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Saskatchewan building rare earth processing plant, capitalizing on emerging industry

Click to play video 'Saskatchewan building rare earth processing plant, capitalizing on emerging industry' Saskatchewan building rare earth processing plant, capitalizing on emerging industry
WATCH: The Saskatchewan government is aiming to put the province at the forefront of an emerging sector of the mining industry.

Construction has begun on a facility expected to put Saskatchewan at the fore of an emerging industry in the mining sector.

The province has invested $31 million to build a rare-earth element processing facility in north Saskatoon, owned and operated by the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC).

“In the future, rare-earth elements are going to play a major role in powering the 21st century,” Premier Scott Moe said at a news conference on Thursday.

Read more: Federal government to assess supply, demand for minerals in Canada’s economy

The 17 rare-earth elements are minerals found in the Earth’s crust. Despite their name, they aren’t actually all that rare, said SRC CEO Mike Crabtree.

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“There are lots of them on the planet, but they’re very, very dispersed,” Crabtree said. “What is rare is finding concentrations of rare earths that are at a suitable economic level to be able to mine and process.”

Saskatchewan is rich with rare-earth metals, which are used in technologies like cellphones, electric vehicles and renewable energy equipment.

“As we move into more renewable energy and more electric vehicles, the actual utilization of these is going to go up many dozens of fold over the next 20 years,” Crabtree said.

“These are essential components for modern life.”

Read more: Feds not holding mining companies accountable for environmental impacts: watchdog

Some 24 employees at the processing plant will extract the minerals from ore, reducing them to pure powders.

The 69,000 square foot facility to be built near 2911 Cleveland Avenue will be the first facility of its kind in Canada, Moe said. China dominates the current production and export of rare earths.

“When it comes to the rare-earth element industry, Saskatchewan is the place that you want to be,” he said.

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The facility is expected to be operational by the end of 2022.

Click to play video 'The connection between uranium and rare earth elements' The connection between uranium and rare earth elements
The connection between uranium and rare earth elements