They did it – Northern Minerals produces rare earths in W.A
After stitching together a series of non-text book, but sublime funding deals over the last couple of years, the George Bauk led Northern Minerals has managed to open Australia’s first heavy rare earths plant in the Kimberley region of W.A.
The ASX junior has essentially re-written the text book when it comes to small exploration companies making the leap to production.
Over the last few years Bauk has run hard at the ball when it comes to securing funding for his long coveted rare earths plant, which still cost tens of millions of dollars despite being a pre-curser and proof of concept plant for a full scale operation that will be ten times larger.
Bauk has managed to pull in equity from Chinese investors at 90 percent premiums to the market price, get his contractors to long date some payments until after production commences and lock in a New York fund to do the heavy lifting along the way when few others were prepared to put their hand in their pockets to fund what was his dream, but is now a reality.
The Browns Range heavy rare earths pilot plant project, located in the east Kimberley region of W.A. was officially opened last week and will now commence production of rare earths carbonate for export.
Browns Range is the only dysprosium and terbium heavy rare earth producing operation outside of China globally and the company is well-placed to become a significant, stable supplier of these important commodities.
Dysprosium is a key material that is used in the making of permanent industrial magnets that are used in motors for electric vehicles.
Nearly all electric vehicle permanent magnets contain some dysprosium and with EV demand expected to grow beyond 20 million vehicles annually by 2025, it is a critical material if this momentum is to continue.
More broadly, dysprosium and terbium have uses in the construction of large wind turbines, industrial robots, air conditioning systems and many other new technologies which are currently in development worldwide.
The first stage of the Browns Range project is expected to run for three years with the plant producing up to 60,000 tonnes of heavy rare earth concentrate per annum.
Just last week, the company produced its first commercial concentrate of heavy rare earth concentrate through the plant during the final commissioning phase.
Mr Bauk said: “The opening of the Browns Range Heavy Rare Earths Project is nearly eight years in the making, since the initial discovery in 2010.”
“There are not too many times when a Managing Director can stand up and launch a new industry in Australia and this is what we are doing today. Australia is now a heavy rare earths producer.”
“I am extremely proud of the entire Northern Minerals team as well as our construction partners that have helped make this project a reality.”
The Browns Range project is 100% owned by Northern Minerals and it has a dominant tenement position in the eastern Kimberley and the adjacent area in the broader Browns Range region and into the Northern Territory.
There remains significant potential to locate further deposits and new prospects containing heavy rare earth materials, which are hosted in the mineral xenotime.
Xenotime is a rare earth phosphate mineral, dominated by the metal yttrium, but also containing other lanthanide elements, including the sought-after dysprosium and terbium elements.
With increasing momentum in the electric vehicle sector and the only substantial supply of dysprosium currently coming our of China, Northern Minerals’ product will no doubt be seen as a long term, stable supply source that may well attract the interest of everyone from off-take traders to downstream processors to electric vehicle manufacturers.
Northern Minerals move to build a pilot plant worth tens of millions rather than a full scale plant worth hundreds of millions may well be seen as a master stroke in time and one that almost fully de-risks the building of a full scale plant from a metallurgical and throughput perspective.
No doubt funding for the full scale plant will be a little more conventional and considerably easier to obtain if things go smoothly at the pilot stage.
It is pretty rare that Australians can take on the Chinese at their own game and compete but Bauk seems to be well on his way towards doing just that with the Browns Range heavy rare earths plant.
Northern Minerals (NTU)
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