ASM signs MOU with South Korean provincial government for metals plant location

ASM has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Chungcheongbuk-do (Chungbuk) Provincial Government and Cheongju-si (Cheongju), City Government to locate its first metals plant (Korean Metals Plant or KMP) within the Ochang Foreign Investment Zone in Korea.

The Chungbuk Provincial Government MoU covers supply of utilities, administrative licenses and permit procedures, including the Korean Standard Industrial Classification code for rare metals and rare earth metals. The MoU also includes a government grant, in accordance with the Foreign Investment Promotion Act.

Chungbuk is located 115km south of the Korean capital, Seoul, and 20km north of Daejeon, the site of the metalisation pilot plant. The region has substantial existing infrastructure and a competent technical workforce.

Provincial Governor Si-Jong Lee said, “To sustain the growth of the Chungcheongbuk-do economy, we strongly support this investment. ASM is establishing its Korean headquarters, R&D centre and metals plant in the Ochang Foreign Investment Zone. This will provide key rare earth metals to the Korean economy and local employment to revitalise our local economy.”

ASM Managing Director, David Woodall, said “This MoU, along with the strong support from the Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) and the Chungbuk Provincial Government, provides ASM with confidence to build the metals plant in the Ochang Foreign Investment Zone. With key Korean manufacturing companies like LG Chemical, Samsung SDI, SK Hynix, and Hyundai Mobis within close proximity, we are confident that building our first metal plant in this well established industrial area will provide significant benefits.”

ASM’s Korean Metals Plant will initially produce high-purity neodymium-iron-boron powder and titanium powder using the innovative, low-energy metallisation process developed by ASM’s Ziron Tech team.

Last week, ASM announced it had completed an internal scoping study for the initial 5,200tpa metals plant, with the results demonstrating the feasibility of the Korean Metals Plant (ASX announcement, 2 March 2021).

 

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Scoping study demonstrates feasibility of ASM Korean metals plant

Highlights

  • Initial 5,200tpa Korean Metals Plant study delivers strong economics
    • Estimated capital – approximately US$35-45million
    • Estimated annual revenue – approximately US$180m-190m
    • Estimated annual EBITDA – approximately US$45m-$50m
  • Expenditure of US$ 1.5m on detailed engineering approved by ASM Board & underway
  • A final investment decision (FID) on the 5,200tpa Korean Metal Plant expected in mid-2021
  • Plans to expand the 5,200tpa Metal Plant to over 16,000tpa by 2024
  • Commercial production of Titanium and NdFeB metal powder from ASM’s existing Korean commercial pilot plant proposed to commence in Q2 2021

ASM has completed an internal Scoping Study for an initial 5,200tpa metals plant (Korean Metals Plant or KMP) in Korea. The results of the study demonstrate the feasibility of the Korean Metals Plant.

As a result of the positive outcome of the Scoping Study, the ASM Board has approved an expenditure of approximately US$1.5million for detailed design engineering. This will provide a fully engineered scope of works and further refine capital estimates, before making a final investment decision by June 2021. The Korean Metals Plant will initially produce high-purity neodymium iron boron powder and titanium powder using the innovative, low-energy metallisation process developed and patented by ASM’s Ziron Tech team.

With the completion of the detailed engineering and the confirmation of the capital costs of the KMP, an investment decision is anticipated by June 2021. Construction of the Korean Metals Plant is expected to be completed by mid-2022, with metal production to progressively increase, expecting to reach full capacity of 5,200tpa by mid-2022.

ASM will continue to pursue its collaborative strategy with Korean manufacturers to independently produce key critical metals, focusing on rare earths, titanium and zirconium metals, alloys, and powders. ASM expects to expand the capacity of the KMP to over 16,000tpa by the end of 2024, to meet the potential Korean demand.

