Beneficiation testwork on ore from Vital Metals’ (ASX: VML) North T deposit within the Nechalacho rare earth project in Canada has demonstrated the ability to produce high-grade rare earth concentrates.
Tests conducted by Vital’s wholly-owned subsidiary Cheetah Resources aimed to determine the amenability of the North T deposit, located near Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories, to simple mechanical concentration to enable near-term production.
North T hosts a number of different mineralised regions containing high-grade rare earths, beryllium, niobium and lithium.
A program of mechanical ore sorting via single pass X-ray transmission (XRT) technology was conducted at Saskatchewan Research Council to produce concentrate grades of 36% from feed containing 10.5% rare earth oxides with a recovery of 70% from coarse grade feed (up to 20 millimetres).
Material over 20mm was crushed further, while the undersized fractions were used for gravity techniques including spiral and shaking table tests to produce grades of 40% rare earth oxides at 80% recovery.
Leaching testwork was also conducted on North T ore, with a view to confirming that rare earths are able to be leached from a high-grade concentrate into a solution to create a high purity mixed rare earth product.
Vital managing director Geoff Atkins said the test results confirmed low-cost mechanical ore sorting as the preferred technology to produce a light rare earth (or bastnaesite) concentrate from North T.
“We believe this is the first time a high-grade rare earth concentrate can be produced using only simple ore sorting technology,” he said.
“This capability is critical for the development of low-cost rare earth projects and these results will enable [us] to push forward with plans to develop a production facility.”
He said the tests confirmed the North T zone to be the ideal focus for the establishment of a near-term operation.
Upper zone acquisition
Nechalacho is a large, world-class rare earth project with potential for a start-up operation exploiting high-grade, easily-accessible, near-surface mineralisation.
Located in a tier one mining jurisdiction, the project’s upper zone has received more than $100 million in exploration expenditure by previous owners targeting the deposit’s heavy rare earth basal zone.
Vital spent $5.54 million in June through Cheetah to acquire the rights to all mineralisation between surface and a depth of 150m above sea level (the “upper zone”) including near surface, high-grade resources in the North T, South T and Upper Lake zones.
It hosts a combined indicated and inferred mineral resource of 149.3Mt grading 1.42% rare earth oxides.
Vital is focused on producing a North T concentrate to market to existing refiners, removing the steep capital costs and multi-year construction times typically associated with building a rare earth oxide refinery.
At midday, shares in Vital were up 8.33% to $0.013.