Australia is a few steps closer to its first heavy rare earths mine.
Northern Minerals (ASX:NTU) was granted approval by the Western Australian Department of Mines and Petroleum for the Browns Range Pilot Plant proposed within the Browns Range Project, located southeast of Halls Creek in northern Western Australia. Browns Range aims to be the first significant producer of dysprosium outside of China.
The approval is for stage one of Northern Minerals’ three-stage plan, forming a key part of the overall approval process towards full scale mining operations.
The Brown Range Pilot Plant
The 60,000tpa pilot plant is planned to consist of an open cut mining operation to produce 49,000kg dysprosium, in 590,000kg total rare earth oxides (TREO) contained in a mixed RE carbonate per annum. The company plans to run the pilot plant for three years, then
Brown Range has a Total Mineral Resource estimate of 8.98 Mt at 0.63 percent TREO comprised of 56,663,000kg contained TREO using a cut-off grade of 0.15% TREO . The Wolverine deposit contains an additional total Mineral Resource estimate of 4.97 million tonnes at 0.86 percent TREO comprising 42,560 tonnes TREO using a cut-off grade of 0.15 percent TREO. 58 percent of the Total Mineral Resource is classified as Indicated Resource, with the remainder in the Inferred Resource category.
In an interview with ABC Rural, Northern Minerals Managing Director George Bauk said that the pilot plant will be one-tenth of the full scale operation. He says, “it’s not an insignificant piece of equipment. The pilot plant, whilst constructed offsite and installed onsite, it will still have a substantial footprint in terms of all the equipment… In terms of the direct cost announced to the market, has been estimated at $26 million.”
Earlier this year, Northern Minerals entered into a subscription agreement with Huatai Mining for $30 million by issuing 230,000,000 shares at an average price of over 13 cents per share. Once the transaction is complete, Huatai Mining will become Northern Minerals’ largest shareholder.
Northern Minerals is continuing to work on additional approvals, which are expected to be granted well ahead of the start of construction. The company plans to award contracts for the pilot plant in early 2017, and mining and concentrate production in the second half of 2017.
The Browns Range pilot plant is still subject to final financing.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Pia Rivera, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.