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Phalaborwa Rare Earths Boost: A Green Revolution

6% Tonnage Increase, Extending Project Lifespan Beyond 16 Years

by Adenike Adeodun

The recent advancements in the Phalaborwa Rare Earths Project in Limpopo, South Africa, signify a pivotal development in the global transition to green energy. Managed by the London Stock Exchange-listed Rainbow Rare Earths, the project has seen a significant increase in its projected lifespan and resource tonnage, marking a milestone in the supply of rare earth elements essential for various green technologies.

The updated bulk density calculation has resulted in an impressive 16% increase in the estimated resource tonnage, elevating it to 35.1 million tonnes. This recalibration suggests that the project’s life could extend beyond 16 years, providing a substantial boost to its potential output and significance in the rare earth market. George Bennett, CEO of Rainbow Rare Earths, expressed optimism about this development, emphasizing its positive impact on the project’s prospects.

Phalaborwa’s focus is on the extraction of rare earth elements from gypsum and waste dumps, a method that aligns with the global imperative of achieving net-zero emissions. The project is unique not only for its innovative approach to rare earth recovery but also because it harbors all four of the permanent magnet rare earths crucial for the green energy transition. This positions Phalaborwa as a key player in the supply chain for technologies like electric vehicles and wind turbines, which are at the forefront of the shift towards sustainable energy.

The methodology for re-evaluating the two phosphogypsum stockpiles, conducted by Tetra Tech-group gypsum specialist Ardaman, incorporated advanced drilling techniques informed by global best practices. This approach revealed that gypsum stacks tend to increase in density at depth, leading to the revised estimate of an additional 4.7 million tonnes in resource tonnage.

The next steps for the project include a comprehensive assay of drill samples by SGS, a renowned inspection, testing, verification, and certification company. This process aims to enable an updated Joint Ore Reserves Committee (JORC) mineral resource estimate, enhancing the project’s inferred resources to measured and indicated categories. Such advancements underscore the project’s commitment to precision and reliability in its resource assessments.

Brian Menell, TechMet chairperson and CEO, has lauded Phalaborwa as potentially one of the most environmentally friendly and cost-effective rare earth projects globally. He attributes this potential to Rainbow’s proprietary separation technology, which could expedite the production of the most economically valuable rare-earth elements. This innovation is crucial for meeting the burgeoning demand in key industries integral to the energy transition, including electric vehicles and wind energy.

The project’s economic viability is further bolstered by its expected resilience across rare earths pricing cycles, ensuring its profitability and sustainability in the long term. TechMet’s potential $50 million equity investment highlights the project’s substantial market value and the confidence of significant stakeholders in its success. This investment would also secure TechMet a direct ownership stake, ranging from 15% to 33%, in the project.

The anticipation surrounding the assay results and the impending upgrade to a JORC-compliant resource classification underscores the project’s promising trajectory. The increase in tonnage is expected to extend the project’s lifespan by more than two years, offering a brighter outlook for its contribution to the rare earths supply chain.

In conclusion, the Phalaborwa Rare Earths Project stands on the cusp of revolutionizing the supply of rare earth elements, pivotal for the green energy transition. Its innovative recovery methods, significant resource expansion, and strategic importance to the global move towards sustainable technologies herald a new era in rare earth mining. With its blend of environmental stewardship and economic foresight, Phalaborwa is poised to become a cornerstone in the quest for a cleaner, greener future.


Source: Mining Weekly

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