By the time Diggers and Dealers 2023 comes around, Kalgoorlie will be home to Western Australia’s first significant downstream processing plant for rare earth materials, courtesy of Lynas Corporation.
Rounding out the first segment of the final morning of Diggers today, Lynas vice president, upstream Kam Leung gave delegates some insight as to why the world’s second-largest producer of separated rare earth materials had chosen Kalgoorlie as the home for the downstream facility.
Aside from seeking an appropriate location between its Mt Weld mine site and the Port of Fremantle, Mr Leung said Lynas had received a co-investment offer from the City of Kalgoorlie on the day the company released its 2025 strategy (in mid-2019).
“We understood Kalgoorlie wanted the employment and the business but some of the things they could offer, such as land, water, workforce and infrastructure, along with an understanding of what we actually do (by-products we produce and the like), made it an obvious choice,” he said.
Mr Leung said preliminary works were on track to commence early next year, with commissioning pencilled in for around the end of 2022 ahead of ramp-up in 2023, at which point a 200-strong workforce will be required for ongoing operations.
“We’re seeing an increasing focus on resilient supply chains and announcements from a range of governments on support for critical material supply… and we see ourselves as an established producer in a prime position to take advantage of this trend,” he said.
It is an evolving story that WA-based rare earths explorer Hastings Technology Metals would be watching closely, as it concentrates its efforts on developing its Yangibana and Brockman projects, located north-east of Carnarvon and near Halls Creek (respectively).
While more of a secondary focus than primary, Mr Leung made note of heavy rare earths being a key and critical component of that supply chain.
“We have heavy rare earths in our orebody… and we’ve been selling that product into China where it is separated by another party,” he said.
“It has been on our agenda to actually do the separation ourselves; we have the capability and we’ve been working on a strategy on this with our US partner. So if we do that, that would likely take place in Texas.”
Mr Leung said that alongside the “light” rare earths that Lynas primarily produces, the heavy rare earth elements are also essential ingredients in the production of magnets that are used across clean energy, military and high technology applications.
That shines a light on the likes of Perth-based Northern Minerals, which has produced the heavy rare earth element Dysprosium out of its Browns Range pilot plant in northern WA.