Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Koppamurra mining: Australian first for rare earths

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Chris Oldfield, Naracoorte Community News

A $45 million mining company with a base in Naracoorte is about to start drilling for rare earths – essential to modern high-tech products – at a unique deposit in Koppamurra.

Australian Rare Earths Limited (AREL) has already established an office and warehouse in MacDonnell St and has staff living and working in Naracoorte.

The Adelaide company is a new player in the industry which is part of the global transition to renewable energy featuring wind turbines and electric vehicles.

AREL was launched on the Australian Stock Exchange on July 1 – under the code AR3 – after raising $12 million at 30c a share through an over-subscribed initial public offering. Last Friday the shares were trading at $1.035 and the company had a market capitalisation of $44.6 million.

With a mining licence stretching from Keith to Comaum and from Apsley into western Victoria, the company announced last week that planning and preparation had been completed for its drilling program to start in early October.

Koppamurra is its flagship project.

The drilling will focus on confirming the prospects of the rare earths in areas of Koppamurra where it has negotiated access and compensation arrangements with landowners.

The areas to be drilled are sites in the Hynam, Frances and Comaum districts.

AREL also announced the appointment of a locally based manager of land and community, Jacqui Owen.

“The company has a focussed approach to partnering with the community to grow Koppamurra in a responsible and sustainable manner,” it told the Stock Exchange.

Rare Earth Elements (REE) are a group of 17 metals critical to making magnets in high-tech products – from mobile phones, and cars to medical equipment, aircraft engines and agricultural machinery.

According to AREL’s website, exploration of Koppamurra “has shown it contains significant quantities of the rare earth elements: Neodymium, Praseodymium, Dysprosium and Terbium”. 

Under the banner of light and heavy rare earth elements, they are used in permanent magnet generators for wind turbines and electric traction drives for electronic vehicles.

According to the website, “clay hosted rare earth mining is shallow-excavation mining involving progressive rehabilitation and is much lower impact than many other forms of mining.

“The deposits of interest are non-radioactive, which is a significant advantage over other mineral sand and ‘hard rock’ rare earth element deposits.

“The progressive rehabilitation process will allow for the rapid restoration of the land to its former condition, along with the potential in some areas, working with landowners, to optimise the productivity of the land returned to them.”

The website says the rare earth elements which AREL is targeting “are critical to producing cleaner energy technologies aimed at de-carbonising economies and building a more sustainable future.

“Therefore, we must find ways to investigate and extract these materials in a safe and responsible manner, with a focus on protecting the communities in which we operate.”

Currently 72 per cent of the world’s main source of rare earth elements are the ionic clays of southern China and Myanmar (formerly Burma).

But shortages of the rare earth elements – and hence semi-conductor chips which are reliant on their creation – have seen the U,S. among other countries, indicate the limited supply is a national security issue.

Last year the Australian Government released a report highlighting a shortage of rare earths.

“Rare earth magnet demand is expected to increase five-fold by 2030,” the report says. 

“This will result in shortages from 2022 of 48,000 tonnes of Neodymium Praseodymium Iron Boron (NdPrFeB) permanent magnet alloy and 16,000 tonnes of NdPr oxide. 

“These high-performance magnets are used extensively in electric vehicles and offshore wind turbines.”

The non-executive chairman Professor Dudley Kingsnorth told the Stock Exchange: “Starting our maiden drilling program so soon after our successful initial public offering in July is proving to be a most fulfilling time for AR3.

“There has been a great deal of hard work by a dedicated team of people to get us to the point where we will soon have drill rigs on the ground.

“Establishing the office in Naracoorte is an integral part of our community presence, ensuring the local community is not only comfortable with what we are doing, but fully understands the opportunities that could come with what we are pursuing.”

When the company was listed, Professor Kingsnorth said Koppamurra was Australia’s only ionic clay-hosted Rare Earth Element deposit – and one of only two ASX-listed opportunities globally.

AREL’s head office is in Adelaide and the executive (technical) director is Rickie Pobjoy.

Fieldrich Metallurgical Services co-director Dirk Richards – who is unrelated to the Koppamurra project but owns property in Naracoorte – said mining was an exciting addition to the region’s economy.

“The 17 rare earth elements – they all come from the lanthanide series on the periodic table,” he said.

“The elements behave very similar to each other and are often difficult to separate. 

“The minerals in which they come are the key.

“They are used to make magnets and the best examples are in wind turbines. Powerful magnets allow for greater electricity production. 

“They are used in electric vehicles and even used in your mobile phone screen – behind the glass.

“They are saying this project is an Australian first because it’s the deposit type – the ionic clay.”

Mr Richards said he had seen examples of shallow mining in WA’s mineral sands industry.

Where farmland was mined, it was “rehabilitated and left in a similar or better condition within just a few years”.

Mr Richards said it was an exciting project the region could be proud of.

“Projects like Koppamurra’s have the potential to benefit the local economy, farmland productivity, and Australia’s role as a strategic supplier of critical metals,” he said.

Naracoorte Community News 29 September 2021

This article appeared in Naracoorte Community News, 29 September 2021.

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