Things could be looking up for rare earths producer Northern Minerals (ASX:NTU) after AusIndustry reversed its initial findings and decided that most of the company’s activities were actually in fact eligible for the R&D tax offset.

AusIndustry will provide a copy of the notice to the Australian Tax Office and is expected to reconsider certain aspects of its initial finding before confirming the exact amount of the final refundable R&D tax offset.

In return, the company has agreed to exclude some minor supporting activities from its previous claims.

Northern added that it would seek to immediately stop payments to the ATO of amounts owing as a result of AusIndustry’s initial finding.

The initial rejection of the company’s R&D claims for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 income years were significant blows that nearly crippled the company last year.

While Northern managed to keep operating its 60,000-tonne-per-annum Browns Range project in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia, which produces primarily dysprosium and terbium, managing director George Bauk said in June last year that the decision effectively wiped out its R&D budget.

Bauk has now welcomed AusIndustry’s decision, saying he was pleased but unsurprised by the review findings.

“The company and its advisors worked diligently and submitted claims in respect to the R&D tax offset in line with the assessment criteria provided,” he explained.

“We committed to initially developing Browns Range as a pilot plant operation as there were no analogues or peer projects to guide us.

“As such, we were always confident that our claims met both the spirit and technical guidelines for assessment.”

Browns Range is a pilot scale project aimed at assessing the technical and economic feasibility of a full-scale commercial operation for the xenotime-hosted rare earth development.

Northern recently noted that the three-year test program was about 50 per cent complete and had produced a total of 158,959kg of rare earth carbonate as at the end of December 2019.


READ: Could the coronavirus fuel development of non-Chinese rare earth projects?

Meanwhile, Infinity Lithium (ASX:INF) continues to drop non-core projects to focus on the San José lithium project in Spain.

The company has now entered into a binding sale agreement for its potash assets in Gabon to Meridian Drilling.

Along with its previous relinquishment of tungsten assets in 2019, the sale will leave the company with a sole focus on the Spanish lithium project.

This is expected to assist with attracting potential European funding.


In other ASX tech metals news today:

Lepidico (ASX:LPD) expects its Karibib project in Namibia to produce 5,600 tonnes of lithium hydroxide monohydrate per annum. The project will also produce up to 16,000 tonnes per annum of sulphate of potash fertiliser as a by-product.

This comes after the company updated resources at Karibib to 8.87 million tonnes grading 0.43 per cent lithium oxide, 0.23 per cent rubidium, 302 parts per mission caesium and 2.08 per cent potassium.