SPEED­ING AHEAD

The Australian Mining Review - - NEWS - AMY BLOM

Less than two months after achiev­ing me­chanic com­ple­tion at its $56 mil­lion Browns Range Pilot Plant, North­ern Min­er­als pro­duced its first rare earth car­bon­ate and fol­lowed it up with a plan to dou­ble pro­duc­tion. The com­pany is now on the hunt for more qual­ity rare earth min­eral de­posits.

NORTH­ERN Min­er­als is speed­ing ahead with its flag­ship Browns Range project after pro­duc­ing its first fi­nal prod­uct in Oc­to­ber, and an­nounc­ing plans that could dou­ble out­put.

The an­nounce­ments were fol­lowed by news that North­ern Min­er­als had en­tered into a $25 mil­lion sub­scrip­tion agree­ment with NRE In­dus­trial Group on 15 Oc­to­ber.

NRE is a sub­sidiary of North­ern Rare Earth SYL High-tech, a spe­cial­ist rare earth sep­a­ra­tion com­pany based in China.

North­ern Min­er­als also ex­e­cuted a fur­ther $2 mil­lion sub­scrip­tion agree­ment with shares at 9c with an undis­closed “so­phis­ti­cated in­vestor.”

Funds raised un­der the sub­scrip­tion agree­ment will be used to progress de­vel­op­ment of Browns Range Pilot Plant and to ac­cel­er­ate the North­ern Min­er­als en­hance­ment ini­tia­tives for Browns Range, ex­plo­ration ef­forts at Browns Range, as well as for gen­eral work­ing cap­i­tal.

North­ern Min­er­als manag­ing di­rec­tor and chief ex­ec­u­tive Ge­orge Bauk wel­comed the new in­vest­ment by NRE, which fol­lowed an un­so­licited ap­proach to North­ern Min­er­als.

“With Browns Range now in the com­mis­sion­ing phase and com­menc­ing the pro­duc­tion of mixed rare earth car­bon­ates, we are in­ves­ti­gat­ing ways of en­hanc­ing the project to de­liver bet­ter out­comes for our share­hold­ers,” Mr Bauk said.

The WA-based miner an­nounced the first pro­duc­tion of rare earth car­bon­ate through its Browns Range Pilot Plant, 160km south east of Halls Creek, on 8 Oc­to­ber.

Mr Bauk said it was yet an­other sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone for the com­pany and the project.

“This is the first pro­duc­tion of rare earth car­bon­ate from xeno­time ore out­side China and rep­re­sents a new global source of prod­uct,” Mr Bauk said.

“Com­mis­sion­ing is pro­gress­ing well and we look for­ward to the next mile­stone be­ing the first ship­ment of prod­uct to our cus­tomers.”

Dou­bling Out­put

On 11 Oc­to­ber, North­ern Min­er­als an­nounced a $4 mil­lion pro­posal to in­tro­duce ore sort­ing tech­nol­ogy at Browns Range after con­duct­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions on the five stock­piles there to im­prove ben­e­fi­ci­a­tion and feed to the pro­cess­ing plant.

In turn, this would re­sult in an in­crease in the amount of rare earth ox­ides that could be pro­duced by the re­cently com­mis­sioned plant.

The tech­nol­ogy was pre­vi­ously tested on the Wolver­ine high-grade stock­pile, which demon­strated the po­ten­tial to dou­ble the mill feed grade.

Test­ing at Wolver­ine showed that about 80 per cent of the value of the ore could be re­cov­ered from 20 per cent of the mass, pro­vid­ing an up­grade fac­tor of four times.

Al­ter­nately, 90 per cent of the ore’s value could be ex­tracted from about 40 per cent of the mass by ore sort­ing ahead of pro­cess­ing, pro­vid­ing an up­grade fac­tor of 2.25 times.

North­ern Min­er­als manag­ing di­rec­tor and chief ex­ec­u­tive Ge­orge Bauk said the an­nounce­ment had many pos­i­tive ben­e­fits.

“Ore sort­ing tech­nol­ogy is read­ily avail­able through a num­ber of providers and our stud­ies on the five ex­ist­ing Run-of-Mine (ROM) stock­piles have shown the po­ten­tial for sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments in both pro­cess­ing plant ef­fi­ciency and value re­cov­ery of heavy rare earth el­e­ments through its use,” Mr Bauk said.

“We be­lieve the up-front cap­i­tal cost of ret­ro­spec­tively in­stalling ore sort­ing tech­nol­ogy ahead of the ex­ist­ing Brown Range Pilot Plant cir­cuit is jus­ti­fied in light of the head grade im­prove­ment demon­strated in the test­work to date, along with the fore­cast eco­nomic ben­e­fits de­liv­ered by greater pro­duc­tion out­put – both of which will flow-through to ad­di­tional medium-term value for share­hold­ers.

“We are cur­rently work­ing on more test­work, ap­provals, plan­ning and the fund­ing re­quired for ore sort­ing at Browns Range with a view to have ore sort­ing in­stal­la­tion in Q2 2019.”

