Australian Mining News — Not Just Lithium, But Rare Earths!

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Andrew Forrest is a leader in the move away from fossil fuels. He established Fortescue Future Industries (FFFI) to capitalise on and accelerate the transition to a green global economy. Recently, while announcing Fortescue Metals Group’s “best-ever” half-year result he said: “We have … a very rare insight, I think, for a mining company, into what’s happening in the green energy revolution because we speak to everybody and we own businesses, like electrolyser facilities, very large battery facilities which are amongst the most advanced prototypes in the world,” Forrest said during Fortescue’s December quarterly investor call.

“It’s showing us where we need to go, what we need to focus on.”

And it’s not just lithium, but also rare earths, some of the key elements in EV drivetrains and batteries. Rare earths are used for the production of permanent magnets. Forrest is putting his money and his knowledge to good use, buying WAE Technologies and applying their battery breakthroughs to a “big boy’s toy” — a 240-tonne, zero-emission, battery-electric haul truck developed by Liebherr. 

The monster truck and its revolutionary battery will be tested in the rugged conditions of Fortescue Metals iron ore mines in Western Australia’s Pilbarra.

“I think there are abundant sources of rare earths which have not yet been brought to the market,” he said.

Forrest’s private company Wyloo metals has invested in TSX-listed Neo Performance Materials, a leading global rare earths processing and advanced permanent magnets producer. Wyloo is also invested in Hastings, which is developing the Yangibana rare earth project in Western Australia. Hastings hopes to produce up to 15,000 tonnes of mixed rare earths carbonate (MREC) per year.

“Our company has never performed better,” Forrest said. “Not on mining, not on exploration, not (on) green hydrogen, not on green energy development ever. This is a record quarter. It’s a record half and it’s getting stronger from here.”

Dr Forrest announced that Fortescue achieved its highest-ever December quarterly iron ore shipments, 49.4 million tonnes. This added up to a record 96.9 million tonnes of iron ore shipped in the second half of 2022.

Lynas Rare Earths is also setting records from its Mt Weld mine in Western Australia. Ore processing improvements have led to a record quarter of rare earth oxide tonnes (REOt) concentrate being produced.

The REOt output was 5% higher than the previous record, achieved in the second quarter of the 2017–18 financial year. Lynas is stockpiling the ore from its open cut operations to the run of mine (ROM).

“Lynas sold neodymium-praseodymium (NdPr) to China at $US83 ($116.69) per kilogram during the December quarter, which it deemed ‘flat market pricing’.

“But prices improved towards the end of the quarter.”

“Market prices started to increase again from December in anticipation of the late January Lunar New Year holidays and an expected rebound of the consumption in China,” Lynas managing director Amanda Lacaze said.

“Future pricing trends will depend on China’s economic recovery.”

The 4th quarter of 2022 saw an increase in sales revenue from $AUS164 million (Q3) from the production of 1359 tonnes to AUS$233 million with production at 1508 tonnes.

Lynas has a growth plan targeting a 50% increase in NdPr production. However, the market is growing rapidly and the miner might have to be more aggressive in its plans in order to satisfy demand. It is currently targeting 10,500 tonnes by 2025.

“Investment in capacity expansion will be required at every production stage,” Lacaze said in August 2022. “This starts with increasing feedstock availability, and this project will substantially expand Mt Weld’s feedstock capacity, targeting feedstock production capacity of 12,000 tonnes per annum NdPr equivalent in 2024.”

Australian mining company Patriot Battery Metals is celebrating the results of its recent sample drilling operation at its Corvette Lithium project in Canada to ascertain the concentration of lithium oxide.

Ken Brinsden, non-executive chair of Patriot, was the managing director and chief executive of Pilbara Minerals. He was impressed by Corvette’s potential: “I’m winding down at Pilbara Minerals and having a look at the Patriot geological maps … and thinking to myself, this is feeling a lot like Pilgangoora in 2015, because the geology at the Corvette discovery feels like it’s going to support another big project over time,” he told the Resources Rising Stars Summer Series in December. “It’s early stages in exploration but already there’s evidence to indicate that it’s going to be one of the bigger discoveries in the last decade or so,” he said.

Brinsden played a key role in the delineation and development of Pilbara Minerals Pilgangoora lithium operation in the Pilbara — one of the premier hard rock lithium mines in the world.

Production is up and so are lithium prices, leading the Greenbushes lithium operation in Western Australia to post a record quarterly performance.

Spodumene concentrate production went from 361,000 tonnes in the September quarter to 379,000 in Q4 2022. “Production benefited from a new quarterly processing record, where overall throughput increased 7 per cent quarter-on-quarter to 1.6 million tonnes of total ore processed.”

Sales revenue was up 26% to AUS$2.3 billion. Realised spodumene prices are on the increase. In the 3rd quarter, Greenbushes spodumene was sold at US$3,729 per tonne, which increased to US$3,984 per tonne in the December quarter. IGO expects the price for spodumene concentrate sold during the March 2023 quarter to be US$5,957 per tonne. Note the significant increase from 2022.

“IGO Limited is an ASX 100 listed company focused on creating a better planet for future generations by discovering, developing, and delivering products critical to clean energy. As a purpose led organisation with strong, embedded values and a culture of caring for our people and our stakeholders, we believe we are Making a Difference by safely, sustainably and ethically, delivering the products our customers need to advance the global transition to decarbonisation. 

“Greenbushes is undertaking several expansion projects which IGO expects will increase the operation’s production profile from approximately 1.5 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) to approximately 2.5Mtpa over the next four years.”

Australian mining is making a difference by producing the minerals needed for the transition to a greener future for us and our grandchildren.


 


 


 

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