The ore sorting equipment concentrates ore prior to the beneficiation circuit by selecting ore and rejecting waste based on x-ray transmission.
This potentially doubles the feed grade and reduces production costs thereby improving efficiency and economics of the project.
Western Australian Office of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Water and Environmental Regulation have cleared the installation and commissioning of the equipment.
Future feasibility studies
Northern Minerals chief executive officer Mark Tory said: “With approvals in place for the ore sorter and installation now underway, we will be in a strong position to thoroughly evaluate the flow-through benefits of that technology at a pilot plant scale.
“The results will provide valuable input into future feasibility studies to assess the commercial viability of a large-scale heavy rare earth mining and processing operation at Browns Range.
“In addition to our investment in ore sorting to improve the mill feed grade, we are also committed to assessing opportunities to further unlock value at Browns Range through downstream processing to oxide products, which opens up a wider field of offtake and future project financing opportunities.”
Ore sorting equipment
The company has earmarked a budget of $5.9 million as capital expenditure for the procurement, installation and commissioning of the ore sorter.
Construction has started on the structural and mechanical equipment, with commissioning scheduled for mid-2021.
Previous trials of ore sorting technology at Browns Range identified the potential to double the mill feed grade which would lead to an increased production rate of heavy rare earth carbonate and a potential lowering of overall operating costs.
Downstream processing options
Northern Minerals is also evaluating the economics of further downstream processing options for Browns Range ore which includes separating heavy rare earth oxides for better economic realisation.
Last year, the company started a scoping study with the US-based K-Technologies Inc to investigate a separation technology on intermediate mixed rare earth materials produced at Browns Range.
The study is progressing well but the results are coming slower than planned because of constraints associated with the COVID-19.
However, the company is confident about getting the study on separating dysprosium and terbium oxides before the end of this year.
Northern Minerals is one of a few producers of heavy rare earth element dysprosium outside of China.
Dysprosium is an essential ingredient in the production of DyNdFeB (dysprosium-neodymium-iron-boron) magnets used in clean energy, military and high technology solutions.