Rare earths production could make Northern Mineral’s Browns Range project go big scale and also open avenues for the locals in surrounding disadvantaged regions economic boost.
Rare earths are minerals that find extensive use in electric motors around the world, everything from electric cars to toys. And this has suddenly found a big market worldwide. Amidst US- China trade wars, Australia’s Browns Range Plant in WA, Kimberley can really bank on becoming a leading provider of rare earths product dysprosium, which is essential for permanent magnets in electric motors.
In 1 years’, time, the plant has already exported its produce of dysprosium, starting then at $180 a kilogram which has now almost doubled to $300 a kilogram. Northern Minerals’ $210-million heavy rare earths plant employs just 60 people with 3,500 data collection points located around the mine site and an onsite laboratory to analyze the product. Dysprosium is also not the only product it produces. It has a range of rare earth materials mined on the site. Its first shipment started with an export to China last year.
Analysts say, that Northern Minerals can anticipate success in the rare earths’ market but not without challenges. The biggest block is here right at home in Australia, local competition. Northern Mineral’s is not the only rare earths project in the world, with multiple plants mushrooming all across in answer to growing demand. These are markets dominated by competitor Lynas, which mines light rare earths at its Mount Weld project in WA’s Mid-West. The rare earths are processed in Malaysia.
Rare earths comprise 17 listed minerals and most of them aren’t needed in large amounts. These minerals are characterized by their industrial uses in magnets, lasers, missile guidance systems and atomic energy, to name a few. Neodymium and praseodymium are the two main rare earths minerals that are in highest demand for electric motors. The plant can capitalize on the production of these minerals for a very lucrative future of purely go the dysprosium way.
The expansion of the plant would also mean opportunities for local people and infrastructural and economic development for surrounding areas, that so far have been one of the most disadvantaged regions of the country. A full-scale mine would lead to jobs for more local people, with construction alone expected to create about 200 jobs. Proposed road development projects are already in the pipeline.