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Ontario moves to increase REEs output

Feb 25, 2022

Reviewing the province’s ambition to produce REES - and help redress the balance with China.

Mining Life by: Michael Schwartz

Key to any study of rare earths in Northern Ontario is the Report of Activities 2020 from the Ontario Geological Survey (OGS). This report is broken down into six components by location within Ontario. More specifically, the report for the Thunder Bay South District reviews Rare Earth Elements (REEs) in considerable detail, reflecting their presence in that area.

In more general terms, there is the division between Light and Heavy REEs (LREEs and HREEs), the latter being in shorter supply. On occasion, certain elements, notably lithium and tantalum, are included in the list of REEs. This classification is incorrect; this article discusses genuine REEs only.
     Another exploration factor is the GSC’s Geo-Mapping for Energy and Minerals (GEM) program, which is committed to exploring Canada’s North, a land mass roughly equivalent to the combined areas of Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba. GSC has described the areas hosting resource potential as “haystacks” with the minerals being the “needles.” Ensuing data is being shared at provincial/territorial and private sector level.
    One aspect discussed later in this article is the Chinese factor. Production statistics have proven China’s rise to become the world’s dominant REE producer, absorbing REE output as a crucial component of its rise to global industrial dominance. The rest of the world, including Ontario, has woken up to this situation and is now attempting to redress the balance. Indeed, as this article is being written, two US Senators, one Republican, one Democrat, are proposing a law designed to halt China’s “choke-hold” on the supply of REEs into the USA.


Canada offers some of the largest REE reserves anywhere, the total for REE oxides being estimated at 15 Mt. One consequence of the increasing demand for REEs is that highly promising exploration targets are emerging. One important advantage is that the various REEs tend to occur together; as supplies of some original REEs are declining, others are in place - whether in abundance and/or at lower cost.
As an example, one situation relates to the production of permanent magnets; here two REEs are Dysprosium and Terbium, which increase heat tolerance. The high price of these two REEs has resulted in industrial companies seeking replacement elements.
    The author contacted specialists with the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry (MNDMNRF). The latter’s Communications Branch replied: “Northern Ontario has many carbonatites and alkaline complexes hosting both LREEs and HREEs…Alkalic complexes are most abundant in northern Ontario, many of which are great targets for either niobium or REE mineralisation. In northeastern Ontario, carbonatites lie along a north-trending line extending from the north shore of Lake Huron to the James Bay Lowland. Almost all of these intrusions contain abundant apatite, pyrochlore, and other REE-bearing minerals, and many are weathered sufficiently to be associated with vermiculite deposits.”
    In the vicinity of Timmins and Sault Ste. Marie, carbonatite and alkalic REE-bearing deposits exist. The former are important as the chief source of local REEs in general but the latter are HREE-enriched. Timmins contains thirteen carbonatite and alkalic intrusive suites as against two carbonatite complexes around Sault Ste. Marie. Cataloguing of unmined REE occurrences within the OGS Mineral Deposit Inventory (MDI) database also shows an overwhelming frequency in favour of Timmins: 1,337 against 23.
    Totally unconventional and perhaps unexpected is a multiple-REE deposit in a tailings dam within the Timmins District. Six years ago, the Timmins District Geologist, Pierre Bousquet, took samples from the former Atrium nitrogen, phosphate and potash mine southwest of Kapuskasing. Analysis revealed a resource of highly enriched REEs, with total REE content reaching 6,700 ppm; every REE bar one was discovered among the samples, the exception being Promethium, which is used in nuclear batteries and luminous paint (the Ministry added that any sample with higher than 1,000 ppm total REE could be considered economical.)
    It must be said that a word of caution was expressed by the Ministry: “There is a better potential for LREE in Northern Ontario rather than HREE, but there is no absolute answer to this question as many intrusions are not fully explored. As for depth, many of the complexes in Ontario, especially carbonatites, are often poorly exposed and are largely known only through limited diamond-drill hole data. Many complexes in the James Bay Lowland are also located beneath Paleozoic cover rocks, for which only limited diamond-drill core information is available.”


As mentioned earlier, two US Senators, Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly and Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton, are sponsoring a bill to reduce US reliance on Chinese-sourced REEs. Kelly has described Chinese REEs as “a national security risk.” The sponsors are aiming for enough REEs to meet one year’s needs by 2025 and an end to Chinese REEs by 2026.
    In this respect, the sponsors are following President Biden’s drive to produce US-mined REEs in an attempt to reduce reliance on Chinese REE imports, notably in defense equipment. The USA has traditionally had few sources of REEs: at present, there is just one mine in the country, Mountain Pass, California.
    One perceptive analysis of REEs and other minerals involved in manufacturing strategically important components indicates that semi-conductors, batteries and many other products will “remain  key geopolitical battlegrounds in 2022.” This quotation from analyst GlobalData continues by stating that the USA and China will be “intensifying their fight for dominance over many of the core tech industries and mineral resources that support them.” The report even compares China’s dominance over rare earths with the dominance of OPEC over oil supplies.
    The USA’s shortage of REEs can only beg the question of whether Canada will help America meet some very substantial demands. Subject to such opportunities actually being authorized by the US Government, they can only increase in line with the size of America’s intended REE stockpile. Quite simply, depending on successful exploitation of its rare earth wealth, Canada has a very strong bargaining position.


The author asked the Ministry whether Ontario’s rare earths have to be extracted from new mines or if there are waste materials that can be utilized. The reply was as follows: “Many of the LREEs are being mined from carbonatites, so new mines are needed to extract them. However, recent studies have shown that REEs can also be extracted from other mining activities’ waste material, including the fertilizer industry, oil sand tailings, and mining tailings.
    “A perfect example would be the new study by Avalon Advanced Materials on tailings of the former Cargill phosphate mine, southwest of Kapuskasing. Their analytical work on the tailings indicates REEs, which preliminary tests showed can be recovered with additional processing (February 2021).”
    The tactic of exploiting former workings and what are called waste materials has not been lost on other would-be mining companies, so much so that the Ministry conducted a 60-day consultation period to December 6 last year (the comments received are still being analyzed.)
    The process is intended to consider “regulatory amendments and supporting policy to help recover minerals from mining waste.” Views on health and safety and First Nations rights have also been actively solicited. In the mind of the Ministry is a streamlining of the Mining Act procedure whereby a mine production closure plan must be submitted. The new procedure would mean that an applicant can more easily obtain a permit for the reprocessing/recycling activities on the tailings or waste rock.


There is no doubt that Canada has an influential role in REE production, her oxide resources totaling 15Mt. Enterprises wishing to exploit this opportunity will be supported by the province’s geological agencies, with recycling and reclamation set to play their part. Canadian REEs are well set to supply American requirements and go some way to reducing China’s dominance.

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