Sask. Research Council stepping up in rare earth mineral processing

The Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) is taking rare earth mineral processing to the next level.

The organization is manufacturing 140 commercial-scale solvent extraction cells at it’s Saskatoon fabrication facility, which should be done by this fall.

The cells separate the ores by taking a liquid called rare earth chloride through a process that then separates them into individual or grouped rare earth oxides.

President and CEO of the Research Council Mike Crabtree says these extraction cells will be used at SRC’s Rare Earth Processing Facility, which is under construction and is expected to be complete by late next year.

“The cells are about the size of an SUV…they look like water tanks, but they have complex internals that are designed to progressively separate these rare earths,” Crabtree said. “They will be located at our 51st Street facility as part of the wider and larger rare earth facility that we’re building.

They will have their own 40-thousand square foot building…and if you want put this as an analogy in terms of an oil and gas refinery, they are the central part of the Rare Earth Refinery.”

Rare earths, he says, are used in a wide variety of electronics from phones, to computers, and control systems.

“The reason why they’re becoming so critical at the moment is because of the increase in utilization manufacturing of things like wind turbines and electric vehicles, which of course are essential to the energy transition that we’re going through at the moment.” Crabtree added.

Once everything is completed, Crabtree says it will be the first facility of its kind in Canada “and likely to be the first facility of its kind operational in North America as a fully integrated rare earth facility.”

He noted “two or three” similar facilities are being built in the U.S., but believes theirs will be the first to be operational.

Crabtree adds the potential economic benefit is there, as the value of processed rare earths can go up to $200-thousand per ton, compared to $10-thousand per ton if it was mined and exported.

“There is 10 to 20 times uplift in value if we as Canadians not only mine these rare earths but process them and refine them for domestic and export sale.”

The total cost of constructing the cells and the facility is around $87-million.

You can hear the full interview with SRC President and CEO Mike Crabtree below.

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