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Another step for rare earths

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Chris Oldfield, Naracoorte Community News

A Koppamurra Landholder Reference Group (KLRG) has been formed by Australian Rare Earths as it takes another step towards developing a mining lease application.

The group includes local landowners as well as representatives of Wattle Range Council (WRC) and Naracoorte Lucindale Council (NLC), Limestone Coast Landscape Board, the Wrattonbully Wine Growers Association, and OneForty One Plantations.

To meet quarterly, the group held its first meeting earlier this month.

The aim of the landholder reference group is to share information and seek feedback on the Koppamurra project.

The project, which straddles the South Australian and Victorian borders, is Australia’s only proven rare earth deposit, hosted in ionic clays.

Currently, ionic clays are only mined and processed in China, Myanmar and Vietnam.

But those resources are being rapidly depleted, opening the door for Koppamurra to participate in the diversification of the international rare earths supply chains.

Earlier this year, from the Australian Rare Earths Koppamurra trial pit, around 400 “bulka bags” were each filled with ionic clay samples.

It was enough material to create permanent magnets for around 500 electric vehicles – or drive a wind turbine that powers 1500 homes.

Weighing more than a tonne each, the bulka bags of clay are ready for the next phase where metallurgical processes will be refined.

Australian Rare Earths (AR3) managing director Don Hyma said the company had a growing belief there was an opportunity to build a rare earth refining or manufacturing hub in SA, analogous to the lithium industry in Western Australia.

Mr Hyma highlighted a recent ABC report showing the global rare earths primary industry was $4 billion in size.

“Through refining and manufacturing of rare earth permanent magnets, the global market grows to US$40 billion in size,” said Mr Hyma, referring to the report.

“Ultimately (it will) support a $4 trillion industry to manufacture electric vehicles, wind turbines and common high efficiency household appliances.

“Koppamurra and South Australia can become a key participant in the mine to magnet value chain, which contributes to global de-carbonisation.”

Meanwhile, Australian Rare Earths acting managing director Rick Pobjoy said the company was committed to having a continuing and open conversation with key stakeholders as it plans and undertakes a range of environmental, economic and technical studies.

“This is the next step in ensuring a transparent and robust process, towards establishing a mining lease in the Koppamurra area,” Mr Pobjoy said.

“We are committed to the local communities in which we undertake activities.

“Establishing this reference group is about further strengthening the relationships we have built through the early phase, and on-going collaboration with landowners.

“Australian Rare Earths view this as an ideal opportunity for the Koppamurra project’s nearest stakeholders to hear updates directly from us and discuss any thoughts or concerns they have at any point in the process.

“Koppamurra is an exciting development for South Australia with the potential for a new industry to be built in the state’s South-East that could create long term career opportunities and economic growth for local residents.

“These critical minerals are vital in the production of electric vehicles and wind turbines, and it is very important Australia has sovereign capability when it comes to supplying the renewables sector as we move towards carbon net-zero.”

The next stage of the project will include a further drilling program and numerous studies including:

  • A drilling program to further define the resource footprint and convert existing Inferred Mineral Resources to Indicated Mineral Resources, a higher level of geological confidence.
  • Environmental studies focusing on groundwater, soils and geochemistry, air quality, ecology, flora and fauna and cultural heritage.
  • Specialist studies on noise and vibration, traffic, and transport.
  • Economic studies and evaluation of downstream processing opportunities.
  • Completion of laboratory scale metallurgical test work in preparation for larger pilot plant tests.

These studies will support the development of a mining lease application for submission to the SA Department for Energy and Mining.

If all goes well, in around three years boots could be on the ground, officially mining for rare earths in the district.

If so, Naracoorte and South Australia would lead the nation’s unique rare earth industry by mining the ionic clays.

“Given the strong forecast demand for rare earths in the global effort to decarbonise, AR3 is progressing quickly, but in an orderly fashion, to ensure full stakeholder awareness and involvement,” Mr Hyma said.

“With careful planning and execution of work, a rough time frame to (produce a) product would be three years.”

Meanwhile, minutes of the first Koppamurra Landholder Reference Group meeting are available on the company’s website.

AR3 manager – community and land Jacqui Owen said community members could submit any matter that they would like discussed at the next KLRG quarterly meeting via the AR3 website

People could also contact Ms Owen direct at the Naracoorte regional office, or by email or mobile 0498 156 345.

Naracoorte Community News 5 October 2022

This article appeared in the Naracoorte Community News.


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