THE INSIDE STORY: Arafura Resources (ASX: ARU) was recently awarded Major Project Facilitation (MPF) status with the Australian Government in recognition of the company’s 100 per cent-owned Nolans rare earths project in the Northern Territory.
The Government offers a free MPF service to eligible projects to acknowledge the potential, government approval processes have, to add complexity to the planning and developing of major project investment.
The MPF program is administered by the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development on behalf of the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and endeavours to ensure Commonwealth approval processes are coordinated with relevant state and territory government approval processes.
The Minister, accordingly grants MPF services to projects deemed suitable, where a company has made the appropriate application and the project is assessed as meeting the eligibility criteria.
Arafura’s Nolans rare earth project was awarded MPF status following a review of the project, which delivered substantial process design improvements resulting in a more competitive and efficient project with greater capacity to withstand cyclical downturns in rare earth prices.
The Nolans deposit contains Measured and Indicated JORC resources of 34.9 million tonnes at 2.79 per cent total rare earth oxides (TREO) and 12.1 per cent phosphate (P2O5).
This is equivalent to over 970,000 tonnes of contained TREO with the current mine plan supporting a mine life of more than 20 years at a production level of 14,000 tonnes per annum equivalent TREO.
An important feature to emerge from the review was the introduction of phosphoric acid to the pre‐leach circuit, allowing an improved alignment with the project’s rare earth‐bearing phosphate‐rich feed.
This, along with other process changes, has assisted simplifying the Nolans flowsheet, thus reducing operating expenditure and environmental footprint.
It also enables production of 110,000 tonnes per annum of a merchant‐grade (54% phosphate [P2O5]) phosphoric acid product previously reported as a waste product.
“The review determined that process improvements will deliver higher rare earth recoveries at a reduced operating cost of US$6.23 per kilogram of TREO,” Arafura Resources managing director Gavin Lockyer told The Resources Roadhouse.
“The upshot from the comparatively high weighting towards neodymium and praseodymium (NdPr) rare earths – also referred to as magnet feed material – in the Nolans rare earth product mix, along with high rare earth and phosphate recoveries targeting NdPr and the reduced operating cost, is Nolans becoming one of the most efficient developing rare earth projects going around.”
The revised flowsheet includes the production of both a cerium carbonate and a phosphoric acid product in the Extraction Plant at the Nolans site.
“As a result, the offshore Separation Plant now produces three rare earth products compared with four from the previous Development Report flowsheet,” Lockyer said.
“Removing cerium at the Extraction Plant prior to refining at the Separation Plant reduces the volume of a rare earth intermediate product being exported.
“The rare earth product suite is made even simpler with production of a mixed samarium‐europium‐gadolinium‐heavy rare earth carbonate product.
“That means we can reduce the number of unit operations in the Separation Plant, and therefore refine capital and operating expenditure while the rare earths separation plant targets high recoveries for NdPr.”
The renewed process flowsheet also improved the CAPEX and OPEX equations with the project’s CAPEX reduced by US$658 million, close to 50 per cent, and OPEX by US$5.50 per kilogram of TREO, or 38 per cent.
The total initial CAPEX for the Nolans project is now estimated to be US$680 million inclusive of 20 per cent contingency.
In light of this information Arafura has commenced the process of scoping and tendering the next phase of engineering and design for the final Feasibility Study phase of the project.
In addition, the company recently commenced putting the flowsheet through a final round of rigorous pilot testing to support detailed engineering, and will soon submit a supplement to its draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) with Northern Territory regulators to advance environmental approval for the project.
Arafura Minerals Limited (ASX: ARU)
…The Short Story
Level 3, 263 Adelaide Terrace
Perth WA 6000
Ph: +61 (8) 6210 7666
Ian Kowalick, Gavin Lockyer, Chris Tonkin, Terry Grose, Cungen Ding