TORONTO — Experts say government support for research and development of Canada’s rare earth elements has encouraged new co-operation in the usually dog-eat-dog world of junior mining companies.
China is the world’s major supplier of rare earth elements, prized for their unique properties — including powerful magnetic fields — and used in high-tech goods such as smartphones, laptops and electric cars.
Prices rose dramatically in 2011, and by 2013 there were at least 11 Canadian projects at the advanced exploration stage before a steep slide in value put a halt on development.
Ian London, who heads the Canadian Rare Earth Elements Network, said companies are instead working together to develop new methods for extracting and refining the 17 metals that make up the rare earth group.
“Now that there has been a lull that’s gone on for a little while, folks have become much more realistic and are looking to address those challenges,” he said.
In the 2015 budget, the federal government promised to allocate $23 million over the next five years on top of money it has already invested to help companies work together to address the technical challenges of mining rare earth elements.
London said the money and leadership from Natural Resources Canada has helped the companies work together.
“There are a number of challenges faced by each of the developing companies, and this funding has encouraged them to collaborate and solve them,” London said.
Rare earth elements mining projects have been proposed in Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Labrador and the Northwest Territories.
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