ASM Managing Director, David Woodall, said: “Our ability to commercially produce high-purity critical metals for advanced technology manufacturers in Korea gives ASM an excellent foundation to be an independent fully integrated critical metals producer globally. With the US$4.5million grant in 2020 from the Korean Government and the excellent work and milestones delivered by our Ziron Tech team, we are confident about our strategy to integrate into Korea’s critical metals sector.”

“Korea is phase one. Once complete, this will provide the template for future ASM metals plants in other regions. We’ll now continue to progress our ‘mine to manufacturer’ strategy using our pilot plant furnaces in the second half of 2021, with the production of titanium and rare earth permanent magnet alloy powders. This will enable ASM to commence providing critical metals directly into the Korean manufacturing sector.”

The Scoping Study demonstrates the potential for the KMP to deliver a profitable standalone downstream business for ASM while the company progresses the Dubbo Project. ASM’s KMP will supply high-purity products direct to the Korean market, providing manufacturers with a stable and secure domestic supply of metals. ASM will continue discussions and negotiations for offtake contracts to grow its customer base and market presence.

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ASM Produces Rare Earth Permanent Magnets at Korean Institute of Rare Metals Facility

Highlights

  • Two kilograms of pre-sintered permanent magnets successfully produced from ASM’s high-purity neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) powder
  • Magnetic properties and quality confirmed by the Korean Institute of Rare Metals (KIRAM)

ASM reports that the Korean Institute of Rare Metals (KIRAM) has successfully produced and tested two kilograms of pre-sintered permanent magnets from ASM’s high-purity neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) powder from its pilot plant in Korea.

KIRAM’s testing provides a strong indication that ASM’s NdFeB alloy is suitable to produce rare earth permanent magnets that are commercially in demand. This certification is further validation of ASM’s strategy to become an independent, fully integrated “mine to manufacturer” producer of critical metals.

ASM managing director, David Woodall said, “The excellent support and collaborative work between the Ziron Tech and KIRAM teams delivered a truly significant result. It provides ASM with confidence that our integrated business model – from the Dubbo Project to metals production – can play an important part in the Korean Government’s ‘New Green Deal’.

“We now have confirmation of the quality and high purity of the permanent magnet alloy and titanium powders ASM can deliver to the Korean industry and eventually the global markets. ASM is now planning to advance in the next few months with the detailed engineering, incorporating both the recently produced titanium and now the permanent magnet powders as part of an initial 5,200 tonnes per year plant in Korea, projected to be fully operational by mid-2022. This is a very significant transition for the company as we continue to progress the development of the Dubbo Project in the central western, NSW.”

Methodology

KIRAM scientists made a strip-cast sample using five kilograms of the NdFeB powder produced by ASM’s Ziron Tech team. The strip was then examined using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and Energy Dispersive X-Ray Spectroscopy (EDS) to confirm the microstructure (Figure 1) and magnetic orientation.

NdFeB strip alloy produced from Ziron Tech power (SEM/EDS result)

Some of the Ziron Tech NdFeB alloy was pressed into a two-kilogram block to measure the magnetic characteristics using VSM (Vibrating Sample Magnetometry) and compared with a similar sample made from a commercially available alloy. These tests (Figure 2) indicated that ASM’s pre-sintered magnet exhibited superior magnetic properties than the commercial sample.

Results of Vibrating Sample Magnetometer (VSM) tests comparing the Ziron Tech pre-sintered alloy with a commercially available powder.

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ASM Titanium Powder Approved for 3D Printing by Korean Advanced Manufacturing Company

Highlights

  • Independent 3D-printed metal part producer HANA AMT has confirmed the high purity of ASM’s titanium powder
  • A 75kg/day run of titanium (Ti) metal powder was successfully produced by Ziron Tech at a pilot scale (metal purity 99.918%)
  • Significant environmental benefits of ASM’s novel metal process were confirmed by HANA AMT

ASM has received confirmation of its high-purity titanium powder from HANA AMT, a Korean 3D printing group. HANA AMT performed a detailed analysis of 20kg of the titanium powder, confirming a purity of 99.918%.

