"Security of supply will drive demand,"
the boss of the rare earth mining junior Northern Minerals told
Industrial Minerals, while work nears completion on the first
non-Chinese heavy rare earths capacity.
Construction on Northern
Minerals’ Browns Range pilot plant in Australia,
which is being shipped in parts from China, is expected to be
completed by June 30, with the first shipments of rare earth
carbonate by 30 September.
Northern Minerals has already mined the
ore for the pilot plant's planned run of 60,000 tonnes per year
of rare earth oxides, 15% of the finished plant's planned
Northern Minerals has signed a three year
offtake agreement for mixed heavy rare earth carbonate from its
pilot plant, with Chinese company JFMAG.
But the company has yet to lock in buyers
for its planned total offtake, which it plans to make available
to "as wide a range of buyers as possible".
But as well as expanding to a full-sized
plant, Northern Minerals also has plans to develop its own
separation capacity, a move which would break the Chinese
stranglehold on the rare earths market.
Northern Minerals is currently raising A$5
million, with a share purchase plan, in order to explore its
lease. A larger confirmed resource will encourage buyers, Bauk
said, adding, "The end users want a bigger life of mine," he
said. The money will also help to cut mining costs.
The company is also planning to review the
possibility of developing its own separation process for
terbium oxide and dysprosium oxide, the key heavy rare earth
"At the moment magnet minerals will make
up 82% of our revenues," Bauk said, continuing, "The key
revenue drives are dysprosium and terbium."
Dysprosium or terbium are used to improve
performance in permanent magnets, which primarily consist of
iron, boron, and the light rare-earth mineral neodymium.
These rare earth permanent magnets, which
are much stronger than other magnets, are a key element in the
high power-to-weight engines needed for electric vehicles
(EVs), meaning demand for these magnets is rising rapidly
alongside EV production.
"It’s a matter of speed in
which the EVs are taken up," Bauk said, adding that the average
EV engine contains 100 g of dysprosium.
Rare earth magnets are also used in wind
energy generation, another growing market. But even as demand
booms, heavy rare earths production is currently restricted to
"There’s really no supply of
heavy rare earths planned outside of China," Bauk said, adding
that production inside China was being restricted.
The high grade of the Browns Range reserve
boasts a rare earth oxide content of around 6,600 parts per
million, of which 8.9% is dysprosium.
Longer term, the company is interested in
a a light rare earth project, which would widen the range of
oxides the company could offer buyers, Bauk said.