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ABx Group hunting more rare earths in hilly Tasmanian scrub

ABx Group drilling at its Wind Break prospect. Credit: File

ABx Group has revealed plans to launch back into its hunt for rare earths in the Tasmanian bushland with a follow-up drill campaign at its Wind Break prospect before turning back to Deep Leads-Rubble Mound.

The drilling at Wind Break, which sits along an eastward channel from the Deep Leads discovery, will be co-funded dollar-for-dollar by Mineral Resources Tasmania up to a maximum of $70,000 in the eighth round of the State’s Exploration Drilling Grant Initiative.

Following the Wind Break program, ABx will turn its attention to the northern extensions of its Deep Leads-Rubble Mound resource, where drilling recorded results of 17,333 parts per million total rare earth oxides (TREO). The results came from a program 2km west of a hole that yielded the company’s previous best assay result with a top value of 4444ppm TREO.

ABx Group managing director and chief executive officer Mark Cooksey said: “ABx has followed this REE channel for 16km eastwards from Deep Leads to its Wind Break REE discovery and, to date, the best grades appear to occur in hilly scrub country or plantation forests. ABx continues to build a reputation as a highly active exploration company in Tasmania, with continuous discoveries made throughout the year and now the launch of our next campaign which is anticipated to run until at least the end of 2023.”

The company was the first to discover rare earths in Tasmania at its Deep Leads-Rubble Mound project in Australia’s island State. Metallurgical testwork undertaken by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) on a selection of samples from the site confirmed the mineralisation is in ionic-adsorption clay and capable of delivering high-recoveries in excess of 70 per cent.

Just last month, ABx lifted its mineral resource at the operation by 30 per cent to 27 million tonnes averaging 803ppm TREO. The heavy permanent magnet rare earth oxides, dysprosium and terbium, represent 4.2 per cent of the TREO, which the company says is the highest-known proportion for any ionic adsorption clay-hosted rare earths resource in Australia.

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.

Since declaring a maiden resource estimate late last year at its rare earths project, ABx has kept its drill rods spinning and increased its resource by a staggering 680 per cent. Earlier this year, testwork on rare earths samples collected from its Deep Leads and Rubble Mound deposits delivered Australia’s highest reported clay-hosted rare earths extraction rates, with returns of up to 83 per cent.

Management says ionic adsorption clay rare earths provide several critical advantages over other types of deposits, including potentially improved processing economics, in addition to a greater proportion of the highly-valuable heavy rare earths such as dysprosium and terbium.

The company’s exploration project area at its Deep Leads and Rubble Mound deposits covers 100 square kilometres. But now, just 16km to the east, it hopes to expose more high-grade rare earths at the more sparsely-drilled Wind Break.

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