The titanium metal powder assayed came from a run of 75kg produced at ASM’s metallisation pilot plant during January 2021. ASM and HANA AMT have signed a non-disclosure agreement as they progress negotiations towards an initial 1,500 tonne per year offtake agreement for titanium metal powder.

20kg titanium metal ingot produced by ASM (left), Creation of Ti metal powder (centre), HANA AMT 3D-printed metal products (right)

Contributing to the progress of this agreement, the independent assay analysis of ASM’s titanium powders demonstrated the following comparison with industry standards (table 1):

Titanium Metal Powder

Elements Industry Standard – %* ASM Ti Powder – %
Ti Balance 99.918
Fe < 0.010 0.002
Al < 0.005 0.003
Cr < 0.005 0.003
Mo < 0.005 0.001
Mn < 0.005 0.001
Ni < 0.005 0.002
Zr < 0.005 0.001
Cu < 0.005 0.003
Co < 0.005 0.002
B < 0.005 0.001
C < 0.005 0.001
Ni < 0.010 0.009
H < 0.005 0.003
O < 0.080 0.050

Table 1 – Assay Comparison completed by HANA AMT
* ASTM B299 – Standard Specification for Titanium

ASM managing director, David Woodall said, “This independent review of ASM’s titanium metal powder is a great validation of our patented metal process, confirming the high purity and the environmental benefits of the metal ASM can produce for the manufacturing sector in Korea. We look forward to progressing negotiations and continuing discussions with other potential offtake and strategic partners during our time in Korea.”

SEM Image of ASM’s Ti powder (left), ASM’s Ti powder sparks bright orange, indicating high quality due to low oxygen (right)

“Our team continues to work closely with the Korean Institute of Rare Metals (KIRAM) to produce sample permanent magnets for the Korean market to review over the coming weeks. This is a promising start of the year, with 2021 a foundation year for ASM, as we progress our vision to become a fully integrated critical metals producer – supplying metals from the mine direct to manufacturers, through the delivery of the Dubbo Project and the establishment of our metals business.”

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ASM produces 6kg of neodymium iron boron (NdFeB) alloy

Highlights

  • ASM produced 6kg of a neodymium iron boron (NdFeB) alloy at the Korean Institute of Rare Metals (KIRAM) facility.
  • KIRAM has certified the metallic structure and ratio of key metals (Nd: Fe: B = 32%: 67%: 1%) of the key NdFeB permanent magnet alloy.
  • ASM continues to work on the potential for establishing a full scale metal processing facility that would include production of the NdFeB alloy.

ASM has produced 6kg of a neodymium iron boron (NdFeB) alloy at the Korean Institute of Rare Metals (KIRAM) facility in Korea. The NdFeB alloy was manufactured from the FeNd alloy produced by ASM’s metallisation pilot plant.

NdFeB is a key rare earth permanent magnet alloy. KIRAM has certified the metallic structure and ratio of key metals (Nd: Fe: B = 32%: 67%: 1%) of the alloy, confirming its suitability for rare earth permanent magnet production. KIRAM is a division of KITECH, the Korea Institute of Industrial Technology, which is a South Korean government research institute.

With the successful production of 6kg of the NdFeB alloy, ASM and KIRAM will continue the production of an additional approximately 7kg of NdFeB alloy for conversion into an initial permanent magnet samples for evaluation by Korean industry.

ASM continues to assess the potential of developing a higher-volume continuous metal production facility in 2021. The successful production of the NdFeB alloy gives ASM further confidence in its capability to produce this permanent magnet alloy at the metal facility, which would be situated in Korea (ASX 2 November 2020).

ASM Managing Director, David Woodall said: “The successful production of this NdFeB alloy is an important milestone for ASM, and paves the way for integrating production of key rare earth permanent magnet alloys into our developing metals business. Our team is working closely with KIRAM, a key research group in Korea, to gain certification of the alloy. In the coming months, we’ll produce further sample permanent magnets for the Korean market
review.

