Tag Archives: Rare earths

NRW Holdings companies win work from Wonbindi Coal, Lynas Rare Earths, Rio Tinto

NRW Holdings Limited companies Golding Contractors and DIAB Engineering have banked some significant contracts in the mining space, the biggest of which is a Mining Service Agreement with Wonbindi Coal Pty Ltd at the Baralaba North Mine in Queensland.

The Baralaba North award is valued at around A$800 million ($546 million) and continues the strong relationship between Golding and Wonbindi where Golding has provided the contract mining services at the Baralaba North Mine over the last four years.

The scope of work remains the same and includes maintaining and operating a client-owned fleet of equipment, producing an ultra-low volatile pulverised coal injection product. The pact commenced on July 1 and follows on from a Binding Letter of Intent the two companies signed earlier in the year.

DIAB Engineering, meanwhile, has been awarded two contracts with a value of circa-A$78 million.

At the Lynas Rare Earths Processing Facility in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, DIAB has been awarded a contract for a key component of the facility, being the construction of the Filter Building used to process and further concentrate the rare earth. The works to be performed include the supply, fabrication and erection of the Filter Building, the installation of associated equipment and piping, and electrical and instrumentation installation.

DIAB will carry out all the circa-1,500 tonne fabrication works for the Filter Building at its facilities in Geraldton using around 80 local Midwest team members. A construction workforce of 60-80 will then be mobilised to site progressively over the coming months.

Lynas Kalgoorlie Pty Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lynas Rare Earths, is the only scale producer of separated rare earths outside of China. It mines and processes rare earth ore at Mt Weld, in the north-eastern Goldfields region of Western Australia. Lynas’ new processing facility in Kalgoorlie will treat rare earth concentrate from Mt Weld to produce a rare earth carbonate.

At Rio Tinto Iron Ore’s Tom Price mine in Western Australia, DIAB Engineering, has secured the supply, fabrication and installation of multiple dust suppression systems to be utilised on the Tom Price and Western Turner crusher and conveyor systems. These systems will assist in improved control and suppression of dust generated from processing activities, reducing the impacts on personnel and plant operations, it says. The project will run for approximately 12 months, employing 60 people at its peak.

Appian continues to flex ‘multi-faceted’ skillset in latest mining deals

Private equity firms might not be the most obvious port of call for companies in need of the technical skillsets to transition ‘projects’ to ‘mines’, but, in recent years, Appian Capital Advisory LLP has shown the industry that it has all the credentials to help with this transition.

The firm, headquartered in London but calling on expertise from across the globe, has just completed divestments of the Santa Rita nickel mine and the Serrote copper mine, both in Brazil.

Sibanye-Stillwater, the purchaser, agreed to pay Appian $1 billion, plus a 5% net smelter return (NSR) royalty over potential future underground production at Santa Rita, for the assets, with the private equity firm, in the process, pocketing a pretty profit.

In 2018, Appian acquired Atlantic Nickel (owner of Santa Rita) out of bankruptcy for $68 million and Mineração Vale Verde, the owner of Serrote, for $40 million.

It reoriented the former large-scale open-pit mine into a much more conservative – and profitable – mine able to produce around 20,000-25,000 t/y of contained nickel sulphide equivalent. It also carried out extensive drilling to showcase its underground potential, prolonging its mine life.

The plans at Serrote, meanwhile, were re-evaluated in a DFS. Having completed project construction and commissioning ahead of schedule and under budget, the mine is now ramping up to nameplate capacity of 20,000 t/y of copper equivalent.

These two divestments represent the fourth and fifth portfolio sales the company completed this year. The others included the sale of its 13.2% interest in West Africa-focused gold company Roxgold to Fortuna Silver Mines, the sale of its 0.28% NSR royalty over the large-scale Caserones copper mine in Chile and the repayment of a royalty Appian held over Peak Resources’ Ngualla rare earth project in Tanzania.

The diversity of these asset exits is indicative of how well-versed mining-focused Appian is in the sector’s ‘hot commodities’, but there is more to appreciate here than purely financial gains and well-timed acquisitions and divestments.

“People know that not all money is created equal,” Michael W Scherb, Founder and CEO of Appian (pictured), told IM. “We have a team that is able to solve specific operational challenges – we can call on specialists to solve problems on the process flowsheet side, for instance – while providing financial advice to avoid expensive streams and set assets up for profitability.”

