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Hochschild buys rare earth deposit in Chile

The date of: 2019-10-08
viewed: 2

source:Argus Media

Peru-based precious metals mining firm Hochschild is to buy the early-stage BioLantanidos ionic rare earth clay project in Chile, targeting growing demand for rare earth elements used in magnets.

The priority is derisking the project, obtaining permits, updating the feasibility study and maximising the potential of the asset, Hochschild said. It plans to complete the revised feasibility study over the next 18 months at a cost of $10mn. BioLantanidos is an ionic clay deposit similar to those found in China, with mineralisation from the surface to about 20-30m deep, the company said. The concession has three main districts covering a total of 72,000 hectares. 'There is little knowledge about rare earth ionic clay deposit mining outside China, and the key here is to understand the resource and how much of it can be recovered,' chief executive Ignacio Bustamante said.

A pilot plant has been built at the site to test the commercial and technical viability of the project, and samples have been sent to potential customers. No information was available about the plant's capacity.

'The key will be securing commercial contracts. China controls the production of rare earths and we believe there is a lot of appetite and potential demand from customers outside China to find other sources,' Bustamante said.

Capital expenditure for the first stage of the project, which includes permitting and an 18-month construction period, is estimated at $40mn-50mn. Around 80pc of revenue is expected to come from the key constituents of permanent rare earth magnets — light rare earth elements neodymium and praseodymium and heavy rare earth elements terbium and dysprosium.

Rare earth magnets are critical components in conventional and electric vehicles, electronics, consumer goods, wind turbines and many industrial applications. Growth in the use of electric vehicles is expected to substantially increase demand for magnets in the coming years.

Hochschild says precious metals mining and production remains its core business, and that the acquisition will not affect existing exploration programmes. 'Elevated prices for precious metals have made it difficult to execute deals, leading the company to look for opportunities in early-stage deposits in familiar jurisdictions with a strong upside where we can control the asset,' it added. Hochschild specialises in narrow-vein underground deposit mining. It will set up a separate company in Chile to manage the day-to-day running of the project.

Hochschild will pay $56.3mn — to increase its stake in the project to 100pc from 6.2pc — to privately owned Chilean firm BioLantanidos, which is controlled by the FIP Lantanidos fund. Hochschild invested $2.5mn in the project in 2018 and early 2019 in exchange for a 6.2pc equity stake with an option to increase ownership.

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