A Rocky Path Ahead for Vital Metals

A news release issued earlier today from Vital Metals Limited (ASX: VML) cast a shadow over the company’s ambitious rare earths mining projects. While the company has showcased a robust profile of its operations, particularly at the Nechalacho site in Canada’s Northwest Territories, a series of strategic and economic challenges have now raised concerns over its viability in the rare earths market.

A Promising Start

Vital Metals commenced its operations at Nechalacho in 2021, quickly positioning itself as Canada’s pioneering rare earths miner and the second in North America. With a significant resource of 94.7 Mt at Nechalacho, it looked like the company was on a trajectory to substantial growth.

The Nechalacho Project particularly seemed to be a gold mine (or, more aptly, a rare earth mine), with the North T Zone hosting a resource touted as one of the world’s highest-grade rare earth deposits. Moreover, the company had forged a notable offtake agreement with Norway’s REEtec, promising to deliver significant quantities of NdPr over the next few years.

The Saskatoon Setback

However, the recent news release paints a different picture. Plans to defer the completion of certain circuits in the Saskatoon Facility until H2 2024 pointed to underlying concerns. Despite intentions to produce an intermediate rare earth oxide product from Nechalacho, the absence of economically viable sales led to reevaluation.

By April 2023, a strategic review indicated that the company’s original plan for the North T pit and the Saskatoon Facility wasn’t economically viable. Efforts to renegotiate terms with REEtec, given unexpected economic and technical changes, haven’t borne fruit. This has led to the issuance of a Notice of Termination under the Offtake Agreement, with termination set for late December 2023.

REEtec’s stance complicates matters. They dispute Vital’s reasons for the Notice of Termination, the news release states: “REEtec has indicated that it does not agree with Vital’s assessment that it has suffered unfair hardship, nor does it consider the Notice of Termination to be valid. REEtec has therefore reserved its rights in that
regard, which may include arbitration proceedings.”

Additionally, VMCL, a Vital Metals subsidiary, has now been pushed into bankruptcy. This decision seems to be a move to shield the company’s mineral assets in the NWT and continue its development. While this bankruptcy affects the Saskatoon operation, Vital’s other ventures, like Cheetah Resources Corporation, remain untouched.

Looking Forward

Despite these setbacks, Vital remains committed to its vision, as Interim Chairman Richard Crookes expressed in an interview on FNN. The focus now shifts to the Tardiff Project, a significant rare earth deposit in a favorable jurisdiction.

Financially, while the company’s immediate status will be clearer with its 2023 Annual Report, discussions are ongoing to secure capital for the next 12-18 months of operations.


Vital Metals’ journey showcases the complex interplay of strategic, economic, and legal factors in the world of rare earth mining, many critical minerals experts cite a shortage of simple economics in that it is just too expensive to compete without government assistance. Jack Lifton, Co-Chairman of the Critical Minerals Institute, remarked on Vital Metals’ recent news release concerning their Saskatoon announcement: “The decision by Vital Metals to relinquish its Canadian subsidiary showcases the challenges faced by junior miners in Canada and globally. The often underestimated costs and rigorous standards required for transitioning from mining to becoming a reliable supplier to major manufacturing industries is profound. It’s not just about excavating minerals; it’s about understanding the intricate supply chain, meeting stringent quality benchmarks, and most importantly, being financially sound to fulfill delivery promises. Many junior miners assume a letter of intent or a memorandum of understanding is their ticket to success, but in reality, without strategic marketing and a deep understanding of the industry, they remain ill-prepared. To truly succeed, companies must grasp that it’s not merely about ‘digging it up’ but about ensuring consistent quality, reliability, and financial stability.”

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