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Driving the Future of Rare Earth Mining in Australia

Chemistry was never really my strong point, and I can’t remember seeing neodymium and praseodymium (NdPr) on the periodic table in high school, but these rare earth elements (REE) are becoming more and more important for driving the future of the electric vehicle revolution. There are several local companies mining for rare earths in Australia, and Arafura Resources looks set to become a major player with its Nolans project in the Northern Territory situated 135 kilometres north of Alice Springs.

Australia’s first nations people are benefiting from the project, as a “Native Title Agreement” (NTA) was executed in June 2020 with the site’s Native Title Holders. “This NTA provides for the on-going protection of the Native Title Holders rights as well as allowing them to share in the long-term benefits of the Nolans Project.” It is expected to deliver substantial social and economic benefits to local (Alice Springs, Ti Tree, and Laramba), regional, and national stakeholders. This will include indigenous and local employment opportunities, small and medium enterprise business opportunities, royalties, and potentially shared infrastructure.

“The Nolans project is the only NdPr (neodymium-praseodymium) project in Australia that plans to mine and process ore to oxide at a single site,” Arafura managing director Gavin Lockyer said. Nolans has the potential to support mining and processing operations for 38 years at a design capacity of 340,000 tonnes of concentrate production per annum.”

“The project not only includes the mine but a processing plant comprising beneficiation, extraction and separation plants. Neodymium and praseodymium (NdPr) are two of the world’s most sought-after rare earth elements. As an independent product NdPr can be used for permanent magnet materials as well as a non-ferrous metal alloy additive. The neodymium magnet made from praseodymium alloy is one of the most powerful and widely used of rare earth magnets. The magnets are three times stronger, and one-tenth the size of conventional magnets…Every electric vehicle (EV) drivetrain requires up to 2kg of NdPr oxide, whereas a three-megawatt (MW) direct drive wind turbine uses 600kg.” Driving the future indeed!

“The Nolans deposit contains a JORC 2012-compliant Mineral Resources of 56 million tonnes at an average grade of 2.6% total rare earth oxides (TREO) and 11% phosphate (P2O5) that extends to 215 metres below the surface. Open-cut mining will selectively target phosphate-rich material types in seven pit stages over the life of mine with ore being fed to a single-stage crushing and milling circuit at the process plant approximately 8.5 kilometres south of the mine.

“Milled ore will initially be processed using flotation. This reduces the mass for subsequent processing and produces a phosphate-rich, rare earth-bearing concentrate, as well as tailings. Tailings will be pumped to a Residue Storage Facility (RSF) for containment and long-term management.

“Rare earth chloride from the extraction plant will be further refined at an adjacent separation plant into two final rare earth products for export and sale: 4,440 tonnes per annum of NdPr oxide and 470 tonnes per annum of a mixed middle-heavy rare earth (SEG/HRE) oxide.”

In line with Australia’s strict environmental assessment processes, the Nolans Project has been assessed and given approval by the Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority (NT EPA) and the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy (DoEE). The Company received environmental approval from the NT EPA in 2017 and from the DoEE in 2018. The company’s ability to manage mine waste and process plant residues and to progressively rehabilitate the site, have been assessed and fully costed.

Nolans Bore has the potential to supply a significant proportion of the world’s NdPr demand. Currently, China produces 85% of the world’s NdPr output. Australian miners are driving the future by ramping up production in the mining and processing of rare earths.

Image courtesy of Arafura

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Written By

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].


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