future. “We have started a process to recoup the investment in Vital Metals, we feel nonetheless the issue is not any less important.”

The announcement builds on earlier commitments of $2.5 million from PrairiesCan and $5 million from Natural Resources Canada, as well as an initial investment of $71 million by the government of Saskatchewan. Top Stories

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