Arafura’s rare earths project meets environmental milestones as China demand grows
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Special Report: Arafura Resources is ticking all the environmental boxes on a neodymium-praseodymium (NdPr) rare earths project, which is on the cusp of receiving government sign-off.
NdPr is needed to make high-strength permanent magnets that are used in the automotive industry for electric components such as seats, mirrors, wipers, steering and braking — as well as in traction motors of hybrid and electric vehicles.
China is now a dominant force in magnet production. But as early as 2021 it could transition from a major NdPr producer to a net importer as it ramps up magnet production capability and continues to stamp out polluting and unsustainable operations.
That’s good news for Arafura — particularly as the Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority (NT EPA) has already recommended its “Nolans” NdPr project receive final government approval.
The regulator said the project “can be managed in a manner that is likely to meet the NT EPA’s objectives and avoids significant or unacceptable environmental impacts and risks”.
Arafura (ASX:ARU) is well advanced on a path to production and is just weeks away from locking down federal government approval.
The company has appointed renowned engineering consultancy firm Hatch as lead engineering study manager for the Nolans definitive feasibility study (DFS).
Hatch has extensive experience in mineral processing, hydrometallurgy, detailed design and DFS development for rare earth projects and specialty minerals companies.
The company’s direct access to a global network of procurement professionals could potentially allow it to source lower cost solutions for the project.
“Having recently appointed Stewart Watkins as project manager, the company can now progress the DFS, anticipating completion by the end of this calendar year,” Managing Director Gavin Lockyer said.
“Once that has been achieved, Arafura will be one of the few companies worldwide in a position to make a final investment decision on the development of an NdPr project in what we anticipate to be a rising price environment for our products.”
China is expected to become a major market for NdPr.
The Asian powerhouse has mapped out a 10-year strategy to upgrade and transform its manufacturing sector, specifically in the areas of integrated circuits, 5G mobile communications, aircraft engines, new energy vehicles, and new materials.
Its goal is to position itself as a global leader in manufacturing. To achieve that it is boosting its investment in research and development and the application of cutting-edge technologies.
NdPr and other raw materials such as battery metals lithium and cobalt sit at the forefront of China’s downstream ambitions.
The country has already started importing NdPr from the Malaysian operations of Australia’s Lynas Corp.
Outside China, NdPr supply will be constrained by the sector’s historical inability to attract capital.
The US has added rare earths to its draft list of 35 minerals considered critical to its economic and national security, but is expected to focus on magnet-feed NdPr as the most critical to technology, clean energy and defence applications.
Medium term NdPr prices are expected to keep ticking up because of the strong demand in the electric and hybrid vehicle markets, and in industrial automation.
Nolans is one of the world’s largest and more advanced undeveloped NdPr projects, capable of meeting 5 to 10 per cent of global demand.