“ASM is now focused on assessing the potential for development of a metals processing plant in Korea. In addition to laying the foundation for a potential metals business, which would include metals from our Dubbo Project, we continue to progress offtake and strategic partner agreements.”

 

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Titanium Copper Alloy Production Confirms Commercial Scalability & Doubles Process Efficiency

Highlights

  • ASM produced 120kg of titanium copper alloy (99.5% purity), confirming the commercial scalability of its innovative metallisation process.
  • Improvements to ASM’s metallisation process has doubled the metallic yield.
  • ASM continues to work collaboratively with Dongkuk R&S, on the potential to develop a full-scale metal processing facility.

ASM has successfully confirmed the commercial scalability of its innovative metallisation process with the production of 120kg of titanium copper alloy (99.5% purity) at its facility in Korea. ASM’s Ziron Tech team produced two 60kg runs of the titanium copper alloy at a rate equivalent to approximately 1,000kg per day.

This result is significantly above the targeted 250kg per day production rate, outlined in the agreement between ASM and Dongkuk Refractories and Steel Co Ltd (DK R&S), announced on 2 November 2020.

The key to the successful demonstration of the commercial scalability was due to proprietary improvements to ASM’s unique metallisation process, which has seen the efficiency of metal recovery more than double than the initial test work in the pilot plant. This test work confirms the ability of ASM to produce any type of titanium alloy traded in the global metal market.

This increase in efficiency was delivered while maintaining the environmental advantages of ASM’s low-energy metallisation process, compared to the standard industry process. ASM will now focus on accelerating the development of a larger metals plant in Korea through its agreement with DK R&S. Members of DK R&S’s management and technical team were present to witness the successful metallisation run using the improved process.

ASM Managing Director, David Woodall said, “The successful commercial production run of titanium metal alloy is a significant result for the ASM team in Korea. What is even more pleasing is that this result was achieved using a proprietary improvement to our metallisation process, which has more than doubled the metal yield. We continue to discuss with DK R&S how we can accelerate the development of a metal processing plant in Korea.

“In addition to producing metal products from our Dubbo Project in central west NSW, ASM now has the potential to develop a significant business unit around titanium and other metals. This provides a tremendous foundation for ASM and its shareholders.”

 

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ASM completes acquisition of Ziron Tech

Highlights

  • Acquisition of a 95% interest in joint venture partner Ziron Tech
  • Acquisition delivers the ownership of all associated intellectual property including patented metal-refining technology
  • Ziron Tech team integrated into ASM

ASM has successfully completed the acquisition of 95% of its joint venture partner Ziron Tech, and through the acquisition now owns Ziron Tech’s patented low emission, high purity metal-refining technology and the pilot plant in Korea.

ASM’s Chairman Ian Gandel and Managing Director David Woodall with ASM’s Ziron Tech Team

ASM Managing Director, David Woodall said: “We welcome the Ziron Tech team to ASM. This talented team, led by Professor Jonghyeon Lee, has successfully produced metal from all products of our Dubbo Project in central west NSW. Having the Ziron Tech team continue the innovative work on a range of high-purity and value-added critical metals used in advanced technologies, including electric vehicles and clean energy, gives ASM a strong foundation for success.

“With the recently announced development of our first commercial metallisation plant in South Korea, the Ziron Tech team is now progressing towards a continuous production process at scale in Korea where there is an established tech manufacturing industry and market for these metals. With the changing dynamics of the critical metals supply chain, ASM is well placed to play a significant role in the global critical metals market, with significant benefits for both Australia and Korea.”

