Who’s in the niobium game in Western Australia?

Who’s in the niobium game in Western Australia?

December 1, 2023 Off By Amanda Ellis

Niobium is a soft, grey, crystalline element found in columbite and pyrochlore minerals. About 90% of the world’s supply is combined with iron to make steel stronger and lighter. However, it has the potential to be used in battery metals and renewable energy, making it attractive to explore and develop as countries worldwide ensure their critical mineral supplies. 

In Western Australia’s emerging West Arunta mining region, explorer WA1 Resources (ASX:WS1) has the Luni niobium-REE-carbonatites discovery in its West Arunta project, which features very high and massive grades of 1-8.3% niobium.

Its neighbour Encounter Resources (ASX:ENR) has also discovered niobium-REE carbonatites around WA1’s ground at the Aileron niobium-REE-copper project.

Also nearby is Lycaon Resources (ASX:LYN) with its Stansmore niobium-REE-platinium-group-elements prospect, a carbonatite target on magnetic feature analogous to WA1’s discovery and Encounter’s Worsley iron-oxide-copper-gold-REE asset.

Nearby is ambitious green technology and energy company Fortescue Metals Group (ASX:FMG) – to the niobium trio’s north – and Rincon Resources (ASX:RCR) to the south.

Rincon’s consultant independent consultant, Resource Potentials, previously highlighted similarities between Rincon’s Pokali prospect at its Kiwirrkurra IOCG project and WA1’s niobium-REE discovery.

Other players in West Arunta include British-Australian mining major BHP Group (ASX:BHP, NYSE:BHP), BHP spin-off commodities producer South32 (ASX:S32, JSE:S32, LSE:S32) and Norwest Minerals (ASX:NWM).

Farther away, in the Eastern Goldfields subregion, Cosmo Metals (ASX:CMO) has the Minjina prospect at Yamarna project east of Laverton, which is prospective for base metals – such as copper, nickel, cobalt and zinc – and niobium.

Further north is Reach Resources (ASX:RR1, ASX:RR1O), which has the Wabli Creek niobium-REE project in the Gascoyne region northeast of Carnarvon. Wabli Creek features high-grade niobium of up to 14.3% Nb2O at the surface, with niobium mineralisation believed to extend underground.

Even further north, Hastings Technology Metals (ASX:HAS) has the Brockman project near Halls Creek in the East Kimberley mining subregion, which features total rare earth oxides and niobium at Niobium Tuff.

What are some areas prospective for niobium in eastern and central Australia?

In eastern Australia, ambitious would-be vertically integrated producer Australian Strategic Materials (ASX:ASM) has the construction-ready Dubbo project in central western New South Wales. Once housed in Alkane Resources (ASX:ALK) and known as the Dubbo zirconia project or DZP, ASM’s construction-ready Dubbo project has a 20-year mine life, with an estimated further 50 years life-of-mine possible. Dubbo features the polymetallic Toongi deposit near the towns of Toongi and Dubbo. Toongi deposit has light and heavy rare earths, zirconium, niobium and hafnium. ASM has all the necessary approvals and licences for Dubbo, with Hyundai Engineering Co. (HEC) awarded an engineering, procurement and construction definition contract in mid-2022. The parent company hopes to be a vertically integrated supplier to world markets such as Korea, where it has the ASM production subsidiary Korea Strategic Materials Technology (previously Ziron Tech), which aims to supply Korea with critical mineral products such as high-grade metal alloys from its Korean Metals Plant at Ochang and transformed material from Dubbo.

In central and northern Australia, the Georgina Basin area overlying the Northern Territory is also prospective for niobium.

Which ASX companies have African niobium projects?

Overseas in South Africa, vanadium-niobium-focused WA explorer Vanadium Resources (ASX:VR8) has its world-class 82%-owned flagship Steelpoortdrift vanadium-niobium project in Limpopo province. The project is being developed as a 25-year vanadium mine that would cost $US211 million ($A328 million) and 27 months to pay back, based on a mine plan in its definitive feasibility study. Vanadium Resources hopes to further improve its construction financing hopes by taking its project stake to 86.49%. In October, the company confirmed it was working towards a final investment decision – previously tipped for the end of 2023 – and starting feed studies along with its debt financing and partnering efforts.

In East Africa, WA company Globe Metals & Mining (ASX:GBE) has the Kanyika niobium project in Malawi’s Kanyika hills, where it wants to mine its 68 million tonne resource, which grades 0.3% niobium oxide to produce high-purity niobium pentoxide and tantalum pentoxide powders. The company hopes to move towards the project’s marketing and financing stages after incorporating updated feasibility study results into front-end engineering designs for a mine and refinery.

Also in East Africa, another WA company, Cradle Resources (ASX:CXX), holds the Panda Hill niobium project in southwestern Tanzania. The project has a 178 Mt resource at 0.50% Nb2O5 for 891 kilotonnes of contained Nb2O5 at a cut-off grade of 0.5% Nb2O5. The Panda Hill project is housed in its 37.2 %–owned Panda Hill Mining joint venture with Tremont Investments. Panda Hill JV operates out of WA, while the Panda Hill project is in the Mbeya region. It’s home to three granted mining licences that expire in November 2026. Cradle previously produced a definitive feasibility study for the project, with 62.8 %-majority JV partner Tremont earmarked to fund project costs until Panda Hill is funded.

To hear Encounter managing director Will Robinson speak about West Arunta and Aileron niobium, visit our YouTube channel or MarketOpen.com.au

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