Northern looks to renewables for Browns Range

Local heavy rare earths producer, Northern Minerals, has executed a letter of intent with Soluna Australia to develop a renewable energy power plant and battery storage facility at Northern’s Browns Range mine in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia.  Soluna Australia is the energy storage division of ASX-listed Lithium Australia and Chinese joint venture partner, DLG Energy.

Soluna Australia is planning to collaborate with Northern to reduce the reliance of the Browns Range project on diesel fuel for power generation.  Northern’s Browns Range operation is around 1,900km northeast of Perth.

The key to the success of operating on renewable energy is access to renewable power after the sun sets and Soluna’s lithium battery solution is designed to store energy for the medium term if the sun stops shining for extended periods.

Northern Minerals said Soluna will reduce the carbon footprint of its entire facility by providing the necessary expertise, the photovoltaic power generator and the energy storage system in the form of ‘fit-for-purpose’ lithium-ion battery packs.

The Letter of Intent allows Soluna to evaluate the impact on the environment and the lowering of operating costs across the facility by the use of renewable energy.  Soluna will also evaluate the opportunity for the implementation of a power purchase agreement that allows for Soluna’s renewable energy power plant to be installed at Browns Range without any capital cost to Northern.

Whilst Northern is in the second year of its pilot plant operation at Browns Range, it is looking ahead to a full-scale plant once recent upgrades in resource volumes at its Dazzler deposit are integrated into its technical and economic feasibility study for the larger scale development that is being contemplated.

The company recently upgraded the mineral resource estimate for its Dazzler deposit to 214,000 tonnes and delivered a small uplift in grade to 2.33 per cent total rare earth oxides, or “TREO”.  Dazzler is only 15kms from the plant and has an inferred mineral resource estimate of 5,000,000kg of TREO using a cut-off grade of 0.15per cent TREO.

The TREO grade of 2.33 per cent includes 2.17kg/t dysprosium oxide, 13.93kg/t yttrium oxide and 0.29kg/t terbium oxide.  The company said the deposit contains a very high proportion of heavy rare earths, over 95 per cent, including 2,170ppm dysprosium.

Dysprosium, which is only currently mined in China, is utilised in the manufacture of magnets used in commercial scale electric motors, particularly for clean energy generation. 

Lithium Australia Managing Director, Adrian Griffin said: “Lithium Australia is aware of the growing demand for off-grid and fringe-of-grid hybrid energy systems. Renewable energy won’t work without reliable storage and Soluna offers economical and sustainable solutions. We look forward to Browns Range becoming a successful renewable-energy case study.

Northern’s strategy at Browns Range is to prove up the metallurgy, processing flow sheet and economics in the pilot plant ahead of a decision to move to a full-scale plant that will be some ten times larger.


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