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ABx Group drills down on Tasmanian rare earths potential

Updated: Mar 21

ABx Group drilling will test the extent of a big rare earths hit. Credit: File

ABx Group has started a new 18-hole campaign to see if it can expand on a recent 11m-thick hit at 1700 parts per million total rare earth oxides (TREO) at its promising Deep Leads prospect in Northern Tasmania.

The company says the reverse-circulation (RC) campaign will target the northern section of the exploration project area, near to where it made the recent rare earths hit, in a bid to find similar thickness and enrichments.

The drilling campaign is expected to take a fortnight to complete, with assay results anticipated a further six weeks later.

We are very excited to be undertaking this drill program to follow up on the stellar result from discovery hole RM302 and to better understand whether IAC rare earth mineralisation extent north of Deep Leads - Rubble Mound. The outcome of this program has the potential to be significant value driver for ABx. ABx Group managing director and chief executive officer Mark Cooksey

The company’s exploration project area at its Deep Leads and Rubble Mound deposits covers 100 square kilometres and encompasses the more sparsely-drilled Wind Break rare earths discovery, 16km to the east. It has also applied for an adjoining exploration lease covering the undrilled ground between the Deep Leads-Rubble Mound and Wind Break discoveries where it believes rare earths-enriched clays may extend.

The project area is within accessible pine plantations near highways, rail lines, airports, international shipping ports, grid hydropower and cities, with major engineering capabilities and heavy industries. It sits about 20km east of Launceston.

Last month, ABx announced a 30 per cent increase to its Deep Leads-Rubble Mound mineral resource estimate, bringing its total to 27 million tonnes averaging 803ppm TREO based on the receipt of assays from 36 new holes – 69 per cent of which returned what the company says are resource-grade results.

It was the northernmost hole that came back with the headline 11m hit and it also showed enrichment in permanent magnet rare earths, especially the sought-after dysprosium and terbium.

Dysprosium is vital to a wide range of industries and is used in the manufacture of wind turbines, miniature electronics, radiation detection equipment and refractive glass material, as well as in batteries. It is also used to coat the surface of hard-drive platters to improve their magnetic storage capabilities and sells for about $760 per kilogram.

Terbium is more expensive at about $3000 per kilogram and is used in permanent magnets in the production of actuators and sonar transceivers, x-ray screens, wind turbines, fuel cells and televisions.

The highly-valuable rare earths are almost exclusively produced from ionic-adsorption clay (IAC) deposits, like those seen in ABx’s ground, and the company says the cost of extracting the elements is highly-dependent on the desorption conditions used during processing.

In February, ABx released results from metallurgical testwork undertaken by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) on a selection of 71 samples from its Deep Leads and Rubble Mound sites, using standard low-acid, low-cost desorption testing.

Management says the cheap extractions delivered recoveries of between 24 per cent and 83 per cent, proving the mineralisation is actually in its clays and that it is capable of delivering high recoveries. One sample returned Australia’s highest reported clay-hosted rare earths extraction rate of 83 per cent.

ABx was the first company to discover rare earths in Tasmania at its Deep Leads-Rubble Mound project and has since increased the maiden resource estimate it declared late last year by a staggering 680 per cent.

Last month, management also pocketed $1.25 million in research-and-development tax rebates from the Australian Tax Office for its rare earths activities in Tasmania throughout last year.

With a tantalising 11m hit nearby and the rigs already drilling, the market will no doubt be paying attention to the company’s next batch of results.

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