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Northern Minerals flags timetable for Australian rare earths operation Browns Range


It hopes to move to full-scale production by mid-2020 as governments such as the US and China puzzle on where to source reliable rare earth supplies.

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Quick facts: Northern Minerals Ltd

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  • Northern Minerals is producing ore for the offtake partner it recruited in the September 2019 financial quarter, ThyssenKrupp. 
  • The offtaker is flexible about the type of Northern Minerals’ rare earth products it picks up — being willing to grab all stockpiled and heavy rare earth carbonate and separated products. 
  • Northern Minerals is undertaking pilot plant activities at Browns Range and a separations scoping study with K-Technologies as the pilot producer judges whether to move to a larger-scale development. 
  • The company is targeting full-scale steady-state production in the June half of 2020 and has named end of calendar year 2020 as a target for continuous production. 

Commissioning of the Browns Range heavy rare earth pilot plant project in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia continued during the quarter as the company assesses the technical and economic feasibility of a full-scale operation.

Northern Minerals, September 2019 quarterly activities report

Northern Minerals Ltd (ASX:NTU) (FRA:NUN) (OTCMKTS:NOURF) will continue to undertake R&D activities at its Browns Range rare earth pilot plant project in the Kimberley region of Western Australia this quarter as it assesses the feasibility of setting up a full-scale operation.

The Western Australian company led by managing director and CEO George Bauk has a full offtake partner for heavy products produced at Browns Range Rare Earth Project, in the form of German commodities trader ThyssenKrupp Materials Trading Gmbh.

ThyssenKrupp came on board as an offtake partner in August 2019 after the previous partner for the project, Lianyugang Zeyu New Materials Sales Co, Ltd (JFMAG), was terminated for a reported breach of contract.

A broad offtake agreement

Essen-based ThyssenKrupp is happy to take stockpiled and future heavy products from Northern Minerals’ Australian dysprosium and terbium project.

The German trader will collect heavy rare earth carbonate from a pilot operation Northern Minerals but is also happy to take separated rare earths down the track.

Australian company Northern Minerals sees the flexibility as an opportunity to deliver heavy rare earths to ThyssenKrupp as separated products.

The partners’ agreement covers all stockpiled product from current and future production at the pilot plant.

Northern Minerals produced 89,891 kilograms of rare earths concentrate at its project by the end of the September 2019 quarter in a bid to collect data for its processing flowsheet optimisation.

Economic study in process

West Perth-based Northern Minerals may decide to sort its rare earths if an intermediate mixed-rare-earths separation scoping study it is producing with US company K-Technologies, Inc presents a persuasive case for separating product.

A Steinert ore-sorting machine was chosen and ordered in the September 2019 quarter for the separation study effort.

Front-end engineering design for a sorter system started last quarter and approvals are being sought for use of the Steinert sorting machine which could be commissioned by mid-2020.

Northern Minerals acknowledged the complexity of its three-year pilot plant process yesterday, writing in its quarterly activities report, “The Browns Range pilot plant project has been developed in order to assess the economic and technical feasibility of a larger-scale development.

“As this is the first xenotime-hosted rare earth development anywhere, it is important that the company fully understands and tests the metallurgical processes before committing to a full-scale development.”

Company to advance hundreds of R&D projects

Two hundred and seventy-one research and development (R&D) projects are planned for the company’s pilot plant investigations, including experiments on fine grinding, magnetic separation, flotation, leaching, purification and ion exchange activities.

One focus will be on improving the efficiency and operation of a sulphation bake kiln.

Last financial quarter prices for the commodities that make up Northern Minerals’ rare earths product, dysprosium and terbium, softened to current levels of less than US$560 a kilogram for terbium and about US$260 a kilo for dysprosium.

The dysprosium price was still up 24% on a year-to-date basis last quarter while the terbium price was up 16% during the same period.

Producer has 2020 vision

Northern Minerals is targeting full-scale steady-state production in the June half of 2020 at Browns Range.

Continuous full-scale steady-state production at the 10-months-a-year operation could then be targeted for end of calendar year 2020.

Browns Range is serviced by a number of access roads, including the Duncan Road and Gordon Downs Road which is undergoing a $51 million upgrade that started in the September 2019 quarter.

Once the state and federally-funded access road upgrade is complete, a continuous Browns Range operation could run all year.

Assays are pending

WA company Northern Minerals has been waiting for assays to be returned this quarter from drilling at Browns Range to follow up encouraging results from June 2019 quarter reverse circulation (RC) drilling.

The drilling results included the best ever results for Browns Range, including 52 metres grading 4.15% total rare earth oxides (TREO) from 20 metres, including 18 metres at 11.48% TREO from 22 metres.

Northern Minerals’ drilling team resumed RC efforts in September 2019, completing 3,797 metres of infill and exploration drilling in the Dazzler-Iceman area and 641 metres of exploration drilling at four other prospects.

A new zone of mineralisation was identified between Dazzler and Iceman prospects.

Dazzler shows the most promise as a potential source of high-grade ore at the project.

Quarterly financials

Northern Minerals collected $27 million from share issues in the September 2019 quarter, spending $10.4 million in the period.

During the quarter, the company collected $22.3 million from sophisticated investors as part of a $30 million July 2019 placement priced at 6.2 cents a share.

A remaining sum on the capital raising had a due date extension of yesterday.

In August 2019 a Chinese state-owned entity’s subsidiary Baogang Investment (Australia) Pty Ltd (BGIA) agreed to subscribe for $20 million of shares also priced at 6.2 cents each.

Baogang’s subscription is to be run past shareholders and approved by Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) and Peoples Republic of China regulatory bodies.

A six-month time frame has been set on the capital raising transaction, with payment due 60 days after the regulatory approvals are received.

Inflection points

  • Assay results from drilling, expected this month
  • Update on sophisticated investor raising and $7.4 million accounts receivable
  • Regulatory approvals for $20 million Baogang investment and shareholder go-ahead
  • Separations project success
  • Access road completions
  • Offtake revenues and successes with heavy and intermediate products and separations
  • Key investment decisions
  • Financing milestones and significant transactions
  • World interest in Western nation rare earths projects
  • Varying perspectives on private and state ownership positions in critical minerals companies


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