Northern Minerals Ltd (ASX:NTU) is focused on increasing the mineral resource and the life of mine potential at the Browns Range Project in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia with around 8,000 metres of reverse circulation (RC) drilling planned to be drilled before Christmas.
The project area includes more than 2,200 square kilometres of prospective tenements covering the Browns Range Dome with the company having committed a $5 million budget for its current exploration program for the remainder of the financial year ending June 30, 2021.
Up to 16,500 metres will be drilled across the tenements in total, with around 8,000 metres of reverse circulation drilling planned to be completed before the end of 2020.
Exploration results, along with test work findings from the pilot plant, will feed into any future commercial, large-scale project feasibility study.
Drilling will test both identified green fields targets and follow-up on previous encouraging intersections, in particular at the Dazzler and Banshee deposits.
Ore sorter system installation works have begun at Browns Range
Norther Mineral’s commitment to exploration in the next eight months is designed to underpin the company’s ongoing ambition to realise the potential of Browns Range beyond the pilot plant project.
The research and development (R&D) test work re-started at the Browns Range Pilot Plant in August 2020, with the partial restart of operations following a five-month care and maintenance period due to Commonwealth biosecurity restrictions in response to COVID-19.
Beneficiation test work on Browns Range ore continued in the period and Northern Minerals plans to restart the hydrometallurgical plant test work in the December quarter.
This work will contribute to the three-year pilot assessment of the economic and technical feasibility of a commercial, larger scale development at Browns Range.
Northern Minerals gained the regulatory approvals from relevant State authorities for the installation of ore sorting equipment at Browns Range in the period.
The ore sorting equipment concentrates ore prior to the beneficiation circuit by selecting ore and rejecting waste based on x-ray transmission.
Ore sorting commissioning targeted for mid-2021
The total capital investment for the procurement, installation and commissioning of the ore sorter is budgeted at $5.9 million.
Construction has started on the structural and mechanical equipment, with commissioning scheduled for mid-2021.
Once the ore sorting system is commissioned, Northern Minerals plans to run additional test work at pilot plant scale on all ore types to establish baseline data on feed grade improvements.
This work will also help evaluate material flow-through benefits of ore sorting on overall processing efficiencies.
Data will also feed into any future commercial, large-scale project feasibility studies at Browns Range.
Northern Minerals also continued to evaluate downstream separation processing options for Browns Range ore during the period.
To date, Browns Range has produced a mixed heavy rare earth carbonate for small-scale export to offtake partners.
The next stage in the supply chain is to separate the mixed heavy rare earth carbonate into individual rare earth products.
Northern Minerals started a scoping study with United States-based K-Technologies Inc. (K-Tech) in August 2019 which is focused on continuous ion exchange (CIX), continuous ion-chromatography (CIC) and related advanced separation methodologies.
The study continues to progress well, with positive test results being achieved at K-Tech’s facilities in Florida, albeit slower than planned because of constraints associated with COVID-19. However, Northern Minerals expects to see separated dysprosium and terbium oxides from the study before the end of this year.
During the September quarter, the company also commenced studies into traditional solvent extraction separation and variants thereof, for separating the mixed heavy rare earth material produced at Browns Range into individual rare earth products.
Northern Minerals received a refund payment of $8.6 million on September 14 from the Australian Tax Office (ATO).
The remaining balance of $1.3 million was subsequently paid on September 17.
This settlement agreement also provided a framework for reviewing the company’s refundable R&D tax offset claim for the 2019/20 financial year, which was lodged with the ATO on October 2.
As part of the settlement process, Northern Minerals adopted recommendations from the ATO for improving its internal policies and procedures with the aim of streamlining future R&D claims.