Scherb’s words are backed up by a solid track record: seven of nine investments it has made have resulted in mine builds. Its divestments have also provided healthy returns.

The company has been able to do this by recruiting industry specialists – mining and finance – and educating them on the facets they need to succeed in both the private equity and mining world.

“People that join Appian need to be multi-faceted,” Scherb said. “We get mining folks to think like investors and vice versa,” he said.

This has seen them build a project review team populated with former consultants and an operations team full of mine personnel with operational experience.

“We then get all personnel to cross-train across these teams to avoid any siloed disciplines,” Scherb explained.

Take Santa Rita as an example of where this expertise paid off.

The company carried out a six-month due diligence process on Santa Rita, which led to the development of a more defensive and low-cost mine plan able to see the asset through nickel price peaks and troughs – in stark contrast to the plan former operator Mirabela Nickel had for the asset.

Among the operating changes implemented were the use of a smaller, locally procured equipment fleet of 40 t trucks (Santa Rita previously used Caterpillar 777 90 t and 785 137 t payload trucks), the use of shorter benches and tighter blasting patterns.

This resulted in better grade and fragmentation control, improving the feed to the crusher.

It also defined a significant underground resource base at the mine, which it will still be leveraged to thanks to the NSR royalty.

Such moves were based on exploiting the nickel sulphides at Santa Rita. This reoriented focus aligned with the industry preference for nickel tied to the battery materials space, which eventually paid off with the amount of interest in the asset.

This blend of technical and financial expertise has served the company – and any company it has an interest in – well. Backed by a long-term investment philosophy where its funds are 12 years in duration, the company can make moves aligned with the realities and timelines associated with turning assets into mines.

The next asset on the Appian books likely to move into construction-ready territory is Kalbar Operations’ Fingerboards mineral sands project, which focuses on the Glenaladale deposit, about 20 km northwest of Bairnsdale in Victoria, Australia.

Scherb said this project will be “build-ready” very soon, explaining that it is currently going through the permitting stage.

The project has the potential to be one of the world’s major producers of zircon, ilmenite, rutile and rare earths, and Kalbar is proposing an investment of over A$200 million ($148 million) in the development of a project able to produce around 575,000 t/y of heavy mineral concentrate over 15-20 years.

Scherb said Appian is keen to further pursue commodities associated with the electrification of industry, but he is aware of the premiums that may come with these deals.

“A lot of money has flooded into the battery metals,” he said. “We can be patient and are starting to look earlier stage in some investments.”

“Earlier stage” still has the potential to be producing in four- or five-year’s time, he clarified.

What’s clear is that the Appian team is gaining widespread recognition, with Scherb saying larger mining companies are starting to approach them with proposals that would see Appian gain operational control of assets, realising the firm has the right blend of “operational skill” and “value principles” to succeed.

Having acknowledged a skills shortage across the sector – one Appian is doing its bit to tackle with internship programs with universities in Canada, the UK and Australia – Scherb was confident the company’s talent would be retained and, ultimately, grow.

“In terms of talent retention, we at Appian offer experience of reviewing many different assets at different times in their lifecycle,” he said. “If you’re in-house at a mining company, you run the ruler over the same assets, stress testing them against different scenarios. We offer our teams variety that they cannot get in many places.

“At the same time, our structure means employees invest directly in companies to ensure they are correctly incentivised. This means they get to share in the profits.”

With plans to make one-to-three investments per year – along with the same number of exits – and expectations of committing its latest $775 million fund within the next two quarters, expect to hear more from Appian into 2022.

NioCorp working with Weir Minerals, NRRI on Elk Creek HPGR test work

NioCorp Developments Ltd is to initiate testing of Elk Creek project ore using high pressure grinding rolls (HPGR) technology from Weir Minerals.

HPGR technology is considered an energy efficient and low-emission alternative to conventional processing for reducing the size of the ore to enable the recovery of niobium, scandium, titanium, and potential rare earth products, NioCorp said.

The use of this technology in the project reinforces the company’s commitment to the environment and designing a sustainable operation, it added.

The testing is being conducted at the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) of the University of Minnesota-Duluth, in partnership with Weir Minerals. During the testing, which is expected to take several weeks, around 3 t of Elk Creek drill core will be reduced to the 1-mm size needed for hydrometallurgical test work.

