Australian heavy rare earths producer Northern Minerals Limited (ASX: NTU) will partially restart operations at the Browns Range heavy rare earths pilot plant project and recommence exploration activities across its tenements in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia.
The Board’s decision follows the lifting of Commonwealth biosecurity restrictions applied to the Kimberley region as part of COVID-19 control measures, which was the catalyst for the Company placing the Project on care-and-maintenance at the end of March.
Northern Minerals has commenced planning and logistics to support the restart of operations at the Pilot Plant which will initially focus on testwork in the beneficiation circuit followed by tests in the hydrometallurgical circuit.
The Company will also proceed with the mechanical construction and installation of ore-sorting equipment at the front-end of the Pilot Plant.
Exploration activity across the Browns Range tenement package will also be ramped-up, with a budget of $4.5-$5.0 million being allocated for greenfields exploration, further evaluation of identified mineralisation and to boost confidence in resources, with the objective of increasing the overall life-of-mine potential of the Project.
The partial return of Pilot Plant operations at Browns Range will result in approximately three-quarters of the previous Project workforce being re-mobilised later this month. However, there are some positions that are likely to become redundant.
The information gathered from the Pilot Plant operation to date and also the upcoming testwork programs will provide data for the potential Bankable Feasibility Study of a full-scale commercial facility.
Executive Chairman Colin McCavana said while the Board was pleased to be in a position to recommence work at Browns Range, following COVID-19 being brought under control in the State, it had come at a cost to the business.
“We have taken the difficult decision to only partially restart the Pilot Plant at this stage, but believe it is the best immediate path forward in the Project’s development. We will work closely and collaboratively with those members of the team impacted by this decision to redeploy them to other opportunities within the Company, including within our exploration team, where it is possible to do so,” Mr McCavana said.
“Our significant commitment to exploration in the next 6-12 months will underpin our ongoing ambition to develop a full-scale heavy rare earths mining and processing operation at Browns Range in the future, which if successful would create significantly greater opportunities for Northern Minerals, the State and Australia in the global context of these critical minerals.”