RareX (ASX: REE), one of a small number of juniors now attempting to loosen Brazil’s grip on global supply of steel additive niobium, reports more “bonanza” grades of both that and rare earth oxides.
The latest results from drilling at the Cummins Range project in the Kimberley region of Western Australia include 37m at 1.4% total rare earth oxides (TREO) and 0.2% niobium oxide.
That intersection includes 7m at 3.6% (TREO) and 0.27% niobium, with mineralization beginning at 21m down hole.
The other hole reported hit a 109m mineralised section averaging 3.6% TREO and 0.44% niobium from 24m down hole.
This hole was notable also for having four higher grade intervals: 70m at 5.4% TREO and 0.64% niobium; 9m at 7.5% TREO and 1.5% niobium; 13m at 10.7% TREO and 1.04% niobium; and 8m at 9.1% TREO and 0.58% niobium.
Increased potential to upgrade resource
RareX managing director Jeremy Robinson said he was continuing to be impressed by the consistency of this thick, high-grade mineralisation.
“These impressive results provide strong support for the potential both to upgrade the resource and to define a high-grade component within the broader resource,” he added.
Mr Robinson has said previously that niobium commands a much higher price to REO and could enhance the project’s economics.
“With niobium trading fairly consistently at about US$40 per kilogram for much of the last decade, compared to an expected rare earth oxide price of US$15/kg, this could represent a significant by-product for the project,” Mr Robinson explained recently.
Niobium is one of the 35 critical minerals identified by both the US and Australian governments as a mineral of strategic weakness due to their concentrated supply source with Brazil supplying some 90% of the world market.
Niobium in steel means lighter products
Niobium (also known as columbium) is used to strengthen steel for use in automobiles, aircraft, pipelines, satellites and some military equipment, thus making it possible to use less steel and reduce weight of the end product.
While Brazil supplies 90% of the world’s niobium, three quarters of that production comes from one company — Companhia Brasileira de Metalurgia e Mineração (CBBM) operating in the south of Minas Gerais state.
In the most recent development, CBBM has signed a contract with a British automotive supplier to provide niobium to lighten the weight of luxury car components.
The deal also covers steel used in racing cars.
Canada is the only other substantial producer of niobium.