A team from Appia Energy Corp. is working to uncover rare earth elements from the northern Saskatchewan area of Alces Lake.
The company says it has discovered pegmatites, rock formations that contain high-grade rare earth elements. It's a promising find, given that such elements are used in electronics including renewable energy structures and electric cars.
"Saskatchewan is a very mineral-rich province. But in terms of rare earths, we were surprised to find world-class grades," Tom Drivas, president and CEO of Appia Energy Corp., said. "We actually have a drill and we are doing exploration and drilling out there right now."
Appia is one of many mining companies working in northern Saskatchewan. It started finding rare earth elements about 30 kilometres northeast of Uranium City.
The Saskatchewan government has announced it will spend $31 million to build a new rare earth processing facility in Saskatoon. The facility will process elements for sale on the international market.
That's great news for Drivas. He said processing had previously meant shipping the elements internationally to China or another country with a processing facility.
"We're quite excited and we're quite happy to see that the SRC [Saskatchewan Research Council] and the Saskatchewan government finally agreed to develop this processing facility," he said.
Appia had been using an SRC pilot project with rare earth processing and testing. Drivas said he's excited because he knows they are highly capable of doing the processing.
There are 17 rare earth elements: cerium, dysprosium, erbium, europium, gadolinium, holmium, lanthanum, lutetium, neodymium, praseodymium, promethium, samarium, scandium, terbium, thulium, ytterbium and yttrium.
It is rare to find these elements in large quantities, but Drivas said that's what his company is finding a lot of them in northern Saskatchewan, especially neodymium and praseodymium — two common parts of electronics.
"They're basically in high demand," he said. "For electric vehicles, for wind turbines, and other high tech applications, computers, military, aerospace."
Appia's findings in northern Saskatchewan show the need for a facility here, Saskatchewan Research Council president and CEO Mike Crabtree said. He said these rare earth minerals are an essential aspect of modern life.
"Pretty much every electronic device, electric vehicle, wind generators, solar, everything that is an essential for modern life requires rare earth elements," Crabtree said. "The components within them are often a very small component, but an essential component."
Crabtree said SRC believes the demand is going to increase 20-fold because of people's increasing reliance on renewable energy and electric vehicles. He said Saskatchewan, as a resource-producing province, knows how to handle these elements and has the technologies to process them.
"We've now created the opportunity to build what will be the first of a kind processing plant, not just in Saskatchewan or Canada, but in North America as a whole," Crabtree said.
Crabtree said most rare earth processing happens in places like China. He said it would be easy to draw the line between current tensions between Canada and China as a reason to build the facility, but that instead it's an unrelated strategic investment in a growing industry.
The facility will be located in Saskatoon as a part of the Saskatchewan Research Council's large mining and energy campus. Crabtree said it will create jobs both in the construction phase and once the processing plant is running.