Iluka Resources plans Australia’s first rare earths refinery

Iluka Resources has won Australian government backing for its proposal to build Australia’s first fully integrated rare earths refinery at its Eneabba monzanite deposit north of Perth.

The company told investors that following a meeting with federal ministers in March, it had received a letter which indicated the government would look at ‘options for support’ of the development of the refinery.

Ministers Dan Tehan and Keith Pitt said in their letter: “Iluka’s proposed refinery, if executed would be capable of processing some third party rare earth concentrates, in addition to Iluka’s own monzanite, subject to securing commercial agreement.

“This could help develop new Australian mines by reducing capital expenditure and risks for those projects.”

Monazite is a brown crystalline mineral consisting of cerium, lanthanum, other rare earth elements, and thorium.

Australia is the home of the biggest rare earths producer outside China, Lynas Rare Earths, but the company chose to build its advanced metals facility in Malaysia.

While Lynas is constructing some further processing facilities in Kalgoorlie to process its ores, Australia, as with other countries, is keen to onshore rare earths production supply chains to ensure supplies for high technology applications such as permanent magnets.

The other company developing a rare earths supply chain, Australian Strategic Materials recently raised $65 million to advance its Dubbo rare earths project as well as a 5,200 tonne per annum metals plant to be built in the Ochang Foreign Investment Zone in Korea.

While ASM has a wish to onshore refining of rare earths, its strategy is reflecting the desire of nations such as Korea to control their own supply chains.

The federal ministers said in their letter to Iluka: “Establishing a domestic rare earths oxide production capability would move Australia substantially further along the rare earths value chain, create regional jobs, capture more economic benefit from Australia’s resources, and build security in the global supply chain of critical minerals.”

The ministers noted that Iluka was in discussion with Export Finance Australia (EFA) which, along with the Critical Minerals Facilitation Office considered Iluka’s plans to align with the government’s critical minerals policy objectives.

“We encourage you to continue engaging with EFA and the CMFO to progress your project.”

Iluka managing director Tom O’Leary said: “The Eneabba refinery represents an exciting opportunity for the company, consistent with our longstanding plans to diversify into rare earths.

“It is not an opportunity without risk, nor one we will pursue at any cost.”

O’Leary said the company would progress the refinery proposal with the same discipline it applies elsewhere in its business.

Picture: Iluka Resources/Eneabba

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