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Northern Minerals has today become the first producer of heavy rare earths outside of China with the official opening of its Browns Range project in Western Australia.

“The opening of the Browns Range heavy rare earths project is nearly eight years in the making, since the initial discovery in 2010,” boss George Bauk said.

“There are not too many times when a managing director can stand up and launch a new industry in Australia and this is what we are doing today. Australia is now a heavy rare earths producer.”

There are heavy rare earths and light rare earths. Heavy rare earths have a higher atomic weight than light rare earths.

The news sent shares up nearly 5 per cent to 8.7c in early trade on Friday morning.

Northern Minerals (ASX:NTU) 60,000-tonne-per-annum Browns Range project in the East Kimberley region will produce primarily dysprosium and terbium – both are considered critical metals because of supply constraints and their importance in the development of clean energy technologies.

Northern Minerals (ASX:NTU) shares over the past year.
Northern Minerals (ASX:NTU) shares over the past year.

Dysprosium is an additive used in the permanent magnets required for the motors in electric vehicles.

The heavy rare earth reduces the weight requirement and allows operation at very high temperatures.

Each electric vehicle contains roughly 100 grams of dysprosium.

Electric vehicle demand is expected to grow to in excess of 20 million vehicles per annum by 2025.

Dysprosium and terbium are also used in wind turbines, industrial robots, air conditioning and many other new technologies that are in development.

Browns Range is in the pilot plant stage, which will allow Northern Minerals to assess the technical and economic feasibility of the proposed larger scale project.

The project officially opens a year to the day since the first sod was turned for the start of construction. It is being opened by Alannah MacTiernan, Minister for Regional Development; Agriculture and Food; Minister assisting the Minister for State Development, Jobs and Trade.

Northern Minerals expects to start shipping dysprosium in the September quarter.