Key terms of the restructured arrangements relating to Ziron Tech are as follows:

  • ASM has acquired 100% of the current joint venture company RMR Tech Corporation (“RMR Tech”) (increased from its previous holding of 10%).
  • RMR Tech has completed the acquisition of 95% of the shares in Ziron Tech.
  • As consideration for the transaction, ASM will in due course:
    • issue 1,306,417 ASM shares for consideration of USD 2 million to current Ziron Tech shareholders (via a holding entity) at an issue price of AUD 2.068 per share based on a 10-trading day VWAP to 2 September 2020 and using an AUD:USD exchange rate of 0.74. These shares will be subject to voluntary escrow for 12 months; and
    • grant existing Ziron Tech shareholders (via a holding entity) a Net Smelter Return of 5% from any global commercial metallisation facility established using the technology, subject to a 50% step-down of the royalty after payments of USD 20 million have been made.
  • The ASM group now owns all of Ziron Tech’s patents and related intellectual property and technology that were the subject of the RMR Tech joint venture, as well as any intellectual property rights or interests that may be developed by Ziron Tech in the future.

 

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ASM and Dongkuk sign agreement to construct a 250kg/day commercial plant

Highlights

  • Design, develop, assemble, install and verify a 250kg commercial grade continuous reduction system using the Ziron Tech patented metal-refining technology
  • ASM will retain ownership of intellectual property and commercial rights to the Ziron Tech technology

ASM and Dongkuk Refractory and Steel (DK R&S) have signed a joint development agreement for a 250kg/day metal plant incorporating the innovative and patented low emission, high purity metal-refining technology in Korea to be acquired by ASM through the acquisition of a 95% interest in Zirconium Technology Corporation (Ziron Tech).

ASM Managing Director, David Woodall said, “The agreement with DK R&S brings together the strengths of ASM with its innovative metal technology and DK R&S, a leading innovative manufacturer of metals and refractory products within the Korean and global markets.

“This production facility will prove Ziron Tech’s patented low emission, high purity metal-refining technology at scale, paving the way for a 3,000 to 5,000 tonne per year metal plant in Korea. Our team in Korea is now progressing the confirmation of the continuous commercial metal production process with significant benefits for Korea, Australia, and the global customers that are faced with changing dynamics in the critical metals supply chain.”

Established in 1974, DK R&S, a subsidiary of DKI, has been supplying refractories, fine ceramics, steel manufacture to various industries globally and domestically within Korea for over 46 years. Dongkuk Industries Group was founded as Daewonsa in 1967, and is recognised as a global leader of cold rolled steel, refractories, and tubular wind power towers.

The Dongkuk Industries Group (“DKG”) includes Dongkuk Industries, Dongkuk Refactory and Steel, Dongkuk Structural and Construction, and DK DongShin. The DKG is recognised in Korea for innovation and the development of technology.

Key terms of the ASM and DK R&S Joint Development Agreement for the Commercial Test Plant are as follows:

  • Design, develop, construct, install and verify a 250kg per day commercial grade continuous reduction system
  • 250kg reduction furnace, design, assembly, and verification will be undertaken at facilities operated by DK R&S under the supervision of a temporary Joint Task Force, with the completed furnace jointly owned by ASM and DK R&S
  • The total budget for designing, developing, assembling and installing of the Commercial Test Plant is USD 1 million paid in a 60:40 ratio between DK R&S and ASM
  • Basic and detailed design of the Commercial Test Plant to be complete within four months from the date of the Agreement
  • Ownership of relevant intellectual property is retained by ASM
  • The agreement will terminate if the testing is not successful within 12 months of signing.

ASM is continuing to progress strategic partner, offtake and financing discussions in Korea. The discussions are preliminary and remain incomplete and it is uncertain whether any of these discussions will lead to a proposal for the consideration of ASM’s directors or shareholders.

 

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ASM produces 8.6kg of high purity zirconium metal in Korea

Highlights:
  • ASM produces 8.6kg of high purity Zirconium metal powder
  • Zirconium powder assay – 98% Zr and 1.5% Hf
  • Confirmation of zirconium metal sample meets the Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute standards

ASM, through its partner Ziron Technology Corporation (Ziron Tech), has successfully produced 8.6kg of a high purity zirconium metal at its commercial pilot plant in South Korea.

