By Peter Roberts
A patch of dirt in Dubbo, NSW and a lot of hard work are starting to pay off as a second Australian rare earths producer becomes a reality in the form of Australian Strategic Materials.
In the past week ASM received firm commitments from sophisticated investors to raise $65 million to kick-start its Dubbo project and the first of a value-added metals production facilities in key markets.
An entitlement offer to existing shareholders is now underway to raise a further $41 million.
There are few more strategic resources than rare earths, zirconium, niobium, hafnium, tantalum and yttrium critical for high technology products such as computer memories, displays and permanent magnets.
Yet Australia’s Lynas Rare Earths is the largest and only scale producer in a market otherwise totally dominated by China.
ASM, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and ASM’s 95 per cent owned South Korea arm Ziron Tech have worked hard on the Dubbo deposit and ASM’s metallisation process.
The proprietary process converts oxides into high-purity metals, alloys and powders using up to 70 per cent less energy than conventional methods.
Australian Strategic Materials has already produced high value metals such the key permanent magnet alloy Neodymium Praseodymium (NdPr) (pictured) at its Korea plant.
The cash will accelerate key FEED workstreams for the Dubbo development with $1.5 million earmarked for detailed engineering of a 5,200 tonne per annum metals plant to be built in the Ochang Foreign Investment Zone in Korea.
The $59 million plant can be expanded to produce 16,000 tonnes for the Korean market.
ASM’s pilot furnaces in Korea will start supplying the local market with titanium and rare earth permanent magnet alloy powders in the second half of 2021.
ASM managing director David Woodall says: “Korea is phase one.
“Once complete, this will provide the template for future ASM metals plants in other regions (as we) continue to progress our ‘mine to manufacturer’ strategy.
“…We continue to advance our strategy for sustainable growth, with a primary focus on developing ASM into a globally relevant, independent and integrated metals producer by 2022.”
We all love the idea of capturing as much value from Australian resources on our own shores as possible.
But ASM’s strategy makes sense as industrial countries are desperate to secure their own critical minerals supply chains.
ASM plants will satisfy local demand – Korea is an importer of permanent magnets.
The beauty here is that instead of just shipping dirt, ASM is parlaying a key resource into something that appears to be a first.
That is the development of an integrated global network of Australian owned resources and localised high value metallisation facilities.
Picture: ASM/Neodymium Praseodymium (NdPr) alloy produced at its Korea metals pilot plant
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