Qld to build its own critical minerals refinery

23rd November 2021 By: Esmarie Iannucci - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor: Australasia

PERTH (miningweekly.com) – The Queensland government on Tuesday announced plans to spend A$10-million to build and own a new processing plant for a key new resource mineral in Townsville.

The vanadium facility will be part of the government’s plan to make Queensland a leading producer and exporter of new-economy minerals and the home of new industries.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said supporting even more jobs in more industries was a key part of Queensland’s plan for economic recovery.

“We will continue to support our resources industry and the jobs it creates. That means new economy minerals like vanadium.”

Treasurer and Minister for Trade and Investment Cameron Dick said the new facility is a major step forward for the state’s growing production of new economy minerals.

“We want regional Queensland to be a global leader when it comes to everything that’s part of the renewable energy revolution. Vanadium is used for the construction of large-scale grid batteries that store their charge in tanks of liquid.

“Because they hold their charge in a liquid form, redox batteries can be built to a much larger scale, powering larger communities for longer. Australia has the world’s third-largest deposits of vanadium resources, but right now we don’t produce a single kilogram of processed vanadium.

“The mining companies looking to process vanadium at an industrial scale don’t have the capital necessary to make that jump. That’s where our government can step in,” Dick said.

“Through our A$520-million Invested in Queensland program, we will put at least A$10-million towards this common-user facility, with the final amount depending on the outcome of the construction tender.

“A common-user facility can be used by multiple, smaller mining companies that do not have the available capital to set up their own processing facilities. This is an important step in attracting further investor interest and future offtake agreements.

“Once producers can see for themselves how processing occurs, they will have the confidence to invest in more manufacturing infrastructure and more jobs. We’re in the final stages of site selection for the facility in Townsville,” said Dick.

“Mining companies will be able to transport ore from their mine site to Townsville, enabling them to begin producing mineral samples at scale.”

Minister for Resources Scott Stewart said the project was a key milestone in delivering on the work of the North West Minerals Province Taskforce.

“In September this year, the government joined with Multicom Resources to announce the go-ahead for the A$250-million Saint Elmo vanadium mine, near Julia Creek.

“The Saint Elmo mine alone will support up to 400 regional jobs, laying the foundation for a potential next-level industry in Queensland manufacturing vanadium redox flow batteries.

“Saint Elmo is just the beginning, with other companies progressing other potential vanadium mines in what could become a world-class vanadium hub in the North West, so having this processing facility in Townsville will ensure locals reap the benefits,” said Stewart.

He noted that the Department of Resources would go to market in the New Year for detailed engineering assessments and costings for the plant.

Construction is expected to start in 2022, with the plant scheduled to begin operating in 2023.

The Queensland Resources Council on Tuesday said that the funding was great news for a relatively new industry which had enormous potential to become Queensland’s next exploration success story.

“This funding gives the green light for construction of a demonstration processing facility in Townsville to process a range of critical minerals, including vanadium which is earmarked as likely the first to use the facility,” Queensland Exploration Council (QEC) chairperson Kim Wainwright said.

“This state-owned common user facility is a first for Queensland and Australia. It sends a very strong signal to the global investment community that Queensland is seriously pursuing our critical mineral capabilities.

“This new processing facility will kickstart critical minerals production and help grow the North Queensland economy,” she said.

“The QEC is looking forward to continued collaboration with both state government and the local council to ensure the critical minerals industry is well-positioned to meet growing global demand.

The Association of Mining and Exploration (Amec) has also welcomed the investment, with CEO Warren Pearce saying the project would help Queensland to undertake downstream processing of a range of critical minerals and accelerate mineral development projects throughout Queensland.

“A demonstration processing facility is unlikely to be fully funded without government assistance; this boost of at least A$10-million locks in long-term benefits, without effecting existing capital or operations.”

“A common user minerals processing demonstration plant has been a significant advocacy effort by Amec over the last year as current facilities are not sufficient. They undertake smaller ‘batch processing’ which is too small volume and done over too short a period of time to produce the material required by potential offtake customers,” said Pearce.

“With the pipeline of vanadium projects emerging in Julia Creek, such as the QEM project, the timing for this facility is ideal to place Queensland as a serious supplier in the international critical minerals supply chain. A common user facility will make it cheaper for a developing miner to do the necessary due diligence to invest further downstream, bringing more value-adding opportunities to the state.”