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Tasmanian rare earths bounty scales new heights for ABx Group

Updated: Mar 21

ABx’s Deep Leads tenement in northern Tasmania hosts valuable permanent magnet rare earths. Credit: File

ABx Group has boosted the mineral resource estimate at its rare earths project in northern Tasmania by 50 per cent, to pass the 20 million tonnes milestone on the back of a 30-hole drill program.

The company reports that thicknesses and grades of its indicated resources category have increased significantly and described the level of its high-value magnet rare earths as “exceptional”.

The company’s project comprises two rare earths deposits west of Launceston – Deep Leads and Rubble Mound. Its new inferred and indicated resource estimate totals 21 million tonnes from 5 metres to 13 metres, containing 770 parts per million total rare earth oxides (TREO) and includes the permanent magnet rare earths oxides neodymium, praseodymium and dysprosium.

The heavy permanent magnet rare earths oxides dysprosium and terbium represent 4.2 per cent of the TREO, which the company says is the highest-known proportion for any rare earths resource in Australia.

Rare earths are not, as the name would suggest, particularly rare or valuable – but the so-called permanent magnet rare earths are because they are needed in advanced technologies such as smart phones, wind turbines and headphones.

Management says its substantial resource upgrade was the result of 30 new holes drilled, in addition to redrilling old bauxite holes that did not reach the rare earths horizon. There were also new assay results from incompletely assayed thick rare earths zones. The company is still awaiting assays from the final 36 holes of its program.

ABx declared its maiden resource for Deep Leads-Rubble Mound last November and has since been drilling virtually non-stop to expand its discoveries. The latest campaign has uncovered thicker zones of rare earths, some exceeding 30 metres.

The company also has a new tenement application that covers prospective ground in between its project and another rare earths deposit known as Wind Break. It has applied for government approval and support for an exploration campaign that could extend its rare earths mineral resources a further 10 to 16km towards Wind Break.

Management believes the enriched level of high-value permanent magnet rare earths at Deep Leads-Rubble Mound could be amenable to the low-cost production methods it is currently testing with consultants.

As predicted, the thickness of the mineralised horizon has increased by 10 per cent to 7.7m and the grade has increased by 15 per cent. The grades and thickness of the more closely drilled Indicated Resources category have increased significantly. The enriched levels of the high-value permanent magnet rare earths used in advanced technologies is an exceptional feature of this deposit, which could be amenable to the very low-cost production methods that are being tested by ABx and specialist consultants. Not all clays are created equal and, while REEs in clays are an emerging exploration target, very few deposits globally are confirmed as ionic adsorption clay REE mineralisation that are amenable to low-cost benign production methods. ABx Group managing director and chief executive Dr Mark Cooksey

ABx has been working with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) on how to extract its rare earths from the surface of clay particles with a salt solution. The process developed by ANSTO is said to be relatively benign with apparently less acidity than occurs in apple juice, thereby avoiding the need for more aggressive and expensive methods of extraction. As a result, the company says the potential for low-cost rare earths production at Deep Leads is “phenomenal”.

ABx has leases across a rare earths province that stretches 52km across northern Tasmania – from Deep Leads in the west to Portrush in the east. If it continues to enjoy similar success with its busy drilling program, the Apple Isle could deliver a bountiful harvest for an Australian company looking to deliver valuable materials for a cleaner future.

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