Mkango pushes forward with research programme, upbeat about Malawi prospects

Caption: NEODYMIUM ALLOY POWDER Mkango and Metalysis are jointly researching, developing and commercialising neodymium iron boron alloy powders for use in permanent magnets

VITAL ELEMENT Rare earth element permanent magnets are a critical component of many electric vehicles, as well as other consumer and green technologies

3rd November 2017

By: Ilan Solomons

Creamer Media Staff Writer


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Dual-listed Mkango Resources is upbeat about its research on the development of neodymium iron boron alloys, which are “critically important” for environment-friendly sectors, such as the electric vehicles sector, states CEO Will Dawes.

Mkango has started Phase 2 of its research and development (R&D) programme with UK company Metalysis, and has raised £500 000 in a share placing to help fund the programme.

In March, the company entered into a memorandum of understanding with Metalysis to jointly research, develop and commercialise neodymium iron boron alloy powders for use in permanent magnets. Mkango is also considering the development of three-dimensional (3D) printed magnets.

Dawes tells Mining Weekly that these rare-earth-element (REE) permanent magnets are a critical component of many electric vehicles, as well as other consumer and green technologies.

“With all the growth anticipated in these sectors, this programme represents a substantial opportunity for the company to benefit from these developments,” he enthuses.

During Phase 1, Mkango successfully produced a neodymium iron boron alloy using Metalysis’s solid-state technology, which is a process that transforms mixed oxides directly into an alloy without their having to be melted.

Dawes elaborates that the standard way of producing the alloy requires a melting step. The alloys then have to be processed further to produce powders.

The Metalysis process is, therefore, more cost effective and environment friendly, as less processing is required and more energy is saved, he points out.

Phase 2, comprising several subphases, will take about 18 months to complete. It will include a work programme involving product quality optimisation, testwork scale-up and further analyses of the alloy to determine its characteristics, such as morphology, chemical composition, and physical and magnetic properties.

Phase 2 will also incorporate customer appraisal of the product and further investigation of opportunities in relation to the 3D printing of magnets.

Mkango and Metalysis have joint venture (JV) principles in place, as well as an exclusivity agreement for advanced alloys using neodymium or praseodymium with other elements for magnet development. This includes JV principles for commercialising intellectual property rights and/or a licence agreement with Metalysis for the production of neodymium or praseodymium alloy powders. Under these principles, Mkango will hold an 85% interest in the JV and Metalysis will receive a 15% carried interest.

Additionally, Dawes notes that the R&D programme will complement its Songwe Hill REE project, in Malawi. The company has completed a prefeasibility study (PFS) and established that Songwe has an inferred and indicated resource of 32-million tons, with further upside potential having also been identified. According to the PFS, the project has a net present value of $345-million and an internal rate of return of 37%, based on the project’s initial 18-year production life span.

Mining In Malawi
Mkango Resources president and executive director Alex Lemon points out that there have been a number of “exciting infrastructure developments” in Malawi recently.

In May, the Nacala Integrated Logistics Corridor (NCL) was commissioned. The NCL is the new railway and port that was built to assist in transporting coal exports from the Moatize coal basin, in Tete, Mozambique, to the international market through the port of Nacala-a-Velha.

The NCL consists of a 912 km railway line, which runs from Moatize to the Bay of Nacala, in Mozambique. However, 200 km of the railway line has been built inside Malawi.

Lemon says the new railway will have a “significant effect” on reducing costs for the transport of goods into and out of the country.

Moreover, he notes that a new dry container port is being built in Liwonde, in southern Malawi, to offer a one-stop cargo handling facility. It will be an inland, intermodal terminal with road and rail connectivity to the country’s sea ports.

Liwonde is about a two-hour drive from Songwe, with well-paved road access to and from the dry container port, which will all assist in ensuring the ease and cost effectiveness of transporting materials to and from the project, Lemon points out.

He says other infrastructural development is also under way throughout the country, including the construction of the 300 MW Kamwamba coal-fired power station, in Zalewa. “This new power station is near to our REE project and could assist in providing electricity and, thereby, provide stability of supply for Songwe.”

Further, Lemon highlights that Malawi’s Mining Ministry is building a new mines department office complex, which will be equipped with a mineral testing laboratory.

“There is a lot of momentum from government and the mining industry in the country to unlock its full potential. It is an exciting time to be operating in the country and Mkango is looking forward to assisting the country in advancing its mineral resources ambitions for the betterment of ordinary Malawians,” he concludes.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor



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