In the Rare Earths Race-to-Production Race, Vital Metals is #2 in North America
It’s not often you get to be the first at something when it comes to mining in Canada. We are a country blessed with an abundance of natural resources and a lot of smart, diligent people have found a lot of those resources and put them into production. Although it hurts my pride a little bit, I have to give credit to an Australian miner, Vital Metals Limited (ASX: VML) for becoming the first Canadian rare earths producer and only the second rare earths producer in North America (or third if Energy Fuels (NYSE: UUUU | TSX: EFR) beats them to the punch).
Now I’m jumping the gun a little as they have only begun mining operations at their Nechalacho rare earths project in Northwest Territories but barring any unforeseen circumstances, commencement of rare earth oxide (REO) production should occur sometime in Q2. The North T Zone of the Nechalacho project will be mined as a small open pit, with material transported to Vital Metal’s ore sorter on-site at Nechalacho for sorting. This will create a product suitable for further processing off-site at Vital Metal’s rare earth extraction plant, to be constructed in Saskatoon, which will produce a mixed rare earth carbonate product for sale to separation facilities.
To that end, in February the company announced an offtake agreement with REEtec AS of Norway for an annual volume of 1,000 tonnes REO (ex-Cerium) over 5 years. Both parties have an option to increase this offtake volume by up to 5,000 tonnes REO per annum over 10 years. This is all part of the global strategy to diversify critical mineral supply chain which has been identified as a matter of significant importance to private companies and governments over the last 12 months and was highlighted by Jack Lifton of InvestorIntel in this article.
However, this is only the start for the Nechalacho project as Vital Metal’s strategy is to develop it in two stages. Stage 1 of the operations focuses on the North T Zone resource (105,000 tonnes grading 8.9% TREO), and Stage 2 envisages the development of several high grade zones identified within the much larger Tardiff (Upper Zone) deposit. The Company previously announced this deposit’s total resource of 95 million @ 1.46% total rare earth oxides (TREO). The Tardiff deposits are targeted to provide the resource for the long-term operation and expansion of the project, hence the option to increase the REEtec agreement.
But the real beauty of the Nechalacho project is that North T Zone is one of the highest grade rare earth deposits in the world. This gives Vital Metals the luxury of being able to put this zone into production with a minimal amount of capital, further allowing the company to build out Stage 2 from existing cash flow.
It is estimated maximum total construction cost for a beneficiation and rare earth extraction plant for Stage 1 is A$20 million. The company recently raised A$43 million via a share issue which should finance the company through commencement of mining operations at the Nechalacho Project; construction of the offsite extraction plant in Saskatoon; processing of mined material; and a drilling program at the Nechalacho Project to define a preliminary mine plan for its stage 2 production. All the pieces appear to be in place for Vital Metals to not only become the first Canadian rare earths producer but to build upon that success and achieve positive cash flow to continue building the company into a serious competitor in the global rare earth space.