Phalaborwa rare earths project, South Africa

19th March 2021 By: Sheila Barradas - Creamer Media Research Coordinator & Senior Deputy Editor

Phalaborwa rare earths project, South Africa

Name of the Project
Phalaborwa rare earths project.

Limpopo, South Africa.

Project Owner/s
London-listed Rainbow Rare Earths announced the signing of a binding agreement with Bosveld Phosphates for the co-development of the Phalaborwa rare earths project in November 2020.

On completion of a prefeasibility study (PFS), 70% of the project will be held by Rainbow and 30% by Bosveld, with a mechanism included to allow for Rainbow’s joint venture ownership to vary from 60% to 85%, depending on the results of the PFS.

Project Description
Rainbow Rare Earths and Bosveld Phosphates intend to jointly develop and process rare-earth elements from the gypsum contained in two stacks at the project site.

The project comprises an estimated 35-million tonnes of gypsum, resulting from historical phosphate hard-rock mining and containing rare-earth elements, with an estimated average in situ grade of 0.6% total rare-earth oxides (TREOs) for about 210 000 t of TREOs, with neodymium and praseodymium expected to constitute about 30% of the TREOs basket.

The reprocessing of these gypsum stacks carries significant environmental benefits, as it will redeposit clean, benign gypsum, which then has the potential for further use in the building and fertiliser industries.

Potential Job Creation
Not stated.

Net Present Value/Internal Rate of Return
Not stated.

Capital Expenditure
Not stated.

Planned Start/End Date
Not stated.

Latest Developments
Rainbow Rare Earths has appointed Australian State-owned mineral sciences and services company ANSTO Minerals to advance the flow sheet process optimisation at the Phalaborwa project.

The completion of ANSTO's project, after which Rainbow will publish a preliminary economic assessment (PEA) or scoping study, is expected to place the company in a strong position to fast-track the project.

ANSTO has been engaged to perform scouting leach tests on drill samples from Phalaborwa to confirm the metallurgical variability within the gypsum stacks.

Metallurgical test work will then be conducted to produce an optimised process flow sheet for the PEA or scoping study, based on petrochemicals multinational Sasol’s original bankable feasibility study-level flow sheet, which produced 3 t of cerium-depleted mixed rare-earth carbonate directly from the gypsum.

Phalaborwa's flow sheet is expected to be significantly simpler than those required for other rare earths projects worldwide, as the rare earths exist in a cracked chemical form within the two gypsum stacks, obviating the need for the costly and capital-intensive stages of first producing a concentrate and then cracking it before beneficiation.

Phalaborwa does not require waste stripping, hard-rock mining, significant crushing or milling. The project also has the capacity to progress straight to the downstream production of a mixed rare-earth carbonate, owing to the 'cracked' nature of the rare earths within the gypsum, which eliminates various processing stages that would normally be required in the production of a mixed rare-earth carbonate. “We believe that Phalaborwa has the potential to be one of the lowest capital intensity projects in the world," Rainbow Rare Earths CEO George Bennett has said.

"As a result of the unique nature of this project, we anticipate that Phalaborwa can be brought into production far quicker than a traditional hard-rock rare earths mining project."

Key Contracts, Suppliers and Consultants
ANSTO Minerals (flow sheet process optimisation).

Contact Details for Project Information
Rainbow Rare Earths George Bennett, cell +27 82 652 8526.