Tuesday was an exciting day for Cheetah Resources and its Nechalacho mine. Their first shipment of rare-earth concentrate left Hay River and is making its way to Saskatoon.
Once there, it will be turned into mixed rare earth carbonate and then shipped to Norway for further processing.
A groundbreaking day not only for the north but the rest of the country as well. This is the first rare-earth mine in Canada and only the second in North America.
"We're a player in a big world," said Tom Hoefer, executive director of NWT & Nunavut Chamber of Mines.
"Just like diamonds catapulted us into the global diamond field, this is going to push us way out into global recognition of rare earths," he said.
Hoefer is looking forward to the expansion of the mine which he praised for using an Indigenous mining company from Yellowknives Dene First Nation and using ecoconscious processing methods.
Nechalacho mine doesn't use water or chemicals in the extraction and sorting process, which isn't a first in the field of mining but is a first in rare-earth mining.
"They are basically separating quartz, which is a benign mineral, from their valuable mineral," said Hoefer. "It equals a pretty clean operation."
Cheetah Resources also commissions their wood pallets and core boxes from the Deninu Kųę́ First Nation in Fort Resolution.
A significant day for Hay River
David Connelly, vice-president of strategy and corporate affairs for Cheetah Resources, said Hay River has always been the transportation hub for the north but over the last decade, the amount of freight going through Hay River has decreased quite significantly.
Connelly said he was hopeful as a northerner that exporting rare-earth concentrates from the N.W.T. will benefit Hay River.
"For the next three years, we're looking at shipping 5000 tons of concentrate each year," said Connelly. "I'm hoping it's a revitalization of Hay River to its hay-day as a transportation hub for the north."
Nechalacho used two different methods for this shipment, first bringing it to Hay River by water and then shipping it down south by truck.
Hay River will also serve as a stopping point where the concentrate is stored once it arrives from the mine and awaits shipment by truck or rail.
Connelly said he was thrilled to share that a customer has already been secured for this particular shipment of rare-earth minerals.
Once further processing is complete in Norway, it will make its way to Germany where it will be used in electric vehicles.
"That's very significant because it's a long value chain, and it means that there's a secure customer for the product all the way to the drivetrains of electric vehicles in Europe," said Connelly. "That will help us reduce carbon emissions from transportation.