Western Australian miner Northern Minerals has ushered in a new era for the state’s mining industry, becoming the world’s first producer of heavy rare earths outside of China.
WA Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan was on hand today for the opening ceremony of Northern Minerals’ Browns Range pilot processing plant, saying the operation would be a major job-creator in the north of the state.
Northern Minerals’ operation will process 180,000 tonnes of heavy rare earths over the next three years, around 15 per cent of the planned full-scale production at the project.
Products produced at the site include dysprosium and terbium, essential elements in the manufacture of electric motors for new energy vehicles.
Dysprosium and terbium are also used in wind turbines, industrial robots, air conditioning and many other cutting-edge technologies.
The company expects to generate $20 million in annual revenue from rare earth sales through the pilot plant, which was fabricated in China by Sinosteel and assembled on site by local contracting group MACA.
Rare earths products from the pilot plant project, which will be used to assess the economic viability of a full-scale rare earths mining operation at Browns Range, will be delivered to Northern Minerals’ offtake partner, Lianyugang Zeyu New Materials Sales Co, a wholly owned subsidiary of Guangdong Rare Earths Group.
Guangdong Rare Earths Group is one of five major heavy rare earths producers in China, having been established in Guangdong Province in 2014.
The company is aiming to improve the international competitiveness of China’s rare earth’s industry by diversifying its supply base.
Northern Minerals’ first shipment to Guangdong is expected to occur during the September quarter.
Managing director George Bauk said the Browns Range project was globally significant, becoming the first alternative source of heavy rare earths supply outside of China.
Mr Bauk said offtake partners and downstream processors were keen to diversify their supply base, in the context of expected growth in the electric vehicles industry.
Analysts predict demand for electric cars will increase to more than 20 million vehicles annually by 2025.
“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,” Mr Bauk said.
“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.”
Mr Bauk said the project also highlighted the importance of the Australian government’s research and development tax incentive scheme, saying the company was grateful for the support of both state and federal governments.