A company hoping to open Canada’s first rare earths mine is looking for capital after receiving environmental approvals for what would be a $1.5-billion northern project.
The president of Avalon Rare Metals acknowledged Monday it won’t be easy finding that much money in today’s market.
“The demand for capital to build this project is still a pretty intimidating number,” said Don Bubar. “That’s the challenge – making the business case convincing enough to investors.”
On Friday, a northern regulatory board gave environmental approval for the company’s proposed Nechalacho project, which would extract tantalum and niobium as well as rare earths from rich deposits along the east arm of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. The approval is subject to conditions related to water management and wildlife protection and monitoring, as well as on socio-economic deals with residents.
The project now goes before the federal cabinet for approval.
Rare earth metals are tiny but vital components of many electronic devices. Almost all of the world’s supply comes from China, which has cut back exports in an attempt to boost prices.
Mr. Bubar said the project’s uniqueness doesn’t do it any favours in the investment market.
“It used to,” he said. “The bloom is off the rose a little bit. It had real sex appeal there for a while. That has waned a little bit.
“We have to produce results to show people what the real upside is.”
The company is focused on improving the project and lowering its costs, he said.
“There isn’t off-the-shelf, ready-to-use technology on the processing side. We knew there were different alternatives on how to approach this.
“As you do more and more of this, you start to see other opportunities.”
The proposal calls for a mine to be built at Thor Lake, about 100 kilometres southeast of Yellowknife. Ore would be carried across Great Slave Lake by barge to a concentrating plant at Pine Point, then shipped south by rail from Hay River, NWT.
Mr. Bubar said he hopes to see construction begin on the mine next year.