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Likely lifespan boost for critical rare earths project in South Africa’s Limpopo province

The Phalaborwa Rare Earths Project involves the recovery of rare earths from gypsum and waste dumps.

Photo by Creamer Media

The pilot pant of the Phalaborwa Rare Earths Project.

26th February 2024

By: Martin Creamer

Creamer Media Editor

     

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JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – South Africa’s rare earths project in Limpopo has received a distinctly possible lifespan boost to more than 16 years following an updated bulk density calculation, which has enlarged the likely Phalaborwa resource tonnage to 35.1-million tonnes, an increase of 16%.

“The improvement in the resource tonnage at Phalaborwa is extremely positive,” London Stock Exchange-listed Rainbow Rare Earths CEO George Bennett stated in a release to Mining Weekly on Monday, February 26.

The Phalaborwa Rare Earths project involves the recovery of rare earths from gypsum and waste dumps and is poised to be part of the world's necessary journey to net zero, which will require an unprecedented increase in rare earth supply.

What is also important to note about the project is that its resources host all four of the permanent magnet rare earths required for the green energy transition.

Moreover, the expected low cost of recovery of these sought-after rare earths is destined to be accompanied by the creation of much-improved environmental conditions, brought about by the removal of the waste dumps.

The two phosphogypsum stockpiles that make up the project’s resource have been re-evaluated for density at depth. This has been done by Tetra Tec-group gypsum specialist Ardaman, which revised the drilling technique based on its worldwide experience that gypsum stacks increase at depth.

As a result, the expected resource tonnage has been increased by 4.7-million tonnes.

South Africa’s inspection, testing, verification and certification company SGS will now assay for grade drill campaign samples to enable an updated Joint Ore Reserves Committee- (Jorc-) mineral resource estimate to be provided. Accompanying this will be an upgrading of the inferred resources into the measured and indicated categories.

“Phalaborwa has the potential to become one of the most environmentally friendly and lowest-cost rare earths projects anywhere in the world,” TechMet chairperson and CEO Brian Menell stated in the November 8 media release to Engineering News & Mining Weekly.

Menell, a member of South Africa’s illustrious Menell family of Anglovaal mining and industrial renown, highlighted Rainbow’s proprietary separation technology as providing Phalaborwa with a significant opportunity to fast-track production of the four most economically important rare-earth elements, which the company described as being essential for future supply chains for electric vehicles, wind turbines and other products vital to the energy transition and the global economy.

The project is expected to be cash-generative across the rare earths pricing cycle.

TechMet, in which the US International Development Finance Corporation is a shareholder, has been granted an option to invest $50-million equity funding in the capital cost and take a direct ownership stake of 15% to 33% at project level, underpinning the $151.5-million to $333.3-million equity valuation of the project.

“While we await the assay results and the JORC compliant resource classification upgrade, it’s clear that the growth in tonnages will lead to an increase in the life of the project by over two years in due course,” added Bennett.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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