Working with Weir Minerals, NRRI acquired an industrial-scale Enduron® HPGR to carry out testing on a variety of ores with this process back in 2020. This is the only large scale HPGR dedicated to research in the US, NRRI claims.

“The network is expected to provide key data that will be used to properly size the HPGR unit for the potential ore throughput at the Elk Creek project, once project financing is secured and the project is operational,” NioCorp said.

The company is currently evaluating the next steps in its overall metallurgical test work program, which will focus on optimising and streamlining the existing processing flowsheet as well as establishing process routes for the potential recovery of rare earth products. The rare earth products that are of most interest to the company are, at present, neodymium-praseodymium (NdPr) oxide, terbium oxide and dysprosium oxide. As previously announced, the company has launched a review of the economic potential of expanding its currently planned product suite from the project to also include rare earth products.

An April 2019 feasibility study on Elk Creek, in Nebraska, USA, estimated average production of 7,220 t/y of ferroniobium, 95 t/y tpa of scandium trioxide and 11,642 t/y of titanium dioxide over the 36-year mine life.

Scott Honan, NioCorp COO, said: “After witnessing testing at NRRI, I was impressed with how the HPGR was able to handle the Elk Creek ore quickly and efficiently, with minimal noise and dust.

“We look forward to completing this phase of the test work and moving on to look at further improvements to the existing flowsheet, including our new emphasis around the rare earths.”

Mkango, Grupa Azoty PULAWY assess potential for Polish rare earth separation plant

Mkango Resources has joined with Grupa Azoty Zakłady Azotowe Pulawy SA to work towards development of a rare earth separation plant in Poland.

A new Polish wholly owned subsidiary of Mkango, Mkango Polska, has been established, with an experienced Country Director for Poland, Jarosław Pączek, appointed. Pączek will be joined by rare earth separation experts, Carester, and a strong team of technical advisors and engineers to help steer the collaboration.

Grupa Azoty PULAWY is part of The Grupa Azoty Group, the EU’s second largest manufacturer of nitrogen and compound fertilisers, and a major chemicals producer. Its products are exported to over 20 countries around the world, including Europe, the Americas and Asia, according to Mkango.

The parties have signed an exclusive lease option agreement for a site adjacent to Grupa Azoty PULAWY’s large-scale fertiliser and chemicals complex at Pulawy in Poland. This location is served by excellent infrastructure, access to reagents and utilities on site, and an attractive operating environment, resulting in a highly competitive operating cost position for the plant, based on scoping studies to date, Mkango says.

“Located within a Polish Special Economic Zone, the site provides excellent access to European and international markets,” it added. “Production from the plant will strengthen Europe’s security of supply for rare earths, used in electric vehicles, wind turbines and other green technology and strategic applications, and aligns with European initiatives to create more robust, diversified supply chains.”

The plant is expected to initially produce approximately 2,000 t/y of neodymium, praseodymium and/or didymium (NdPr) oxides as well as a heavy rare earth enriched carbonate, containing approximately 50 t/y dysprosium and terbium oxides. It is also expected to produce lanthanum cerium carbonate. Mkango is also evaluating marketing and processing options for the heavy rare earth enriched carbonate and lanthanum cerium carbonate.

“The plant will use best-in-class, conventional and proven technology, and will benefit from excellent rail and road infrastructure as well as the direct supply of the required processing reagents from Grupa Azoty PULAWY,” Mkango said. “It will also have access to a local skilled workforce, on-site engineering and project development expertise and R&D science institutes.”

Based on scoping studies undertaken to date, the plant is expected to have highly competitive operating costs.

Further feasibility studies will be completed by Carester, SENET (a DRA Global Group company) and a local engineering firm, Prozap, together with support from Grupa Azoty PULAWY. Mkango is also working closely with ANSTO to optimise feed specifications for the plant.

Development of the plant is expected to be underpinned by the sustainable supply of a purified mixed rare earth carbonate from Mkango’s Songwe Hill project in Malawi (pictured). Mkango will also evaluate the potential to process third-party feeds. The feasibility studies for the plant will run in parallel with those for the Songwe Hill rare earths project.

