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Phalaborwa’s Rare Earths: Tonnage Surge Boosts Project Life

Significant Increase in Resources Extends Mine's Operational Future

by Oluwatosin Alabi

Rainbow Rare Earths, a company at the forefront of rare earth mineral exploration, has recently announced a significant update regarding the Phalaborwa rare earth project in South Africa. According to the latest bulk density calculations, there’s an approximate 16% increase in the expected resource tonnage at the site. This update is poised to extend the project’s lifespan beyond the initial projection of 14 years, as outlined in the Preliminary Economic Assessment (PEA), adding more than two years of operational life.

The revision in resource estimates comes on the heels of advice and analysis from Ardaman and Associates, Inc., a subsidiary of the global engineering firm Tetra Tech. Ardaman, renowned for its expertise in gypsum management, was engaged by Rainbow Rare Earths to design a new gypsum stack as part of the ongoing Definitive Feasibility Study (DFS) at Phalaborwa. Their recommendations included a novel drilling technique for evaluating the existing gypsum stacks, informed by their vast experience with over 100 gypsum stacks worldwide. This technique was anticipated to reveal higher in-situ dry densities at deeper levels than the conservative estimate of 1.2 t/m³ used in the initial Mineral Resource Estimate (MRE) for Phalaborwa.

Following Ardaman’s guidance, Rainbow Rare Earths undertook a drilling campaign in the second half of FY 2023 to collect representative samples from the gypsum stacks. These samples were subsequently sent to Ardaman’s laboratory in Orlando, USA, for comprehensive bulk density testing. The results confirmed a correlation between higher bulk densities and greater depths, leading to the significant revision of the resource tonnage from 30.4 million tonnes to 35.1 million tonnes. This increase not only enhances the project’s value but also solidifies its viability by extending its operational life.

Further steps include assaying samples from the drilling campaign to determine the grade, with analyses to be conducted by SGS in South Africa. This data will contribute to an updated JORC-compliant Mineral Resource Estimate, expected to also elevate a portion of the resources from the Inferred category to Measured and Indicated categories. Such upgrades are crucial for enhancing the project’s accuracy in resource estimation and bolstering investor confidence.

George Bennett, CEO of Rainbow, expressed optimism regarding the update, stating, “The improvement in the Resource tonnage at Phalaborwa is extremely positive.” He further highlighted the anticipation for the assay results and the subsequent upgrade in the JORC compliant Resource classification. This development not only signifies a substantial increase in the project’s life but also underscores the potential for further expansions and operational enhancements in the future.

Rainbow Rare Earths’ milestone in increasing the Phalaborwa project’s resource tonnage is a testament to the company’s commitment to leveraging cutting-edge techniques and expertise in the exploration and development of rare earth elements. This endeavor aligns with global efforts to secure rare earth supplies, which are critical for various high-tech and green technologies, including electric vehicles, renewable energy systems, and numerous electronic devices.

The Phalaborwa project stands as a beacon for sustainable mining practices and innovation in the rare earth sector. Through meticulous planning, strategic partnerships, and a focus on environmental stewardship, Rainbow Rare Earths is poised to contribute significantly to the rare earth supply chain, while bolstering South Africa’s mining industry and its position in the global market.

Mining Review Africa stated that this development also highlights the importance of collaboration between mining companies and specialized consultants like Ardaman and Associates, showcasing how such partnerships can lead to breakthroughs in resource estimation and project feasibility. As Rainbow Rare Earths awaits further assay results and progresses with the DFS, the Phalaborwa project’s enhanced resource estimate marks a pivotal step forward in the exploration and development of rare earth resources in Africa, promising to deliver long-term benefits for the company, its stakeholders, and the broader mining community.

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