The provincial government-funded collaboration will utilise rare earths from Commerce's Ashram project in northern Quebec, Canada. The focus of the work is to validate the pilot plant's new hydrometallurgical process for rare earth element (REE) extraction.
"The primary objective of the collaboration is to validate the performance of a new software model program, developed by Laval, that simulates a rare earth element hydrometallurgical flowsheet through to separation of various REE products," Commerce said, noting that the Quebec grant the pair received totaled C$365,000 (US$283,000) thanks to Ministère de l'Économie, de la Science et de l'Innovation (MESI).
"The software utilises pre-defined mineral concentrate inputs and a specified hydrometallurgical process to generate a set of product outputs. In addition, the pilot plant will serve to validate a new hydrometallurgical process approach, also developed by Laval."
Prior bench-scale test work has helped to partially validate the process, and work with a software model simulator has been completed - with "highly encouraging" results, according to the groups, achieving recoveries exceeding 85% as well as good correlation between the bench test data and the modelled data outputs.
That is leading the pair to the pilot plant-level validation, which will involve about two tonnes of whole-rock material from the Ashram deposit. The programme is under way now at the SGS Quebec City laboratory.
Objectives of the piloting work are to further develop REE separation expertise in Quebec; to assess the economics of having REE separation completed in the province; to demonstrate the newly developed software model simulation may be a more cost-effective means of evaluation compared to typical piloting in certain circumstances; and to provide an alternative source of REE products to the global markets.
Once in a mineral concentrate form, the Ashram material will go through a semi-continuous pilot operation and be processed downstream with a sequential caustic-acid leach to crack the rare earth minerals and produce a REE solution.
"[We] will benefit through further de-risking of the Ashram project's beneficiation and hydrometallurgical flowsheet, as well as demonstrating the production of potentially marketable end-product," Commerce officials said. "The data produced is anticipated to supplement the base flowsheet and also provide a significant advantage to the company as it advances hydrometallurgical aspects of the Ashram project towards pre-feasibility."
In addition to Ashram, Commerce also holds the Blue River tantalum-niobium project in British Columbia.