Mkango says it will also seek to maximise the renewable energy content and minimise the carbon impact of the developments in both Malawi and Poland, as part of the feasibility studies.

William Dawes, Chief Executive of Mkango, said: “Development of this plant will underline Mkango’s unique positioning in the rare earths sector. Our integrated ‘mine, refine, recycle’ strategy, encompassing sustainably sourced light (NdPr) and heavy (Dy/Tb) rare earths from Malawi and rare earth magnet (NdFeB) recycling in the UK, via our interest in HyProMag, is now enhanced by the opportunity to create a rare earths separation and downstream hub in Poland, working with one of Europe’s largest chemical and fertiliser companies.

“Rare earths are a vital component of magnets required in many technologies needed for the green energy transition. Therefore, their security of supply is becoming increasingly important to governments worldwide, especially in Europe and the US.

“We have carried out extensive due diligence on the site and believe the development of the plant in Poland will enhance the sustainable supply of rare earths into Europe, as well as bringing significant benefits to the region, creating new jobs and potential, additional, downstream developments.”

Andrzej Skwarek, Management Board Member of Grupa Azoty PULAWY, said: “We look forward to working together with Mkango on this exciting project, which complements the adjacent activities of Grupa Azoty PULAWY, benefiting from synergies in relation to reagents, by-products, utilities and infrastructure. As an industry leader in Poland, Grupa Azoty PULAWY welcomes this potential new development to the region and will continue to support Mkango as it progresses through the feasibility studies.”

Jarosław Pączek, Mkango’s Country Director for Poland, said: “This is a very exciting development for Poland at a time when Europe is focused on strengthening supply chains for critical materials and transitioning to a greener economy. The creation of a new European hub for rare earths at the heart of central Europe in Poland complements battery, electric vehicle and renewable energy developments in the region, with a site strategically located for European trade and transport routes and benefiting from plug and play access to reagents and utilities. I look forward to working with Mkango and Grupa Azoty PULAWY on this ground-breaking project for Poland and Europe.”

Northern Minerals rare earth pilot plant keeps up thyssenkrupp REC deliveries

Northern Minerals’ Browns Range rare earth pilot plant in Western Australia has continued to churn out more product, with the company set to soon make a shipment of more than 40,000 kg to offtake partner thyssenkrupp Materials Trading GmbH.

The Browns Range pilot plant has now surpassed a new production milestone of 210,000 kg of rare earth carbonate (REC), Northern Minerals said.

A shipment of 40,406 kg of REC that contains 1,835 kg of dysprosium oxide and 233 kg of terbium oxide is ready at Browns Range for delivery to thyssenkrupp, bringing total production of REC from the pilot plant to 211,109 kg.

The REC produced to date contains a total 103,731 kg of rare earth oxide, which, in turn, contains 9,751 kg of dysprosium oxide and 1,245 kg of terbium oxide: critical elements in the permanent magnet motors used in E-mobility powertrain applications.

Northern Minerals CEO, Mark Tory, said: “Despite the operational and supply chain challenges in the past 12 months, the global trend toward electrification of transport continues to accelerate as a result of regulatory changes and bold decisions by car manufacturers in transition to fully-electric fleets.

“Browns Range is still the most strategically placed heavy rare earths operation in the western world, and we continue to apply our significant R&D learnings to successfully produce batches of REC for our European offtake partner thyssenkrupp from our pilot plant in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.”

Northern Minerals started producing rare earth carbonate through the Browns Range pilot plant in October 2018 as part of a three-year pilot assessment of economic and temporary technical feasibility of a larger-scale development at Browns Range.

The company expects to commission a Steinert sensor-based ore sorter at Browns Range in the June quarter as part of its latest R&D work at the pilot plant.

LKAB plots carbon-free pathway with direct reduced iron switch

LKAB has presented its new strategy for the future, setting out a path to achieve net-zero carbon emissions from its own processes and products by 2045, while securing the company’s operations with expanded mining beyond 2060.

Jan Moström, President and CEO of LKAB, said the plan represented the biggest transformation in the company’s 130-year history, and could end up being the largest industrial investment ever made in Sweden.

“It creates unique opportunities to reduce the world’s carbon emissions and for Swedish industry to take the lead in a necessary global transformation,” he said.

