West Cobar Metals achieves 34 times uplift in rare earth grade from beneficiation trials

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By Colin Hay - 
West Cobar Metals ASX WC1 rare earths Salazar mining resources

New metallurgy studies have highlighted the potential of West Cobar Metals’ (ASX: WC1) Salazar rare earth elements project in Western Australia with test results returning high-grade concentrate of 5.08% total rare earth oxides (TREO).

Salazar is already one of Western Australia’s largest rare earth element exploration projects with the recent addition of new tenements to the development located 100km north of the southern port town of Esperance.

To date the Salazar project is estimated to contain rare earth element clay deposits at Newmont and O’Connor with a total inferred and indicated mineral resource to date of 190 million tonnes at 1,172 parts per million TREO.

West Cobar recently significantly expanded the project’s footprint to a total of 1,171 sq km after adding 451 sq km through the purchase of the contiguous project tenements from Dundas Minerals.

The company is currently conducting a major review of the newly acquired tenement area and is planning a drilling campaign for H1 2024 to potentially extend its Newmont prospect resource which appears to extend into Licence E63/2056.

In addition, the company is conducting a thorough review of the extensive Dundas database.

Positive characterisation testwork results

The new results from rare earth element characterisation testwork of Salazar’s ore have now confirmed the high-grade nature of the material at the Newmont and O’Connor deposits.

Managing director Matt Szwedzicki said West Cobar is already considering several commercial pathways to development for Salazar following the promising results of the new testwork.

“This is an amazing upgrade result for O’Connor and has the potential to be a game changer. A 5% TREO grade is a great step towards commercialisation. Compared to hard rock deposits, our clay deposits should benefit from lower capex [capital expenditure] and opex [operational expenditure] – our ore is free-dig and there is no blasting or crushing required,” Mr Szwedzicki said.

“The characterisation testing programs are maturing and showing results that indicate high grade concentrates of REO can be produced by well-understood metallurgical beneficiation processes including magnetic separation and flotation.”

“The ability to produce a concentrate offers multiple pathways to commercialisation including potentially marketing the concentrate directly to downstream processors.”

The tests have also confirmed the substantial co-products available at Salazar, including titanium dioxide and alumina. The company is also conducting titanium mineral characterisation testwork, which could add even further value.

Those results are expected to be received in early January 2024.

Separation and flotation upgrade trials

In preparation for the testwork program, West Cobar provided a composite sample from a drill hole located in the O’Connor deposit for magnetic separation and flotation upgrade trials.

Magnetic separation processing undertaken by Nagrom yielded a magnetic concentrate grading 0.778% TREO with overall 69% TREO yield at an upgrade ratio of 5.3:1.

The magnetic separation mass yield was 12.9%, which equates to a significant removal of gangue (non-REE containing waste products) minerals prior to downstream processing.

Flotation testwork completed by Adelaide-based KYSPYmet yielded a concentrate of 5.08% TREO which represents a 34.3:1 upgrade on the original feed. The TREO yield-to-concentrate was 68%.

Further optimisation and variability testwork is planned for the next stage. A large composite sample will be prepared from the Newmont deposit mineralisation to test the beneficiation to further guide flowsheet development for the Salazar REE project.

REE beneficiation

Beneficiation is a critical process stage to support commercialisation of the Salazar REE resource.

The removal of a large mass of gangue in the front-end stages of the process enables a significant reduction in capital and operating costs.

West Cobar has invested significant time and effort into characterising the O’Connor REE ores to determine a viable beneficiation pathway.

The next steps for the Salazar REE project include preparation of a large composite sample from the Newmont deposit for processing through a similar regime of tests to confirm suitability of the process conditions for this part of the resource.

Further mineralogy and process condition optimisation will also be undertaken.

The positive Phase 1 series of leaching trial results are also expected to be fed into an overall project development pathway in due course.

West Cobar has also engaged project development expert NeoMet Engineering to guide various project development workstreams, including several studies in areas such as preliminary engineering, environmental, approvals and mining.

Drill planning underway

The company has also prioritised drilling to test the upside potential within the new Dundas tenements and to extend the Newmont indicated and inferred resource which stands at 83Mt of 1,117ppm TREO.

Further drilling around the established O’Connor inferred resource of 107Mt at 1,216ppm TREO is also being planned.

West Cobar is also contemplating undertaking a reconnaissance drilling campaign at the 575 sq km Lanthanos tenement to the east of the Newmont, O’Connor and Dundas licences where the REE potential is also considered substantial.