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ABx Group nails down design for aluminium fluoride pilot plant

Updated: Mar 21

ABx Group’s subsidiary, Alcore, conducting specialised laboratory reactor testwork. Credit: File

ABx Group has hit some “major milestones” through its 83 per cent-owned subsidiary Alcore by finalising the preliminary engineering design phase for its pilot facility and ordering a laboratory reactor.

The company is developing a pilot plant on the NSW Central Coast to recover fluorine from an aluminium smelter waste product to produce hydrogen fluoride. The plan is for the hydrogen fluoride to then go to a separate commercial plant, which will react it to produce aluminium fluoride – a high-value chemical essential for aluminium smelting.

Management says the reason for the engineering design phase is to specify the major design and operating parameters for the significant components of its pilot plant.

The operation is rapidly taking shape through the finalisation of the plant capacity and general layout, comprehensive process flow, piping and instrumentation diagrams, raw material storage and waste management plans, process safety and control philosophies and sizing of major equipment.

It is exceptionally pleasing to see progress accelerating at ALCORE. The company has the opportunity to solve an increasing waste issue for global aluminium smelters, while also producing a necessary smelting additive, which is not only high-value but, for many countries including Australia, is subject to significant supply risks. The pilot plant remains on track to be constructed by the end of 2023 ABx Group chief executive officer, Mark Cooksey

Alcore has also reached an important milestone in the development of the plant by putting in an order for its advanced laboratory reactor. The arrival of the reactor will allow the company to evaluate its process of reacting sulfuric acid with the waste product to recover the fluorine and test results from both an economic and customer satisfaction standpoint.

Delivery is expected in the third of quarter of this year.

Aluminium fluoride is typically used in the production of aluminium in welding applications and in ceramic glazes and enamels. While its demand has been largely influenced by the building and construction industry, there is also a growing demand for it in sectors such as food and beverage and pharmaceuticals.

The company says some 90 per cent of aluminium fluoride is traditionally produced by reacting aluminium hydroxide, an intermediate form of alumina, with anhydrous hydrogen fluoride gas that is produced from fluorspar and sulfuric acid.

Notably, Australia imports 100 per cent of its aluminium fluoride requirements, with the vast majority coming from China.

ABx’s latest work represents something of a return to its roots after it had more recently been focused on its rare earths project in Tasmania.

The company’s Apple Isle project comprises its Deep Leads and Rubble Mound rare earths deposits, west of Launceston. Last month, it tabled a new inferred and indicated resource estimate totalling 21 million tonnes from 5 metres to 13 metres, containing 770ppm total rare earths oxide and including the permanent magnet rare earths oxides, neodymium, praseodymium and dysprosium.

However, should things continue as planned ABx could soon have its finger back in the alumina pie.

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