West Cobar Metals prepares for major drilling program at Salazar REE project

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By Colin Hay - 
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West Cobar Metals (ASX: WC1) is preparing to significantly advance its high-grade Salazar rare earth element (REE) and co-products project in Western Australia.

After a positive period of growth with its suite of assets near the port town of Esperance, West Cobar has major plans to grow Salazar and its surrounding licences through exploration and to identify the most viable economic way to extract the large amounts of REEs, titanium dioxide and high purity alumina (HPA) identified there.

All three items are considered as critical minerals, attracting a high value for their potential use in creating clean energy systems.

On the metallurgical side, West Cobar is preparing to design a conceptual flowsheet for the project, which it says is key in evaluating the preferred development pathway.

Salazar includes seven exploration licences with a total area of 1,171 sq km that have already been found to contain some of the highest grade saprolitic clay-hosted REE resources discovered in Australia.

West Cobar’s aim now is to find out just how big those resources are.

The company undertook an in-depth assessment of the exploration upside at Salazar during the December quarter.

That study was based on exploration drill results and the potential within the tenements it acquired in 2023.

The review led to the release of an updated exploration target subsequent to the end of the quarter of 800 to 1,250 million tonnes at 1,050 to 1,350 parts per million total rare earth oxides (TREO) and 101 to 154Mt at 4.6 to 5.4% titanium dioxide.

Major 2024 drilling program

The company is now planning to consolidate that exploration target estimate with a large 2024 aircore drill program.

The work to be carried out will include testing extensions of the main Newmont REE and titanium deposit, adding new data to help increase the inferred mineral resource at the O’Connor deposit and testing the Lanthanos area for REE mineralisation.

The drilling results will also be considered in a future update of the joint ore reserves committee mineral resource estimates at both Newmont and O’Connor.

The current estimates for the two deposits include a total rare earths mineral resource of 190Mt at 1,172ppm TREO, an inferred titanium mineral resource of 29Mt at 5.0% titanium dioxide and an inferred alumina mineral resource of 4Mt at 29.6%, with the potential for HPA feedstock.

Ideal location

The flagship Salazar project – consisting of both the Newmont and O’Connor deposits – is situated in the Esperance district approximately 120km north-east of the port and all tenements are located on undeveloped non-agricultural state land.

West Cobar’s cornerstone REE and co-product deposit at Newmont consists of relatively shallow saprolite clay host rock which should make it easy and cost effective to mine.

The O’Connor deposit overlies granitic bedrock and has different geological characteristics to the Newmont deposit – but benefits from a large resource (107Mt at 1,216ppm TREO) with substantial undrilled upside.

Recent magnetic separation and flotation trials have been exceptionally successful at O’Connor with an upgrade of 34x being achieved to a 5.08% TREO concentrate with a 69% recovery through the float.