Development of Sheffield Resources’ big Thunderbird mineral sands project has received a boost with a $US200 million ($255 million) debt facility locked away and appointment of preferred contractor GR Engineering.

Taurus Funds Management’ s closed private equity funds Taurus Mining Finance Fund and Taurus Mining Finance Annex Fund are the lead arranger and underwriter for the loan.

Sheffield managing director Bruce McFadzean said the company had received significant interest from a variety of banks and debt investors over the past few months.

“This commitment represents a strong and positive endorsement of the Thunderbird project’s outstanding financial metrics as one of the largest new, long life mineral sands projects in the world.

“Sheffield is now strongly positioned to advance Thunderbird toward development.”

Meanwhile, Perth-based contactor GR Engineering Services has been appointed as preferred tenderer to the design and construction of Thunderbird for an undisclosed sum.

Ahead of entering an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract, Sheffield and GR Engineering have inked an Early Works Agreement for early engineering and long lead procurement work on the project.

Scope of work under the EPC includes design, construction and commissioning of a wet concentrator plant, concentrate upgrade plant, zircon processing plant, ilmenite processing plant, plant area civil works and process water systems, site administration buildings and other infrastructure to support its ore processing operations.

Early Works Contract will begin immediately while timing of EPC works is subject to project funding and project approvals.

Construction of the project is expected to take two years to complete.

The approval process for Thunderbird took a hit last week after a new appeal was lodged by a claimant group with the full Federal Court regarding the decision by the National Native Title Tribunal to approve the Thunderbird mining lease.

Sheffield also recently received the environmental watchdog’s conditional tick of approval for the development of Thunderbird.

The project still requires final sign-off from the Minister for Environment.

Sheffield’s feasibility study shows Thunderbird is a technically low risk, modest capex project that generates strong cash margins from production over a mine life of 42 years.

Sheffield closed 1c higher at 83c and has a market cap of around $149 million.