Alkane Resources has started larger scale production of an yttrium-heavy rare earth concentrate from a new rare earth circuit at a demonstration pilot plant which is trialling a flow sheet to recover minerals from the Dubbo Zirconia Project in the Central West of New South Wales.

The project is 30km south of the regional centre of Dubbo and is based on a large in-ground resource of the metals zirconium, hafnium, niobium, tantalum, yttrium and rare earth elements.

Alkane has developed a flow sheet consisting of sulphuric acid leach followed by solvent extraction recovery and refining to produce several products. This flow sheet is being trialled by a demonstration pilot plant at the facilities of Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (ANSTO) at Lucas Heights in the south of Sydney.

Recent developments by China, the world’s largest producer of rare earths, have resulted in restricted availability of rare earth products and escalating price for these outside China.

This has seen the rare earth basket of prices within the Dubbo Zirconia Project (DZP) climb dramatically this year. For DZP LREE elements the price has risen from a first quarter average of US$9.93/kg to an early August average of US$27.76/kg while for DZP YHREE elements the price has risen from a first quarter of US$32.95 to US$63.80 in early August.

The yttrium and heavy rare earth elements (YHREE) distribution in the DPZ ore body is unusual with 25% in the heavy category compared to the standard distribution of 95% light and 5% heavy. This generates a higher than average return for the rare earth product.

The demonstration pilot plant at ANSTO has been operating since 2008 and has proven the flow sheet for the DZP. Substantial zirconium and niobium products have been distributed to potential customers around the world.

These products are used in the expanding ceramic, catalyst, electronics, rechargeable batteries, permanent magnets, engineering ceramics, specialty glasses and alloys industries, as well as the nuclear power industry.
www.alkane.com.au

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