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Rare, abundantly earthy elemental probe

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Wayne Hawthorne, Naracoorte Community News

This region is about to participate in a strategic, independent, and sustainable resource of heavy rare earth elements that are essential for future economies. Probus members learnt of this developing potential when Rick Pobjoy of Australian Rare Earths spoke.

Rare Earth Elements (REE’s) are rare by name, but not necessarily scarce or unimportant. They were found within clays from assays around Comaum and south of Kybybolite. This is the only deposit of its type in Australia and one of two listed globally. Ionic clay hosted REE’s have advantages over other sources. They can be washed with salts, there are no radioactive by products, mining is shallow, progressive rehabilitation is possible; there is no crushing, grinding or high temperatures involved. It is not hard rock mining.

All fifteen rare earth elements (REE’s) were found at Koppamurra plus Yttrium and Scandium. Uses of REE’s are many. Their metal alloys are used in permanent magnets in electronics, including in electric vehicles, phones, wind farms. Global demand is huge and increasing.

Four important REE’s found are praseodymium (Pr), neodymium (Nd), terbium (Tb) and dysprosium (Dy). All are likely in the location of interest which extends from Comaum, through east of Naracoorte to Keith, Bordertown.

Local company contact is Jacqui Owen, manager of community and land. $12m has been raised to explore and confirm the extent of the REE’s resource. Recently 270 cores have been drilled in the Frances and south area. Last year 270 cores were drilled around Koppamurra. Profile is sand, then clay, mineralized clay (2-4m), limestone, water table (10-18m). Deposits are above the water table so mitigates most risk.

Drilling is small scale to 10-18m. There is no clearing and land is rehabilitated before leaving. The process is simple metallurgy; screen then heap or tank leach with no toxic chemicals nor radioactive waste stream.

In probus question time, the following points arose about the mining potential:

Mining will be a shallow pit. Clay is moved, made into a slurry which is then pumped into a tank to remove the liquid. Solids are then returned to the site for rehabilitation to commence.

Mining is a “moving hole” with topsoil overburden removed ahead, and progressive rehabilitation occurring behind.

Water is conserved and re-used to save reagents used.

Water sources in the confined aquifer are being explored.

Area of interest is highly productive redgum country, so efforts will be made to ensure its fertility is not impacted after mining. After mineral sand mining the land becomes more productive.

Initial processing removes Rare Earth carbonates, which with further processing can be separated into their individual components.

Subsequent element separation is needed, an ideal opportunity in Australia to value add.

Currently processing occurs in China, but expectation is for new downstream separation processing plants to develop. Brazil, Chile and Uganda are already becoming involved.

China has controlled REE finances, but Japan invested in a Western Australian company (Lynas) in 2011 and there is further scope for others.

Western Governments have identified the need to develop REE’s.

Lynas at Mount Weld, WA currently processes its mixed product in Malaysia.

Locally, methodology will be to approach the landholder. State regulation on mining rights means that a compensation agreement must be reached, so relationships need be developed before these agreements are signed.

Test for Government support and bureaucracy approval will come when a proposal is submitted.

Current competition is with China.

World demand for REE’s is increasing, and a global shortage is possible in 5 to 10 years.

State legislation in SA ensures that mining is not harmful to the environment.

Australian Rare Earths Ltd is building trust and respect through positive engagement to develop acceptance in the community.

While there is more to learn, positive support in the Probus audience was apparent.

Naracoorte Community News 8 December 2021

This article appeared in Naracoorte Community News, 8 December 2021.

Related stories: Koppamurra mining: Australian first for rare earths; Naracoorte – a regional headquarters for rare earths; Locals tour rare earth program.

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