Alkane Resources Limited (ASX:ALK) has developed a high‐purity hafnium dioxide product that will have use in production of superalloys and aerospace alloys.
Subsidiary Australian Strategic Materials Ltd (ASM) produced hafnium oxide exceeding 99.8% using a unique proprietary process to separate hafnium from zirconium.
This will be marketable as a feed material for a number of downstream applications and for producing metallic hafnium.
It has been developed from ore mined at Alkane’s Dubbo Project in the Central West of New South Wales.
The technical specifications of the product have been tailored to meet global market requirements.
Initial production to meet market demand
ASM will initially produce 25 tonnes of hafnium annually to meet projected market demand, ramping up to higher quantities as required.
Full annual plant capacity is conservatively estimated at 200 tonnes.
Global shortage anticipated
A global shortage of hafnium is anticipated as demand is poised to outstrip current supply, particularly for use in metallic form, which accounts for around 85% by volume.
This includes 60% use in superalloys, 15% in plasma cutting tips and 10% in nuclear control rods.
Hafnium metal for superalloys is trading in a US$800‐$900 per kilogram range and the ASM business case assumes a conservative product price of US$500 for its oxide.
Emerging aerospace applications are expected to consume further significant volumes of metallic hafnium.
Hafnium dioxide is emerging as a material of choice in semiconductors and data storage devices.
Many future industries such as those based on its thermo‐electric properties and super high temperature ceramics for supersonic aircraft and space vehicles will rely on materials containing hafnium.
Extensive industry consultation
In the past 12 months, ASM has consulted extensively with industry to confirm growing market demand for high‐purity hafnium.
Metallic hafnium is the fastest growing market for hafnium and the most significant by volume, particularly due to the use of hafnium in superalloys and other aerospace alloys.
The usual precursor is hafnium dioxide, which needs to be recovered from zirconium metal production streams.
The high‐purity hafnium dioxide developed by ASM provides the ideal feedstock for the high‐purity metallic hafnium that is in demand for alloying purposes.
A high purity hafnium chemical precursor has also been developed.
Proprietary process at pilot plant
They were produced by a proprietary process at ASM’s Demonstration Pilot Plant at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) in Sydney.
The process pathway to recover hafnium from the Dubbo Project was developed in 2015 and proved during 2017.
It allows the flexible recovery of high‐purity hafnium dioxide from the high‐purity zirconium stream.
ASM will continue to work with industry to secure offtake agreements and develop further enhanced products, with the view to establishing a customer base for hafnium products ahead of plant commissioning.
Unique source of hafnium
The Dubbo Project represents a unique source of hafnium that is independent of all traditional markets – including China, the nuclear zirconium industry and the zircon industry.
The total mineral resource for the project is 75.18 million tonnes at 1.89% zirconium oxide, 0.04% hafnium oxide, 0.44% neodymium oxide, 0.03% tantalum oxide and 0.88% total rare earth oxides including yttrium.
The ore reserve is 18.90 million tonnes at 1.85% zirconium oxide, 0.04% hafnium oxide, 0.44% neodymium oxide, 0.03% tantalum oxide and 0.87% total rare earth oxides including yttrium.