The strategy sets out three main tracks for the transformation:

  • New world standard for mining;
  • Sponge iron (direct reduced iron) produced using green hydrogen will in time replace iron ore pellets, opening the way for a fossil-free iron and steel industry; and
  • Extract critical minerals from mine waste: using fossil-free technology to extract strategically important earth elements and phosphorous for mineral fertiliser from today’s mine waste.

The transformation is expected to require extensive investments in the order of SEK10-20 billion ($1.2-2.3 billion) a year over a period of around 15 to 20 years within LKAB’s operations alone. The company said the new strategy was a response to market developments in the global iron and steel industry, “which is undergoing a technology shift”.

The move could cut annual carbon dioxide emissions from the company’s customers worldwide by 35 Mt, equivalent to two thirds of Sweden’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions, it said.

Developments under the HYBRIT project, in which SSAB, LKAB and Vattenfall are collaborating on a process to enable the reduction of steel from iron ore using hydrogen instead of carbon, will be keenly observed following the miner’s announcement.

On top of this collaboration, LKAB is working with Sandvik, ABB, Combitec, Epiroc and several other industry leaders to develop the technology that will enable the transition to fossil-free, autonomous mines, it said.

Moström added: “The market for iron and steel will grow and, at the same time, the global economy is shifting towards a carbon-free future. Our carbon-free products will play an important part in the production of railways, wind farms, electric vehicles and industrial machinery.

“We will go from being part of the problem to being an important part of the solution.”

The market for steel is forecasted to grow by 50% by 2050. This growth will be achieved by an increase in the upgrading of recycled scrap in electric arc furnaces, according to LKAB. Today, the iron and steel industry accounts for more than a quarter of industrial emissions and for 7% of the world’s total carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, according to an IEA report.

The company said: “The global market price for recycled scrap is now twice that of iron ore pellets. The carbon-free sponge iron that will in time replace iron ore pellets as LKAB’s main export product is suitable for arc furnaces, allowing the company to offer industries throughout the world access to carbon-free iron.”

Moström said the switch from iron ore pellets to carbon-free sponge iron was an important step forward in the value chain, increasing the value of its products at the same time as giving customers direct access to “carbon-free iron”.

“That’s good for the climate and good for our business,” he said. “This transformation will provide us with good opportunities to more than double our turnover by 2045.”

During the transformation period, LKAB will supply iron ore pellets in parallel with developing carbon-free sponge iron.

To reach the new strategy’s goals, rapid solutions must be found for various complex issues, according to the company. These include permits, energy requirements and better conditions for research, development and innovation within primary industry.

Moström said: “Our transformation will dramatically improve Europe’s ability to achieve its climate goals. By reducing emissions primarily from our export business, we will achieve a reduction in global emissions that is equivalent to two-thirds of all Sweden’s carbon emissions. That’s three times greater than the effect of abandoning all cars in Sweden for good.

“It’s the biggest thing we in Sweden can do for the climate.”

Göran Persson, Chairman of the Board of LKAB, said: “What Swedish industry is now doing, spearheaded by LKAB, is to respond to the threatening climate crisis with innovation and technological change. In doing so, we are helping to secure a future for coming generations. This will also create new jobs in the county of Norrbotten, which will become a hub in a green industrial transformation. Succeeding in this will create ripples for generations to come. Not just here, but far beyond our borders.

“Now we are doing, what everyone says must be done.”

Lynas ready for Mt Weld rare earth concentrate boost following dryer delivery

Lynas has taken delivery of a 14-m long, industrial scale dryer at its Mt Weld rare earth operations, in Western Australia.

The use of the dryer is expected to further improve operational efficiency in the production of rare earth concentrate, it said.

“Lynas’ high grade, long life resource at Mt Weld in Western Australia is a key source of competitive advantage and the team is continually investing to enhance operations and ensure sustainable development of the resource,” the company said. “The fired kiln dryer will treat Mt Weld filtered concentrate and replace manual drying of the concentrate in the sun, making the process faster and more cost effective.”

Reducing the moisture levels before shipping creates a number of benefits for the business, including:

  • Lower concentrate freight costs;
  • Improved materials handling as the need to handle the product multiple times is eliminated; and
  • Increased productivity as the use of the dryer will reduce the time spent manually drying the product.

The Mt Weld concentrator is a flotation plant designed to process 240,000 t/y of ore to produce up to 66,000 t/y of concentrate containing 26,500 t of rare earth oxides.

