As global demand for rare earth elements (REEs) rises, many companies are exploring and developing projects that will yield these crucial minerals. There are also companies innovating around the separation and production of REEs.
Canadian companies are finding significant REE mineralization in the country and are employing new processing technologies in the field. Here are some of the key players in Eastern Canada’s REE industry.
Medallion Resources, based in Vancouver, is a rare earth exploration company that describes itself as “challenging the current practice of rare-earth juniors, which are focused on tackling hard-rock occurrences with complex metallurgy, to achieve significant near-term, low-cost production.” Instead of taking the traditional route to rare-earth mining, Medallion accesses the rare-earth phosphate monazite, which is rich in rare earths, and readily available as a byproduct of heavy-mineral-sand mining reserves in the Indian Ocean basin.
Since 2011, Medallion has been working to develop a rare earth processing facility in the industrial city of Duqm, Oman in line with its monazite strategy. In June of 2013, Medallion announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with Takamul Investment Company, a subsidiary of government-owned Oman Oil Company, and one month later, Medallion announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with a Jordan-based investment firm, Arab Mining Company. These MOUs move the company significantly closer to the development of a large-scale, rare-earth processing facility. A financial and technical study of the viability of a Duqm-based facility have begun and are being conducted by a third-party engineering firm under the terms of the MOU with Takamul. The Arab Mining Company MOU provides the exclusive right, for a period of 6 months, “to negotiate terms to invest or participate in a joint venture, controlled and majority-owned by Medallion, which will focus on rare-earth production and processing opportunities within the Arab League nations, including a proposed rare-earth processing facility in Duqm, Sultanate of Oman.”
Orbite Aluminae (TSX:ORT)
Quebec-based Orbite Aluminae produces alumina through clean technology that enables environmentally neutral extraction of alumina and REEs from sources like aluminous clay and bauxite. It owns several intellectual property rights and has patents pending across the world for this process. In addition to processing minerals, Orbite also owns mining rights, including the rights to the Grande-Vallée property, an aluminous clay deposit in Quebec.
Orbite’s process has promise for extracting rare earths from clay materials. It has not yet undergone a feasibility study in accordance with NI 43-101 standards on the disclosure of information relating to mineral projects in Canada. However, the company has filed a patent application in the US to ensure its process is protected. Orbite believes its process can help supply the growing demand for rare earths in the global market, which is growing as rare earths find uses in clean tech and electronics.
Commerce Resources (TSXV:CCE)
Commerce Resources is focused on deposits of tantalum and niobium from the Blue River project in British Columbia and the Ashram rare earth project in Quebec. Preliminary economic assessments for both sites have been completed.
The Ashram project in Quebec has REEs that come from well-understood mineralogy. They are located primarily in the minerals monazite, bastnaesite and xenotime. These minerals currently are the main source for commercial extraction of rare earths. The Ashram project has a wide distribution of rare earths, from critical rare earths to a zone of middle and heavy rare earth oxides.
The Blue River project in British Columbia is a tantalum-niobium deposit comprised of three properties, including Upper Fir, which has a preliminary economic assessment completed. Prior exploration identified a number of other distinct tantalum-niobium bearing carbonatites, including the Switch Creek, Bone Creek, Gum Creek, Paradise, Serpentine and Mill complexes. The company is exploring the possibility that these carbonatites could outline the parameters of a large mineralized structure.
Quest Rare Minerals (NYSE:QRM)
Quest Rare Minerals is a rare earth exploration company whose current projects are in the Strange Lake and Misery Lake areas of Northeastern Quebec. Strange Lake is the largest HREE resource capable of meeting the industry’s long-term supply needs, with the highest level of HREEs in the company’s peer group, as per Quest’s website.
The Strange Lake project spans both Quebec and Labrador. Quest’s claims in the area were selected through airborne radiometric anomalies and proximity to known areas of mineralization. A main area and secondary zone are located entirely in Quebec.
The Misery Lake project, south of Strange Lake, also spans Quebec and Labrador. Reconnaissance evaluation in 2009 discovered an alkali intrusive complex in the area. Airborne surveys have shown the presence of REEs.
Canada Rare Earth (TSXV:LL)
Canada Rare Earth is committed to developing a vertically integrated rare earth supply chain, from mining to refining. It began as an exploration company, and is now concentrating on establishing refineries and securing long-term contracts with leading manufacturers. It owns rare earth properties in Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador. Its corporate strategy entails identifying sources of rare earths with long-term supply, creating facilities for separation and building relationships with companies that require rare earths for their products, such as electronics manufacturers and clean tech firms.
Canada Rare Earth’s focus on supply chain development has not stopped the company from identifying and developing further rare earth projects in Canada. It has claims in the Red Wine Complex, as well as other projects throughout Eastern Canada.
GéoMégA, based in Quebec, is currently focused on its Montviel project in Northern Quebec. It is a mineralized carbonatite intrusion with a HREE zone. There is currently no mining infrastructure on the site, as it is in the exploration and development stage.
GéoMégA is also involved in the separation of REEs. It aims to reduce the current cost of separation and to create a more environmentally friendly method of separation than solvent-based techniques. Such a new technique could reduce capital requirements as the current extraction technique is quite expensive. The company is investigating both magnetic separation and free-flow electrophoresis separation of REE compounds.