The Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC) announced Thursday it has achieved a significant milestone in the development of its rare earth processing facility by successfully creating and producing proprietary commercial-scale solvent extraction cells.
The SRC is currently in the process of building the first fully integrated, commercial demonstration rare earth processing facility in North America. The facility will feature hydrometallurgy, separation, and metal smelting stages and is slated to commence full operation in late 2024. The breakthrough places Saskatchewan and Canada among a select group of governments able to do rare earth processing.
The cells operate by processing mixed rare earth chloride, a liquid solution containing all 17 rare earth elements and separating them into individual or grouped rare earth oxides.
Once separated, rare earth elements become highly valuable and are used in numerous modern technological applications, such as cell phones, electric vehicles and wind turbines. The elements also have strategic uses, including in the defense industry.
The SRC uses automation algorithms to enhance productivity and efficiency in the development of the cells, which are being manufactured at an SRC-operated fabrication facility located in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. By the fall, the SRC aims to produce 140 of these cells at its fabrication facility to serve as the primary component of the separation unit in the facility.
The grand opening of the facility was Thursday which was attended by Minister of Trade and Export Development Jeremy Harrison.
“Innovation and technology development are at the heart of what SRC does,” Harrison said. “The design, fabrication and automation of these solvent extraction cells right here in Saskatchewan is helping to develop an innovative and secure rare earth element supply chain in North America.”
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“As SRC continues to develop its own commercial demonstration Rare Earth Processing Facility, it is developing additional expertise and new processes and technologies, like the solvent extraction cells, that will help position Saskatchewan as a leading-edge rare earth element hub,” SRC President and CEO Mike Crabtree said.
“The cells have been developed with automation algorithms to improve both productivity and efficiency, while at the same time being a cost-effective option, making them both a benefit to SRC’s Facility but also to the growing rare earth industry as a whole.”
SRC is Canada’s second-largest research and technology organization. With over 350 employees, $277 million in annual revenue and 76 years of experience, SRC provides services and products to its 1,400 clients in 23 countries around the world.