Northern Minerals thinks it can produce more rare earths from its Browns Range project by investing $4 million in ore sorting technology.

Rare earths — sometimes known as “magnet metals” — include minerals such as dysprosium, neodymium and praseodymium. They are lesser known compared to battery metals such as lithium and cobalt — but are attracting increased attention because of their use in electric car motors.

Northern Minerals (ASX:NTU) — Australia’s newest heavy rare earths producer — has investigated using ore sorting on the five stockpiles at Browns Range to improve “beneficiation” and feed to the processing facility.

Beneficiation is the process of removing gangue (or commercially valueless) minerals from good minerals to improve economic value.

The ore-sorting technology has already been tested on the Wolverine high-grade stockpile and Northern Minerals says it has demonstrated the potential to double the mill feed grade.

“Ore sorting technology is readily available through a number of providers and our studies on the five existing [run-of-mine] stockpiles have shown the potential for significant improvements in both processing plant efficiency and value recovery of heavy rare earth elements through its use,” managing director George Bauk said.

“We believe the up-front capital cost of retrospectively installing ore sorting technology ahead of the existing Brown Range pilot plant circuit is justified in light of the head grade improvement demonstrated in the testwork to date, along with the forecast economic benefits delivered by greater production output.”

Northern Minerals (ASX:NTU) shares over the past 12 months.
Northern Minerals (ASX:NTU) shares over the past 12 months.

Northern Minerals is currently working on more testwork, approvals, planning and the funding required for ore sorting at Browns Range.

The plan is to have ore sorting in place by the second quarter of 2019.

Earlier this week Northern Minerals announced it had produced the very first export quality rare earth product from the Browns Range project in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia.

The company is the only ASX-listed heavy rare earths producer outside of China.

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

Mr Bauk told Stockhead earlier this week that the rare earth carbonate is headed for China.

Browns Range produces primarily dysprosium and terbium.

Both commodities are considered critical metals because of supply constraints and their importance in the development of clean energy technologies.