Northern Minerals has officially opened the Browns Range heavy rare earths pilot plant project in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia.
The company is officially the first producer of heavy rare earths (HREs) outside of China. It will mainly produce dysprosium and terbium, and is set to produce 279,000kg of dysprosium per year.
Dysprosium is an essential component in the making of electric vehicles (EV), whose permanent magnets nearly always contain dysprosium.
Dysprosium and terbium are also used in wind turbines, industrial robots, air conditioning and other new technologies in development.
Northern Minerals managing director George Bauk said, “The opening of the Browns Range heavy rare earths project is nearly eight years in the making, since the initial discovery in 2010.”
With EV demand expected to grow to more than 20 million vehicles every year by 2025, Northern Minerals aims to get into the momentum.
The first stage will involve a three-year pilot plant project, as the company assesses the economic and technical feasibility of a full-scale project. It includes the construction of a three-year, 60,000-tonnes-per-year (t/y) pilot plant operation consisting of an open cut mining operation.
As the only dysprosium producer outside China, Northern Minerals said that it was well placed to become a significant, stable supplier of the element.
“There are not too many times when a managing director can stand up and launch a new industry in Australia, and this is what we are doing today,” Bauk said.
Northern Minerals are working with the government to obtain all necessary approvals, in addition to securing project funding and offtake agreements.