Mines to Markets
It takes a remarkable amount of time, money and energy to find minerals, develop deposits, attract investors, perfect mineral processing and metallurgical flow sheets, build mines, extract the raw materials and eventually bring products – be they mineral or metal – to market.
In Canada, the development of a mine project is highly prescriptive. It can take from 5 to 15 years depending on the nature and scope of the project. It generally costs between $50 million and $1 billion to bring a mine to production, again depending on many different variables. The stages of a mine include mineral exploration, mine development, mine operation and mine closure.
As defined in National Instruments 43-101, exploration companies must undertake preliminary assessments, preliminary feasibility studies and then actual feasibility studies to evaluate the viability and risk of a project in terms of its technical and financial standing. Specific feasibility studies include: Geology and resource determination, Mine planning, Process plant test work and plant design, Water and waste management planning, Environmental and socioeconomic planning, Mine closure and reclamation plan, Operating cost estimates, Capital costs and Financial analysis.
For more information about National Instruments 43-101, the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum is an excellent source.
The value chain graphic shows some of the stages through which rare earth elements may travel on their way to becoming downstream products as discussed elsewhere on this site (hot link to Global Use of REE). Not shown in the diagram is the possibility of product reuse or material recovery and recycling: the latter is economically challenging because the REE content in an end-of-life product is very small. Nevertheless scientists in Canada and around the world are exploring ways in which the loss of REE, via direct or inadvertent disposal, can be minimized.