The milestone has strategic significance and comes as democratic nations move to shore up rare earth supply chains independent from China.
The Nechalacho project is expected to yield a minimum of 5,000 metric tons of rare earth by 2025, including bastnaesite. Vital Metals stated that blasting of the mine has already begun.
“We will continue to ramp up crushing and ore sorting with full production rates expected to be achieved in July,” Geoff Atkins, managing director at Vital Metals, said in an investor update (pdf).
“Beneficiated material will be stockpiled for transport to our extraction plant in Saskatoon. We look forward to keeping the market updated throughout the ramp-up process, in what is a very significant milestone for the company and North America.”
Rare earth includes 17 metals that are used to create components integral to high-tech products such as fiber-optic cables, smartphones, magnets, electric vehicles, and military equipment.
However, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is estimated to control more than 63 percent of the world’s rare earth supply chains. For years, minerals mined outside of China would be sent to the Asian nation for processing due to lower costs and available facilities.
There are concerns that a geopolitical dispute could push the CCP to use supply chains as leverage against democratic nations, which has spurred a worldwide push for rare earth sources and the development of processing facilities.
Currently, Australia’s Lynas is the only large-scale producer of rare earth in the world outside of China and is also the second-largest company processing the minerals. Lynas sources its rare earth from Mount Weld in Western Australia. It’s then processed in Malaysia.
Vital Metals has announced that they’re moving forward to secure another rare earth source in Tanzania.