10% of Current World Production: Canadian Rare Earth Project Takes Next Step

Jan 2024

Defense Metals partners with local native group to jointly develop rare earth mine in British Columbia.

Defense Metals, a Canadian mining company specializing in mineral exploration and project development, has entered into a co-design agreement with the McLeod Lake Indian Band regarding the development of its Wicheeda rare earth element (REE) project, according to a company-issued statement (PDF). The project is about 80 km northeast of Prince George in Canada’s westernmost province, British Columbia, and has access by road and rail to the port of Prince Rupert.

According to Defense Metals, the open-pit project has a targeted annual production equivalent to approximately 10 percent of current global production, making the mine a possible element of Canada’s recently announced updated Critical Minerals Strategy with which the country aims to leverage its natural resources better and become a global leader in the raw material sector, a possible alternative to industry leader China. However, until production can begin, multiple test phases will have to be conducted and the company hopes production can start in four to six years, according to the local newspaper Prince George Citizen.

Defense Metals will fund some of McLeod Lake Indian Band’s costs of participating in review activities and support group members in attending post-secondary training in a mining-related field. Defense Metals CEO Craig Taylor said, “It’s significant that McLeod Lake will now be a true partner in making decisions throughout the process.” The native group’s interests and priorities will be central to the following testing phases, and budgets and work plans are to be developed jointly.

Long Way From Development to Production

While the announcement gives hope for Canada’s critical mineral plans, mining rare earth elements is only the first step in a long process until products such as permanent magnets are made. Besides the lengthy testing and development stage to begin mining, rare earth elements must be separated and refined to become usable raw materials. Australian mining company Vital Metals, which operates Canada’s only rare earth mine in the production stage, aimed to bridge this gap by building a rare earth processing plant in North America. However, plans were ultimately scrapped last year.

Photo: iStock/Captured by Keeleigh

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