Lynas VP of Upstream, Kam Leung, commented: “The use of the dryer at Mt Weld will provide a number of benefits to the Mt Weld operations, including less handling and lower transport costs. It will also result in an improved product for processing and increase opportunities for team members to focus on other projects.

“We are looking forward to seeing the benefits of reduced moisture levels and to continuing to improve our operations in line with our ongoing commitment to sustainable production.”

Pensana engages Wood Group for UK rare earth processing facility study

Pensana Rare Earths says it has appointed the Wood Group to undertake a study into the establishment of an integrated rare earth processing facility in the UK with a view to creating the world’s first sustainable magnet metal supply chain.

Having progressed the design of the Longonjo rare earths project, in Angola (pictured), to include the production of a mixed rare earth carbonate, Pensana says it now has a unique opportunity to explore the potential for it to make one further step downstream and to create additional value by establishing a rare earth oxide production facility in the UK.

“By linking a mid-stream magnet metal supply with downstream magnet manufacturing capacity there is the potential to create a sustainable magnet metal supply chain at a time of increasing concern over the provenance of these critical metals for the electric vehicle (EV) and offshore wind turbine industries,” the company said.

Following the recent resource upgrade, the Longonjo project is now one of the world’s largest known rare earth resources, according to Pensana.

“To give a sense of scale, the Longonjo project could, together with the UK processing facility, produce enough rare earth oxide to supply the wind turbines at Dogger Bank, projected to be the world’s biggest wind farm, for the next 20 years,” the company said.

With Angola Presidential approval and ongoing financial backing from the Angolan Sovereign Wealth Fund, Pensana’s Longonjo project is well-placed to become the first producing major rare-earth mine in over a decade at a time of burgeoning demand for these critical metals, the company says.

The project is being developed to international standards, has established infrastructure, including the capacity to be entirely powered by hydro-electricity, making Longonjo one of the world’s most sustainable rare earth producers.

Just last week, Pensana announced that Wood and Nagrom, based on test work performed at metallurgical laboratories in Perth, Western Australia, had developed a flowsheet to produce a particularly high-grade MREC, with NdPr comprising 33.5% of the total rare earths content.

Thierry Breton, the EU’s Internal Market Commissioner, recently announced the establishment of a European Raw Materials Alliance recognising that the EU needs to establish sustainable supply and processing capacity of rare earths to support the UK government’s plans for the UK to become the Saudi Arabia of wind, Pensana said.

“Pensana is focused on this broader context and the Wood Group study will take into account sustainable development when considering the process route, preferred location, capital and operating costs, financing arrangements and government incentives relating to the UK project,” it said.

The study is currently expected to take approximately three months to complete.

Pensana Chairman, Paul Atherley, said: “The Wood Group study will look at the first and most important step in creating a sustainable mine to magnet supply chain and that is establishing rare earth processing capability in the UK.”

MineSense, Commerce Resources look at ore sorting options for Ashram REE project

Commerce Resources has started a test project initiative with MineSense as part of its ongoing collaboration with CanmetMINING.

The project with Commerce will include assessing the spectral response on 127 course analytical rejects from drill core, comprising five rock types associated with the Ashram rare earth and fluorspar deposit, in Quebec, Canada.

Of these 127 rejects, a total of 72 are from drill core within the Ashram deposit’s primary mineralised zone: the A-Zone. Based on the information collected, MineSense will be able to assess the laboratory-scale efficacy of its technology to the Ashram deposit material. If successful, a value contribution assessment may be completed as a follow up activity for the Ashram project.

MineSense specialises in digital technology solutions for ore-waste classification in real time at the mining stage (run of mine), thereby providing better grade control compared with that of the deposit block model or mine plan. It uses data analytics, combined with its trademarked ShovelSense and BeltSense technologies, to monitor mineralogical or grade changes in an orebody daily, as it is mined. This information allows for optimal ore blending, grade trend characterisation, and overall improved mine planning with resultant cost efficiencies.

The MineSense technology is based on X-ray Fluorescence sensors fitted to specific pieces of mining equipment to monitor the spectral response of the material being actively mined. The technology provides for a higher level of control compared with the typical ore sorting process which occurs at the truck scale in the process plant, Commerce says.

