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Northern Minerals set to fill rare earths supply squeeze

The date of: 2022-02-18
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source:The West Anstralian


Northern Minerals has been refining its heavy rare earths processing systems using a specialised pilot plant that could see the company become the world’s first serious heavy rare earth producer outside of China. Northern has an expanding dysprosium and terbium resource base at its flagship Browns Range project. Both products are critical in the manufacture of permanent magnets in an electric vehicle motor.
Only 5 operating heavy rare earths processing facilities exist worldwide - and they are all in China. Northern is attempting to break the Chinese monopoly with its Browns Range project.
Browns Range boasts an enviable heavy rare earths grade compared to its Chinese counterparts, producing ore at between 600 and 800 parts per million dysprosium. Comparatively mining and processing methods in China operate at just 20 to 40ppm dysprosium according to Northern Minerals.
The company says a further comparison can be made between Australian and Chinese mining practices and their respective environmental impact. It says many Chinese operations use unconstrained in situ leach operations that are environmentally damaging compared to the stricter environmental and social governance protocols enforced in Australia.
Northern Minerals built its $70m Browns Range heavy rare earths pilot facility to design a processing flow sheet that would ultimately be robust enough for the company to build a much larger-scale plant – potentially up to 10 times larger.
Dysprosium and terbium have a range of alternative uses outside of the booming electric vehicle industry too and play a role in military, medical and robotics applications.
Northern Minerals’ 2015 feasibility study outlined a project that, at full scale, would cost $329 million to build and generate an impressive $176 million a year in free cash flows over more than 11 years of initial operating life. Since then the company has continued to refine the operation, add more mine life and work on ore sorting and other things to make the operation more efficient.
In mid-2021 it implemented its potentially game changing ore sorting initiative with successful testing to date. Mined ore is now sorted and processed to a 30 percent total rare earth oxide concentrate at the pilot plant. According to the company, processing of the material has resulted in remarkably better recoveries in the magnetic separation and flotation plants.
Northern Minerals is also experiencing solid successes on the exploration front, spending nearly $5m at Browns Range since 30 June 2021 for nearly 20,000m of RC and diamond drilling. The company’s Dazzler prospect has continued to do just that with strong rare earths results, the Banshee prospect has added weight to its inferred resource and very exciting initial drill results have demonstrated the prospectivity at Northern’s Cyclops and Rockslider prospects.
Dysprosium is currently up over 92 per cent and terbium is up a staggering 326 per cent from the start of February 2020 with yttrium, another of Northern’s basket of around 17 rare earths, experiencing stellar growth too, up 220 per cent since the start of February 2021.
With very strong growth seen across the heavy rare earths space and China controlling 98 per cent of the global market, Northern Minerals looks to be in the right commodity at the right time. Unlike gold and nickel for example where there is plenty of knowhow out there, rare earths and particularly heavy rare earths, require a significant ramp up period of learning and trialling before launching into production and whilst others are starting to wake up to the opportunity around rare earths Northern has been testing and trialling for years and is way out front of the market.
With a bankable feasibility study due to kick off within months, this project could be about to grow some serious legs and the massive Chinese mining powerhouse is about to lose its 100 per cent grip on this most lucrative of mineral opportunities, David is preparing for his battle against Goliath.



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