Northern Minerals (ASX: NTU) will unveil its Browns Range heavy rare earths pilot plant in Western Australia’s east Kimberley today, with the project set to become the world’s first heavy rare earths supplier outside of China.
The WA Minister for Regional Development Alannah MacTiernan will preside over the official opening, which marks one year since WA Premier Mark McGowan turned the first sod to signify the start of construction.
“The opening of the Browns Range heavy rare earths project is nearly eight years in the making since the initial discovery in 2010,” Northern Minerals managing director George Bauk said.
“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,” he noted.
“Australia is now a heavy rare earths producer.”
Today’s opening is the first stage of a three-year pilot plant project. It will be used assess the economic and technical feasibility of scaling up to a full-scale operation.
Under this stage, Northern Minerals is targeting production of 573,000kg of total rare earth oxides, which is expected to ramp up to 3 million kilograms per annum by full scale operation.
Of that, at full scale operation, output of 300,000kg dysprosium is estimated.
Dysprosium and terbium
The primary minerals produced will be dysprosium and terbium.
According to Northern Minerals, dysprosium is an essential ingredient in the growing electric vehicle sector.
Dysprosium is vital to the permanent magnetic electric motor in an electric vehicle, due to its ability to reduce the weight requirement and allow operation at high temperatures.
Nearly all electric vehicle permanent magnets contain dysprosium and Northern Minerals says it is a critical element for electric vehicle demand to continue surging to forecast rates of more than 20 million vehicles per annum by 2025.
Additionally, dysprosium and terbium are used in renewable energy infrastructure including wind turbines. The minerals are also consumed in industrial robots, air conditioning and other new technologies that are under development.
Federal Government R&D rebate ceiling
Numerous innovative technology developers have been calling on the Federal Government in recent months to remove the new A$4 million ceiling placed on research and development (R&D) rebates for companies generating less than A$20 million per annum in revenue.
Prominent battery technology developers claim the current A$4 million cap could carve technology innovators out of the rapidly growing A$213 billion global battery market.
Until now, the government’s R&D rebates had no ceiling for “revenue-limited” operations including fledgling small caps, but in its latest budget, the government has stunted the R&D rebate at A$4 million for companies that generate less than A$20 million a year in revenue.
“I note that the government’s proposed changes to the R&D rebates would make it very hard to build this project had we been starting this financial year and ask the government to preserve the current R&D rebate arrangements,” Mr Bauk said.
He added today’s official opening at Browns Range highlights the success of the previously uncapped R&D rebate in facilitating “the emergence of new industries”.