Po­tash firm in na­tional first

Countryman - - NEWS - Stu­art McKin­non

Aus­tralian Po­tash is poised to be­come the na­tion’s first pro­ducer of the high-value fer­tiliser.

The Matt Shack­le­ton-led com­pany an­nounced in De­cem­ber that three tonnes of potas­si­um­rich har­vest salts from its Lake Wells pi­lot pro­ject, 100km north­east of Laver­ton, ar­rived in Perth for pro­cess­ing into sul­phate of po­tash.

The SOP trade sam­ples will then be ver­i­fied as part of con­tin­u­ing talks with two po­ten­tial Chi­nese off­take part­ners.

The news rep­re­sents the con­clu­sion of a pi­lot evap­o­ra­tion pro­ject at Lake Wells, with Aus­tralian Po­tash now turn­ing its at­ten­tion to com­plet­ing a de­fin­i­tive fea­si­bil­ity study on the pro­ject by mid-next year.

Lake Wells sits on a pa­le­ochan­nel con­tain­ing potas­si­um­rich brine, which Aus­tralian Po­tash plans to ex­tract us­ing bores and then evap­o­rate us­ing ponds. The salts are then sep­a­rated and pu­ri­fied into sul­phate of po­tash via a sim­ple pro­cess­ing tech­nique.

The for­mer gold ex­plorer, pre­vi­ously named Gold­phyre, has de­lin­eated 65km of pa­le­ochan­nel at its Lake Wells ten­e­ments.

Aus­tralian Po­tash in 2017 com­pleted a scop­ing study, which put a $160 mil­lion cost on de­vel­op­ing Lake Wells, based on an ini­tial 150,000tpa pro­ject.

Mr Shack­le­ton be­lieves Lake Wells is uniquely placed be­cause of its prox­im­ity to a rail line at Leonora, which is 280km away by road.

The pro­jects of some of the com­pany’s ri­vals are con­sid­er­ably more re­mote, mean­ing trans­port costs are likely to be higher.

Aus­tralian Po­tash also has plans to can­ni­balise the 230,000tpa do­mes­tic mar­ket for the lower-value fer­tiliser, muri­ate of po­tash, used by lo­cal broad­acre crop farm­ers.

The com­pany has com­mis­sioned the Univer­sity of WA to com­pare SOP and MOP on broad­acre crop yields and qual­ity.

Farm­ers gen­er­ally recog­nise the ad­van­tages of SOP over MOP, but use the lat­ter be­cause the for­mer is pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive.

But Aus­tralian Po­tash be­lieves it can pro­duce SOP much cheaper than the im­ported prod­uct, mak­ing it a pre­ferred fer­tiliser for Aus­tralian farm­ers.

The com­pany is also ex­plor­ing the sell­ing of the SOP by-prod­ucts.

Mag­ne­sium sul­phate is used as lower-grade fer­tiliser in some coun­tries while mag­ne­sium chlo­ride has road-sur­fac­ing ap­pli­ca­tions.

Aus­tralian Po­tash is one of a hand­ful of com­pa­nies vy­ing to be­come the first of a new crop of WA sul­phate of po­tash pro­duc­ers.

The Brett Hazelden-led Kal­ium Lakes re­leased a bank­able fea­si­bil­ity study for its pro­ject in Septem­ber.

Pic­ture: Ross Swan­bor­ough

Aus­tralian Po­tash’s Matt Shack­le­ton.

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