One of the standout deployments of ShovelSense is at Teck Resources’ Highland Valley Copper (HVC) operations in British Columbia.

The funding for the test work at Ashram is provided by Natural Resources Canada through CanmetMINING’s six-year rare earth element (REE) and chromite program (announced in April 2015), focused on developing new extraction technologies, addressing Canadian environmental challenges, and improving the knowledge of Canadian deposits, Commerce says. The company’s contribution to the collaboration is a supply of REE mineralised material from Ashram, in which several tonnes remain readily available from a bulk sample completed in 2012.

The Ashram deposit outcrops at surface, allowing for cost-effective collection of material for test work. As such, the company is actively engaging with various research and academic institutions to support the advancement of the rare earth element industry in Canada, and in Quebec specifically, it said.

The resource base at Ashram consists of 1.59 Mt of material averaging 1.77% total rare earth oxides (TREO) in the measured category, 27.67 Mt at 1.9% TREO in the indicated category and 219.8 Mt at 1.88% TREO in the inferred category. The preliminary economic assessment outlined a 4,000 t/d open-pit operation with a 0.19:1 (waste:ore) strip ratio over a 25-year mine life. Annual production averaged circa-16,850 t of REO over the life of mine.

Northern Minerals lays the groundwork for Steinert XRT ore sorter installation

Northern Minerals is set to commission a Steinert sensor-based ore sorter for use at its Browns Range rare earth pilot plant, in northern Western Australia, after gaining the relevant regulatory approvals for installation of the machine.

The ore sorting equipment concentrates ore prior to the beneficiation circuit by selecting ore and rejecting waste based on X-ray Transmission. This has the potential to double the feed grade and reduce production costs, according to the company.

Both the Western Australian Office of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation have now cleared the installation and commissioning, with construction commenced on the structural and mechanical equipment (pictured). Commissioning is scheduled for mid-2021.

The total capital investment for the procurement, installation and commissioning of the ore sorter is budgeted at A$5.9 million ($4.3 million), Northern Minerals said.

Previous trials of ore sorting technology at Browns Range, announced in October 2018, identified the potential to double the mill feed grade. This would lead to an increased production rate of heavy rare earth carbonate and a potential lowering of overall operating costs.

Once the ore sorting system is commissioned, Northern Minerals plans to run additional test work at pilot plant scale on all ore types to establish baseline data on feed grade improvements, it said. This work will also help evaluate material flow-through benefits of ore sorting on overall processing efficiencies, feeding into any future commercial, large-scale project feasibility studies at Browns Range.

Northern Minerals says it is also evaluating the economics of further downstream processing options for Browns Range ore.

To date, Browns Range has produced a mixed heavy rare earth carbonate for small-scale export to offtake partners. The options being assessed would take a further step along the supply chain to produce separated heavy rare earth oxides.

The company announced in August 2019 it had commenced a scoping study with US-based K-Technologies Inc to investigate a separation technology on intermediate mixed rare earths materials produced at Browns Range. K-Tech’s technology is focused on continuous ion exchange, continuous ion-chromatography and related advanced separation methodologies.

The study continues to progress well, with positive test results being achieved at K-Tech’s facilities in Florida albeit slower than planned because of constraints associated with COVID-19, Northern Minerals said. However, the company expects to see separated dysprosium and terbium oxides from the study before the end of this year.

Separately to collaborating with K-Tech, Northern Minerals is pursuing studies into traditional solvent extraction to produce oxides from the mixed heavy rare earth material produced at Browns Range.

Northern Minerals CEO, Mark Tory, said: “With approvals in place for the ore sorter and installation now under way, we will be in a strong position to thoroughly evaluate the flow-through benefits of that technology at a pilot plant scale.

“The results will provide a valuable input into future feasibility studies to assess the commercial viability of a large-scale heavy rare earths mining and processing operation at Browns Range.

“In addition to our investment in ore sorting to improve the mill feed grade, we are also committed to assessing opportunities to further unlock value at Browns Range through downstream processing to oxide products, which opens up a wider field of offtake and future project financing opportunities.”

Northern Minerals started producing rare earth carbonate through the Browns Range pilot plant in October 2018 as part of a three-year pilot assessment of economic and temporarily technical feasibility of a larger scale development at Browns Range.