Canada Begins Supplying Rare Earth Elements

Posted by on Sep 12, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

As reported by the CBC earlier this year, “Canada has begun supplying the world with minerals critical to a greener economy with the country’s first rare earth mine delivering concentrated ore.”  With rising demand, we will likely see more investments in rare earth mining in Canada.

The reason rare earth elements are in great demand is related to the products in which they are used.  These products include solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars, cellular phones, and more.  Canada, abundant in natural resources, including rare earth elements may be in a position to capitalize on this demand.

The Rare Earth Elements

There are 17 rare earth elements.  According to mining.com these elements include: lanthanum (La), cerium (Ce), praseodymium (Pr), neodymium (Nd), promethium (Pm), samarium (Sm), europium (Eu), gadolinium (Gd), terbium (Tb), dysprosium (Dy), holmium (Ho), erbium (Er), thulium (Tm), ytterbium (Yb), lutetium (Lu), scandium (Sc), and yttrium (Y).

Despite their name, many rare earth elements are not rare.  They are abundant in the earth’s crust; however, easily minable sources are less common.

According to several sources, the top five countries with the largest rare earth reserves are China (37.9%), Vietnam (18.9%), Brazil (18.1%), Russia (10.3%), and India (5.9%).  Canada is estimated to have 0.7%.

That said, according to the CBC, there are 21 rare earth mines in Canada (none of which were in production until recently).  Further, some of the largest reserves are in countries with potential geopolitical concerns that could interrupt the flow of these elements.  These same countries have lesser environmental and labour protections.

As Kimberly Lavoie, director general of policy and economics branch of the lands and minerals sector of Natural Resources Canada said, “The race is on to mine the elements in Canada.”

Rare Earth Elements

Canada has now officially begun processing the highly sought-after rare earth elements (Image purchased from Shutterstock).

Nechalacho Mine

Canada has now officially begun mining the highly sought-after elements.  The first mine in Canada producing rare earth elements is the Nechalacho mine in the Northwest Territory.  The mine is approximately 100 kilometres southeast of Yellowknife.  It is only the second rare earth mine (in production) in North America.

According to mining.com, “Rare earth production at Nechalacho began last year, making the mine the first rare earth producer in Canada and the second in North America, besides California’s Mountain Pass mine.”

The first batch of mined material was shipped to their Saskatoon rare earth extraction facility.  It is reported that the upper mineralised zones at the mine contain high-grade, light rare earth resources enriched in neodymium-praseodymium (Nd-Pr).

Environmental Regulations and Mining

Both federal and provincial governments regulate mining in Canada.  As provided by Thompson Reuters Practical Law, “A proponent looking to develop a major mine in Canada is subject to an environmental assessment under both federal and applicable provincial environmental assessment statutes.  The current Canadian federal legislation with respect to environmental assessments is the recently enacted Impact Assessment Act.”

Regulated activities include environmental assessments, discharge of effluent, various permits, and mine closure plans.

For more information about environmental issues associated with mining, see our March 29, 2022 blog (Natural Resources Getting More Attention and April 14, 2019 blog Use and Environmental Management of Natural Resources in Canada).

According to the Government of Canada, our nation produces 60 minerals and metals at 200 mines and 6,500 sand, gravel, and stone quarries.  These were valued at nearly $44 billion in 2020.  With a rapidly growing demand for rare earth elements, we have an opportunity to provide the world with the needed natural resources.

Dragun’s Senior Consulting Partner, Dr. Joel Gagnon has experience in the mining and resource sectors.  Further, Dr. Gagnon has a specialization in analytical and applied aqueous geochemistry.  If you have questions or need additional information, you can contact us at 519-948-7300.

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