North­ern Min­er­als has en­gaged Perth-based Nexus Bonum to un­der­take a fea­si­bil­ity study for the de­sign, sup­ply and in­stal­la­tion of an ore sort­ing cir­cuit ahead of the pilot plant at Browns Range.

The ore sort­ing cir­cuit would be in­te­grated into the ex­ist­ing pilot plant, di­rectly be­hind the crushed ore stock­pile and mill feed hop­per.

Browns Range’ ex­ist­ing process plant had been built with a crush­ing ca­pac­ity of 216,000 tonnes per an­num (tpa), which was well in ex­cess of the name­plate ca­pac­ity of the down­stream ben­e­fi­ci­a­tion plant of 72,000tpa, and would be suitable for the ore sort­ing cir­cuit.

The ore sorter would di­vert the feed from the pri­mary crusher ore stock­pile over a screen.

It would then go through the ore sort­ing cir­cuit to es­tab­lish mill feed stock­piles of up­graded sorted ore, a sep­a­rate fines stock­pile, and an op­tional blended stock­pile of fines and up­graded sorted ore.

Re­jected, low grade ore would be con­veyed to the stock­pile for pro­cess­ing at a later stage.

New Dis­cov­er­ies

Through the de­vel­op­ment Browns Range, North­ern Min­er­als aimed to be the first sig­nif­i­cant world pro­ducer of dys­pro­sium out­side of China.

Dys­pro­sium is a key com­po­nent in the pro­duc­tion of dys­pro­sium neodymium, iron-boron (DyNdFeb) mag­nets, which are used in clean en­ergy and high tech­nol­ogy ap­pli­ca­tions in­clud­ing elec­tric ve­hi­cles and wind tur­bine gen­er­a­tors.

North­ern Min­er­als also pro­duces lutetium and ter­bium.

Ter­bium is used in the pro­duc­tion of per­ma­nent mag­nets used in a num­ber of ap­pli­ca­tions in­clud­ing X-ray screens, tele­vi­sions and hy­brid cars.

Lutetium is one of the least abun­dant rare earth el­e­ments and is es­sen­tial in the pro­duc­tion of de­tec­tors used in PET scan­ners and cat­a­lysts in the chem­i­cal in­dus­try.

Prov­ing its place as a fu­ture ma­jor rare earths pro­ducer, North­ern Min­er­als an­nounced an im­pres­sive dis­cov­ery 15km south of Browns Range in WA’s Kimberley re­gion on 28 Septem­ber.

New as­say re­sults from re­verse cir­cu­la­tion (RC) drilling at the Ice­man and Daz­zler prospects con­firmed new high-grade rare earth dis­cov­er­ies, in­clud­ing high con­cen­tra­tions of dys­pro­sium.

At Daz­zler, in­ter­sec­tions in­cluded 18m grad­ing 9.1 per cent to­tal rare earth ox­ide (TREO) from 25m down-hole, in­cor­po­rat­ing 0.86 per cent dys­pro­sium ox­ide.

Shal­low drilling at Ice­man, 400m south­east of Daz­zler, pro­duced an 11m in­ter­cept grad­ing 4.83 per TREO from 13m down-hole, in­clud­ing 0.45 per cent dys­pro­sium.

North­ern Min­er­als con­sid­ered the re­sults no­table, con­sid­er­ing Browns Range has an es­ti­mated min­eral re­source of nearly 9 mil­lion tonnes with an av­er­age TREO of 0.63 per cent, con­tain­ing more than 0.05 per cent dys­pro­sium ox­ide.

Mr Bauk said the high-grade as­says con­firmed the com­pany’s be­lief in hav­ing two new dis­cov­er­ies close to the Browns Range pro­cess­ing in­fra­struc­ture.

“We will be mo­bil­is­ing as soon as prac­ti­ca­ble to fol­low up these re­sults as well as other high pri­or­ity areas tar­get­ing the Gar­diner Sand­stone un­con­for­mity,” Mr Bauk said.

Mr Baulk con­firmed North­ern Min­er­als would con­tinue work­ing to ex­pand its re­source base in FY19 and in­crease mine life at Browns Range.

“Fol­low­ing the change in sta­tus from ex­plorer to pro­duce, it is im­per­a­tive that we con­tinue to up­date our knowl­edge of the de­posits and con­tinue to ex­pand our re­source base,” Mr Bauk said.

“The re­cent high-grade dis­cov­er­ies at Daz­zler and Ice­man will be a ma­jor ex­plo­ration fo­cus over the com­ing year.

“With the three year Pilot Plant now op­er­a­tions, the ex­plo­ration team has been charged with find­ing and de­lin­eat­ing ad­di­tional re­sources that can in­crease the full-scale mine life from 11 years to over 20.”

“This is the first pro­duc­tion of rare earth car­bon­ate from xeno­time ore out­side China and rep­re­sents a new global source of prod­uct.”

Al­lim­ages:North­ernMin­er­als.

Browns Range pro­duced its first fi­nal prod­uct in Oc­to­ber.

Browns Range pilot plant is 160km east of Halls Creek.

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