Canada’s Ucore Rare Metals has entered a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Vital Metals to supply rare earth carbonate feedstock.

According to the non-binding MoU, Vital will sell at least 500tpa of cerium depleted mixed rare earth chemical concentrate (MREC) to Ucore’s ALASKA2023 project. This will be effective from the first half of 2024.

Located in Ketchikan, Alaska, the ALASKA2023 project focuses on developing a Strategic Metals Complex (SMC) heavy rare earth element (HREE) and light rare earth element (LREE) separation plant in Southeast Alaska.

Planned to be commissioned in the first half of 2024, Ucore’s Alaska SMC facility will have an initial 2,000tpa total rare earth oxide (TREO) separation and purification capacity.

By 2026, Vital plans to increase its REO supply to 2,500tpa to Ucore.

Vital Metals said that the MOU marks the first step towards the establishment of a long-term supply agreement for the MREC from its Nechalacho Rare Earths Project in Canada.

The company aims to produce at least 5,000 tonnes of contained REO at Nechalacho by 2025.

Ore from the Nechalacho project will be processed at Vital’s rare earth extraction plant in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. This plant is due to enter the production phase next year.

Vital Metals plans to supply the ore via rail from Saskatoon to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. This will be followed by a short marine transit to Ketchikan and the Alaska SMC.

Ucore vice-president and chief operating officer Mike Schrider said: “Vital Metals is the first rare earth producer in Canada and Ucore is racing to construct the first modern rare earth processing plant in the United States.

“The combination of our efforts clearly work together towards the collective goal of establishing an ex-China rare earth supply chain to ensure that Western world manufacturers have access to North American produced and sourced rare earth oxides.”

Vital Metals managing director Geoff Atkins said: “This agreement will help position Vital as a critical supplier of rare earth feedstock into the North American market.”