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Rare earths producer Vital Metals has produced high rate concentrate in its first run at its Saskatoon rare earth extraction facility, in Canada.

“Our team has achieved outstanding results from the dense media separation (DMS) unit during initial commissioning at Saskatoon and the fact that on the first run we hit the laboratory test grades for total rare earths with 75% recovery with low grade feed material is above expectations,” said Vital MD Geoff Atkins.

“There will be work to do with optimising our process over the coming months but these initial results demonstrate incredible potential. It gives us a great level of confidence for future commissioning activities through the remaining process.”

The DMS unit processed 2 300 kg of concentrate mined at Vital’s Nechalacho rare earth project, which was sorted onsite and then crushed at the Saskatchewan Research Council facility adjacent to Vital’s Saskatoon plant.

With the concentrate grade reaching the target, the plant will now undergo some adjustments and ultimately further trials will be conducted that involve taking the tails from the first pass and subjecting it to a second scavenging step to try and increase the recovery further, while maintaining the combined sinks concentrate grade at around 40% total rare earth oxide.

Vital will incrementally commission the remaining circuits of the process flow sheet over the coming months, with plans to produce a 2.5-t rare earth carbonate sample for offtake partner REEtec Ag as the next step of product qualification.

The company said that this approach will focus on producing product at specification and minimising off-spec production and waste, prior to the commencement of production ramp-up.

Vital’s Saskatoon plant will have initial throughput capacity of 1 000 t/y of rare earth oxide excluding cerium, which is equivalent to 470 t/ neodymium praseodymium (NdPr), increasing to 2 000 t/y rare earth oxide excluding cerium, equivalent to 940 t/y NdPr, in Stage 2.