Perth-based Surefire Resources has unlocked the door to the main stage for global battery and LED markets by confirming 99.99 per cent pure alumina in testwork, using waste rock from its Victory Bore vanadium deposit, about 400km east of the Western Australian port of Geraldton. High-purity alumina is a highly-specialised product and commands a tasty price of about $30,000 to $45,000 a tonne.
Perth-based Surefire Resources has unlocked the door to the main stage for global battery and LED markets by confirming 99.99 per cent pure alumina in testwork, using waste rock from its 100 per cent-owned Victory Bore vanadium deposit, about 400km east of the Western Australian port of Geraldton
The company today revealed it had produced the vital high-purity alumina (HPA) standard known as “4N” – referring to the four nines in the purity percentage measurement. A measure of the revelation was clearly seen in today’s ASX market, with the company recording its biggest trading volumes since December last year and rising to as much as 2.2 cents from yesterday’s close of just 1.7c.
HPA is a highly-specialised product with less than 100 parts per million total impurities. It has a small market, but commands a high price and is currently trading at about $30,000 to $45,000 a tonne.
Surefire engaged mineral science company Lava Blue to undertake the HPA study using a proprietary process and six samples of reverse-circulation (RC) cuttings from Victory Bore. Five of the samples showed more than 23 per cent aluminium oxide and one was at 12.3 per cent.
The samples were put through quantitative x-ray fluorescence-characterising mineralogy and led to three samples being selected for the testwork, with respective aluminium oxide concentrations of 24.68, 23.86 and 24.07 per cent.
The significance of the milestone for Surefire lies in the company’s now proven ability to use its waste at Victory Bore to produce 4N HPA. Historically, others have relied on expensive high alumina-content metals to boost feedstock grades and in turn, the end product purity.
Victory Bore was a vanadium project, but now appears to present Surefire with the opportunity to pivot into the lucrative HPA market, which was last year valued at about $1.49 billion and was modelled to grow to a whopping $7.14 billion by 2026.
The Victory Bore project has no shortage of alumina feedstock, with the company quoting a maiden total mineral resource for aluminium oxide of 38 million tonnes at 23.3 per cent aluminium oxide. That included 17 million tonnes at 23.1 per cent aluminium oxide in the higher-confidence measured and indicated categories. Aluminium oxide grades from the waste rock went as high at 31.4 per cent.
To separate the aluminium-bearing waste from vanadium-rich magnetite, management will utilise magnetic beneficiation during its mining process, avoiding the need for any complex or costly metallurgy work and further adding to its commercial case for HPA production.
But even though HPA has stepped into the limelight at Victory Bore, the company’s vanadium resource will not be forgotten. It boasts a total combined inferred mineral resource of 235 million tonnes grading at about 0.4 per cent vanadium oxide, including 87 million tonnes within the measured and indicated categories at similar grades.
Surefire Resources managing director Paul Burton said: “This successful test work result adds significant value to the Company’s Victory Bore deposit. HPA from such a host rock raises important possibilities for the Company’s future development strategy. We will now consider the feasibility of HPA production in the development plans for the Victory Bore Vanadium Project”.
HPA is a high-value critical mineral with unique properties such as a high melting point, elevated mechanical strength and hardness, good thermal conductivity and high insulation, in addition to being chemically stable. It is differentiated from the more common lower-concentration alumina products because of its market scarcity and specialised application in technology products such as light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs and lithium-ion batteries.
The biggest current HPA market relates to the specific components that make up LED-style lighting. No substitute for HPA has been found after decades of application.
The market is also now modelled to rise, with Mordor Intelligence predicting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 22 per cent. It is expected to be bolstered by upcoming global bans on the manufacture of compact fluorescent light bulbs, followed by another ban on the manufacture of linear fluorescent tubes in November, 2025.
LED lights are becoming increasingly popular, primarily due to their wide range of operating temperatures from minus-60 degrees celsius to more than 70 degrees, high-vibration resistance and lack of a hot, heavy transformer. They also need less maintenance and have a longer lifespan than their fluorescent counterparts.
HPA also plays a critical role in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries, which rely on 4N HPA for the essential ceramic coatings on the separators that are placed within the battery between the cathodes and anodes. The HPA provides excellent thermal insulation, greatly improving safety, charging efficiency, high-power output capability and battery life, while reducing self-discharge.
The world’s electric vehicle (EV) market is also hungry for HPA, consuming about 20 per cent of current global production, as each EV battery requires between five and 30kg of 4N HPA.
Another product utilising HPA is synthetic sapphire material, which is used in high-quality glass lenses that are durable, scratch-resistant and optically superior to more common glass forms. The material is commonly used in watch lenses and increasingly in mobile phone camera lenses and other personal electronic devices. Many forms of higher-quality conventional glass often include the addition of between five and 10 percent HPA because of its attractive properties.
Total global demand for HPA last year was estimated at about 80,000 tonnes, but with some estimates of CAGRs, 200,000 tonnes of the powder may be required annually by the end of the decade.
On top of the strong growth in demand for LEDs and ceramic-coated separators, HPA is going through its own adoption curve into a wider range of applications, opening new market opportunities every year. To keep up with the demand, a commercial-scale production facility for HPA is necessary.
Canberra-based explorer Lava Blue is operating on a long-term research agreement with Queensland University of Technology and has developed methods for HPA production from unconventional high-aluminium resources and routinely achieved 4N HPA.
Lava Blue is also in the process of commissioning a $5million research and development facility near Brisbane to demonstrate scaled-up processing methods for HPA. The company has a business plan to run a licensing model based on its intellectual property and patents developed in the past five years to support as much as 20,000 tonnes of HPA production.
ChemX Materials is also progressing with the scale-up of its HPA micro-plant and is constructing a 50 tonnes per annum pilot plant in Perth’s southern suburbs. Once the plant is online, ChemX plans to reconfigure its pilot plant to investigate the production of the higher-grade “5N” HPA.
Surefire is undertaking a prefeasibility study on its Victory Bore vanadium project and will now consider incorporating a commercialisation option for HPA into the findings. The company says it will progress its HPA mission in parallel with producing high-purity vanadium for the emerging vanadium redox flow battery sector, in addition to exploring other markets for the mineral.
With the peak result from Surefire’s latest batch of test results coming back 99.992 per cent pure alumina, the company will now take aim on achieving 5N HPA through further test optimisation. The 99.999 per cent pure alumina sells for anywhere between an eye-watering $45,000 to $74,000 a tonne.
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