Defense Metals says that construction has started on its hydrometallurgical pilot plant, part of the Wicheeda rare earth project in British Columbia, Kallanish reports.

Commissioning of the pilot plant in Ontario is scheduled to start in late March, the British Columbia company reports. The plant is being built at SGS Lakefield Ontario and will run for about two weeks. The feed for the plant will total about 600 kg of mineral concentrate that was generated from a flotation pilot plant operated on a bulk sample from the Wicheeda deposit.

Pilot operations will be done in two segments and should be completed by the end of April, says ceo Craig Taylor. The goal of the pilot plant is to demonstrate at a larger scale and with continuous operation the processing of Wicheeda flotation concentrate to produce rare earths using the acid bake flowsheet to help confirm the quality of the project and to gather data required for the pre-feasibility study, the company says.

The company has opted for the less complex acid bake process. The project’s PEA had called for a more-complex caustic-crack process, but after tests the company chose the simpler process. The pilot plant will be configured to produce a high-purity rare earth precipitate suitable for feed in a separation plant, it says. Samples produced will be shared with potential end-users.

Wicheeda has a mineral resource estimate of 5 million tonnes of indicated resources averaging 2.95% TREO and 29.5m t of inferred resources with 1.83% TREO. The project is located about 80 kilometres northeast of Prince George, British Columbia, and covers 4,262 hectares. The mine would operate for 19 years, and it would result in an average annual TREO production of 25,423 t. Constructing the mine and facilities will take about three years.