Alongside a $30 million capital raising, Australian company Northern Minerals (ASX: NTU) – the world’s only heavy rare earth producer outside of China – has this week approved plans to expand a raft of project enhancement initiatives at its Browns Range pilot plant project in northern Western Australia, on the back of heightened interest in the company and its flagship operation
Perth-based Northern Minerals told the market that it has approved an initiative to commence ore sorting at Browns Range, with trials indicating that this could double the plant’s feed grade.
It has also given the green light to investigate the incorporation of product separation technology into existing processing capabilities at Browns Range.
“The current pilot plant configuration produces a mixed heavy rare earth carbonate, which requires downstream processing in China to separate it into individual higher value rare earth oxides,” the company said.
“In order to capture additional margin and transact directly with end users, the company plans to investigate the potential for the addition of separation technology to its existing processing capabilities.
“Previous studies are being reviewed and samples from Browns Range will be dispatched to selected separation technology groups for initial bench-scale testwork.
“If the separation technology investigations prove to be successful, incorporation of the technology will position Northern Minerals as a unique rare earth producer in Australia and globally.”
Aiding in the funding of these initiatives, and following a recent $6.9 million entitlement offer, is a $30 million placement launched by Northern Minerals this week to Australian and overseas investors.
The first tranche (and portions of the second and third tranches) of the placement, equal to nearly $12 million, has already been received, with the balance due soon.
Northern Minerals said the program expansion and acceleration was the result of significantly increased levels of interest in both the company and Browns Range from several parties, some of which are potential customers, investors and government bodies in Australia and the US.
“This interest largely stems from the increased focus on rare earths as a result of the trade tensions between the US and China, which has seen the dysprosium price increase by about 55 per cent in 2019,” Northern Minerals said.
The company has also penned an expanded exploration program at Browns Range on several fronts, with the aim of extending the project’s mine life.
“After the discovery of the high-grade Dazzler Deposit in 2018 following the testing of a new geological hypothesis, the Company has identified several targets for follow up geophysics and drilling during the second half of 2019,” it said.
“Metallurgical testwork has also commenced on core samples from Dazzler to test its recoverability through the plant.”