21/04/2021 - 15:02

Neometals sets its sights on low-cost Nordic vanadium

21/04/2021 - 15:02

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Neometals is set to lend its expertise in vanadium processing to the low-cost recovery of the specialty metal from waste materials in Europe. The company is nearing completion of a detailed Pre-Feasibility Study which proposes to extract a wealth of vanadium pentoxide from the metal-bearing waste materials produced by SSAB, a large-scale steel producer based in Scandinavia.

An aerial view of the Tahkoluoto port in Finland, proposed site of Neometals vanadium recovery facility. Credit: File

Neometals is set to lend its expertise in vanadium processing to the low-cost recovery of the specialty metal from waste materials in Europe. The company is nearing completion of a detailed Pre-Feasibility Study which proposes to extract a wealth of vanadium pentoxide from the metal-bearing waste materials produced by SSAB, a large-scale steel producer based in Scandinavia.

The engineering component of the company’s PFS is now complete and demonstrates the proposed operation would rank in the lowest quartile cost curve for vanadium producers.

The PFS contemplates the manufacture of a high-purity vanadium pentoxide product at an all-in cost of around US$4.25 a pound.

With 98 per cent vanadium pentoxide currently trading at around US$7.70 a pound and having hit a high of over US$28 in 2018, Neometals looks to have plenty of wriggle room once it cranks the production handle.

Neometals Managing Director, Chris Reed said: “The results from the Cost Study come as no surprise given the success of the Mini Pilot test work from last year using our proprietary process and the exceptional grade of the feedstock material. The potential for lowest quartile costs is complemented by the exceptional product purity and potential for premium pricing from increasing use in both electric vehicle and stationary storage batteries.”

“Our patent pending process uses an alkaline carbonate leach which sequesters carbon in the tailings stream and gives us a sustainable competitive advantage in the production of an emerging battery raw material with the lowest carbon footprint. The project demonstrates Neometals’ alignment with, and pivot towards, the environmentally responsible, sustainable recovery of finite materials.”

Neometals has been advancing its suite of vanadium processing technologies over a number of years now. They have been primarily aimed at the development of its massive Barrambie vanadium deposit in Western Australia however, the company has quickly identified the opportunity to be recovering the sought-after metal from the waste “slag” produced by specialised steel mills throughout the world.

Vanadium-bearing iron ores are sourced from specific styles of mineral deposits found primarily in South Africa, Europe and Russia, with the company now targeting the Scandinavian steel mills due the specialised vanadium-rich feed and high-grade of their waste products.

Whilst most vanadium deposits grade between 1 and 2 per cent vanadium pentoxide, the slag from the Scandinavian steel producers tips the scales at close to 4 per cent, according to the company.

In April of 2020, Neometals entered into a conditional agreement with Swedish-based SSAB to acquire the vanadium-bearing slag from a number of its steel making operations in Sweden and Finland. The agreement provides for SSAB to supply Neometals with 200,000 tonnes of slag per annum to feed into a purpose-built vanadium recovery facility or “VRF”. The agreement with SSAB also allows for Neometals to purchase a further 2 million tonnes of vanadiferous waste, which currently sits in stockpiles adjacent to its steel milling facilities.

The program to build the VRF is a 50:50 joint venture with private Nordic mineral development company Critical Minerals, with Neometals providing the process and engineering expertise for the plant whilst Critical Minerals is working on the logistics of the operation including securing the supply of slag, a site for the proposed plant and transport of the feedstock to site.

In cooperation with respected engineering group, Hatch Ltd, Neometals has now completed a “Class 4” engineering study for the VRF and is also nearing the completion of a PFS over the project as a whole.

Key figures emerging from the study indicate the VRF plant would have an operational life of more than 10 years and push out more than 13.4 million tonnes of vanadium pentoxide per annum, generating a heathy cash flow which is likely to be in the order of US$50 million per annum.

The study also estimates the VRF would have a set up cost of US$184 million, with around $126 million being attributable to the plant, buildings and equipment.

Neometals has yet to stand still on its Scandinavian vanadium project, with the company having already completed “mini-pilot plant” test work on samples provided by SSAB. The test work shows metallurgical recoveries of over 77 per cent of the contained metal and a 99.5 per cent vanadium pentoxide product which is likely to fetch a premium in the global market.

Critical Metals has secured an appropriate site for the VRF, with the PFS citing the use of a site at the Tahkoluoto port, which is located on the Gulf of Bothnia in Finland.

Tahkoluoto is central to SSAB’s operations at Borlange and Lulea in Sweden and its Finnish plant at Hameenlinna and offers the company access to a deep-water port, rail, renewable power sources and an experienced work force, making it an ideal location for the developing VRF  plant.

The partnership is now working on an Environmental Impact Assessment study over the Tahkoluoto site and is also pursuing a slew of additional permits with the Finnish government for the rapidly evolving operation.

The company now expects to deliver its PFS for VRF before the end of the current quarter and also anticipates a move into scaled test work at its purpose-built pilot plant in Perth, commencing in June.

With the vanadium price beginning to follow a solid uptrend in the face of increased demand from the growing EV and technology markets and Neometals evaluation of the vanadium recovery in Scandinavia ticking all the boxes, the company is well on the path to now becoming a multinational vanadium producer delivering a range of products into this growing speciality market.

 

Is your ASX-listed company doing something interesting? Contact: matt.birney@businessnews.com.au

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