There is growing recognition that construction sand is becoming an increasingly valuable commodity and Cauldron Energy (ASX:CXU) is the latest company to tap into this resource.

The company has acquired a number of river sand leases covering about 286sqkm at the mouths of the Carnarvon, Onslow and Derby rivers, three of the largest river systems in Western Australia.

Notably, these leases are highly prospective for sand that can be used for the construction industry and are near to transport infrastructure.

Cauldron is already in the process of securing port capacity for initial export operations of up to 500,000 tonnes per annum of sand with chief executive Jess Oram saying that initial discussions have been held with key Singaporean sand market groups to position the company to tender for substantial long-term government supply contracts.

Singapore has mandated that its sand imports be supported by current regulatory environmental approvals from the originating country with required Singapore laboratory test work to ensure suitability for purpose. It has accepted that it will have to pay a higher price to meet these requirements.

This will allow Cauldron to access the international sand and aggregate market, which was worth $US4.5bn in 2017 and is projected to grow to $US60bn by 2030.

Construction sand

Sand is the most mined commodity in the world with the United Nations estimating that about 40 billion tonnes is mined each year, well above the 3.5 billion tonnes of coal.

What is not as well known is that not all sand is the same.

River sand is valued for construction use due to higher silica sand content. The more angular particles are also capable of interlocking and providing greater load bearing capacity due to the reduced period of erosion compared to sand from desert, dune and marine sources.

Silica sand has three main uses, the largest of which is in land reclamation and island building; in the manufacture of concrete; and the manufacture of glass and other specialty applications, which requires the highest quality sands.

Cauldron is targeting the second most common use of silica sand, noting that about 4 billion tonnes of cement was manufactured in 2019 with over half used in Asia.

Given the 1:3:6 ratio of cement, sand and gravel used in concrete, this works out to about 12 billion tonnes of construction grade silica sand used per annum.

A growing club

Cauldron joins a small but growing club of Australian companies in the silica sand sector, though its peers are taking aim at the higher grade products.

Over in Western Australia, Australian Silica Quartz Group’s (ASX:ASQ) drilling has returned silica sand intersections of up to 13m from a depth of just 0.5m at its Albany White Hill sand project.

Laboratory test work on drilling samples is underway to define the expected silica sand product characterisation for input into a mineral resource estimate, which is expected early in 2021.

Preliminary modelling of the deposit’s geometry will allow the company to refine an exploration target aiming for a high-grade silica sand suitable for the solar panel cover-glass market.

Metallica Minerals (ASX:MLM) recently completed maiden drilling on its Cape Flattery project in Queensland that is aimed at increasing and upgrading existing resources of 12.85 million tonnes at 99.28 per cent silica.

Samples from the 22 hole program have been sent for assay with results expected in early 2021.

It has commissioned IHC Robbins to undertake metallurgical studies on the silica sand samples while planning is underway for initial environmental studies and water monitoring bores.

Perpetual Resources’ (ASX:PEC) drilling has encountered high-grade silica sands of up to 13.5m grading 98.8 per cent silica from surface at its Beharra project in WA.

Results from the program will be used to update its current resource of 113Mt at 98.6 per cent silica in January 2021.

A pre-feasibility study is also currently underway.

VRX Silica (ASX:VRX) is moving towards production of high grade silica sands suitable for making both flat glass and container glass from its Arrowsmith leases in Western Australia in 2021.

The company, which recently raised $7m to advance development of its projects, already has mining leases in place for its Muchea and Arrowsmith projects, combined resources exceeding 1 billion tonnes of plus 99.6 per cent silica sand and expressions of interest from multiple sources.

Indeed, its Arrowsmith leases have enough sand for over 100 years of production.

At Stockhead we tell it like it is. While VRX Silica is a Stockhead advertiser, it did not sponsor this article.