The planned flowsheet for ASM’s Dubbo Project in central west NSW, incorporates the production of both industrial grade zirconia and dehafniated zirconia (ZrO2) and hafnium oxide (HfO2) using a process patented by Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation’s (ANSTO) with ASM having an exclusive global licence. Successful production of this high purity zirconium metal from commercial grade zirconia is an important milestone for ASM.

Ziron Tech has received confirmation that the laboratory sample of dehafniated zirconium metal previously produced from Dubbo ore and submitted to the Korean Atomic Energy Institute (KAERI) meets the standards set by them that are crucial for the Korean market, with further work planned to produce 2 tonnes of high purity dehafniated zirconium (Zr) before the end of the year. ASM has now successfully produced key permanent magnet metals of neodymium, praseodymium, neodymium-praseodymium alloy, dysprosium, titanium metal, titanium alloy, titanium metal powder, and zirconium using its innovative metallisation process.

Zr Metal Powder Produced at the Ziron Tech Pilot Plant

The focus is now on the production of 250kg of Neodymium-Praseodymium (NdPr) metal, to be turned into sintered permanent magnets samples in partnership with the Korean Institute of Rare Metals (KIRAM) for the Korean market. Work on the production of ferro-dysprosium and ferroniobium is scheduled for Q4 2020, which will mark the completion of the metallisation of the final products sourced from the Dubbo Project.

ASM Managing Director, David Woodall said: “The production of zirconium metal is a significant result for ASM and the potential development of the Dubbo Project. The successful production of zirconium and the other metals planned to be produced at Dubbo has enabled ASM to optimise the project flowsheet. In the 2018 FEED Study, the plan was for the project to produce predominately zirconium oxychloride (ZOC), today’s result will see the percentage of ZOC reduced significantly to focus on and meet the high purity zirconium metal and hafnium production targets, with potential benefits in the capital and operating costs.”

“I am returning to Korea to continue investment discussions, oversee the design and construction of a 250 kg per day continuous metal plant in Korea, and to continue advancing discussions for a potential partner in the metal business.” Mr Woodall said.

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ASM produces 7.5kg of heavy rare earth metal dysprosium in Korea

Highlights:
  • ASM produces 7.5kg of heavy rare earth dysprosium metal
  • Dysprosium metal assay – 99.53%
  • Metallisation of ferro-dysprosium and zirconium progressing

ASM, through its partner Ziron Technology Corporation (Ziron Tech), has successfully produced 7.5 kg of a high purity dysprosium metal at its commercial pilot plant in South Korea.

After producing 0.76 kg of the heavy rare earth metal last month, this second run confirms that it can be done at scale, marking the completion of the final key permanent magnet metals to be produced at the Ziron Tech facility. ASM has now produced neodymium, praseodymium, neodymium praseodymium alloy and dysprosium, all key for permanent magnets, through the commercial pilot plant using its innovative metallisation process.

Work has commenced on the production of ferro-dysprosium and zirconium metals. These are anticipated to be the final products metallised from material sourced from the Dubbo Project in central west NSW.

ASM Managing Director, David Woodall said: “ASM is progressing further in its development to become an integrated mine to metal business, with the successful production of the heavy rare earth metal, dysprosium. With the production of these key permanent magnets metals and metal alloys, and the development of zirconium metal production, ASM is one step closer to converting all products from the Dubbo Project into value-adding metals.”

“Our focus is now on commencing the design and construction of a 250 kg per day continuous metal plant in Korea. This is the first phase of our strategy to develop a 3,000-5,000 tonne per year plant designed to meet some of the demand for critical materials in the Korean manufacturing sector. ASM continues to advance discussions for a potential partner in the metal business,” Mr Woodall said.

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