The company looking to build Australia’s first heavy rare earths mine has received government approval to build a pilot processing plant near Halls Creek in the Kimberley.
Northern Minerals, which owns the Browns Range deposit near the Western Australia-Northern Territory border, is aiming to start mining next year.
Managing director George Bauk said the WA Government’s approval was a “significant step” for the project, even though a pilot plant was not in the company’s original plans.
“Last year we were on track to build our full-scale operation, but due to financial markets and other events we’ve looked at an alternative strategy, which includes the development of a pilot plant,” he said.
“As part of that we’ve had to go and make some modifications to some of our approvals, and the project management plan, which has just received approval from the WA Department of Mines and Petroleum, is a significant step forward in getting our final approvals in place to commence construction [of the pilot plant].”
Mr Bauk said a pilot plant would allow the company to prove to the market that it could deliver on certain specifications.
“Being the first major mine outside of China in the heavy rare earths space, it’s really important to make sure you get the confidence of the supply chain … and [prove] the ability to deliver a product that meets the specifications,” he said.
The pilot plant, at a scale of 10 per cent of the proposed full-scale operation, has a designed front end throughput of 60,000 tonnes per annum.
The pilot plant is scheduled to operate for three years, in which time a decision to commit to the full-scale operation is expected to be made.
Mr Bauk said the plant would require a workforce of about 35 people. With more jobs created during the construction phase and mining operation.
The target element of the mine is dysprosium, which is a rare earth mineral used in magnets commonly found in hybrid cars and mobile phones.