Deputy Prime Minister of South Korea visits ASM Korean Metals Plant as hot commissioning begins

Australian Strategic Materials Limited (ASX:ASM) is pleased to announce that commissioning has begun at its Korean Metals Plant in Ochang Province, South Korea, marked by a visit to the plant by Deputy Prime Minister of South Korea, Mr Hong Nam-ki.

Australian Strategic Materials has commenced hot commissioning on its neodymium furnace. This included firing up the plant’s furnaces, processing feed material and casting the plant’s first ingots of neodymium metal.

This represents the first phase of commissioning activities, with additional modules of the Korean Metals Plant undergoing construction and installation. These first phase commissioning activities are planned to continue through the first half of 2022, with the full scale, 5200 tpa plant due for completion in the second half of calendar year 2022.

South Korean Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Hong Nam-ki meeting with representatives from the ASM Korean Metals Plant, South Korea.

Updated production guidance will be provided once the first phase of commissioning is complete.

Australian Strategic Materials Managing Director, David Woodall said the hot commissioning milestone was an important one for the company as it moves towards the completion of the Korean Metals Plant.

“The team in South Korea has worked tirelessly to put us in a position to start commissioning activities at the Korean Metals Plant, despite the logistical and supply constraints as a result of covid. Although, we have more work to do to complete the installation of the facility and commission the full plant, this is a great early sign that our plant is working as expected for this stage.”

“Australian Strategic Materials is moving closer to producing commercial quantities of titanium and permanent magnet alloy, as part of our strategy to provide an alternative, secure supply chain for critical metals.”

“We were also extremely honoured to have Deputy Prime Minister Mr Hong Nam-ki visit us at this significant stage for the business.”

Presentation of ASM metal samples to South Korean Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Hong Nam-ki.

Dubbo Project Finance Update

Technical due diligence of the Dubbo Project occurring under the Framework Agreement with the Investing Partnership of Korean private equity firms (ASX Announcement: 21 July 2021) has advanced with significant effort made by both parties. However, due to Covid19 travel restrictions between Australia and Korea and on travel within Australia, and the extensive scope of the technical due diligence, the due diligence has not been completed by Q3 2021 as initially anticipated and is continuing to be progressed.

Separately, to facilitate the financing of the Dubbo Project, ASM has appointed Australian and New Zealand Banking Group Limited (ANZ) as debt financial advisor. ASM made this appointment based on ANZ’s experience and strong relationships in both Australia and Korea, including with Australian and Korean export finance agencies. The ANZ appointment is both necessary and timely as ASM is engaging with those agencies as part of the financing of the Dubbo Project.

ASM Managing Director David Woodall said, “The Framework Agreement is one part of the financing of the Dubbo Project, ANZ’s appointment facilitates further engagement with debt providers that include Australian and Korean export finance agencies. We continue to progress the financing of the Dubbo Project, the development of which will provide an alternate, sustainable, secure, and stable supply of high purity and clean critical metals directly into the Korean manufacturing sector.”

“We look forward to updating the market as we continue to progress the transaction.”

ASM signs $US250m framework agreement with South Korean consortium for 20% in Dubbo Project and offtake from Korean Metals Plant

ASM (the Company) has entered into a conditional exclusive framework agreement (Agreement) with a consortium of South Korean Investors to subscribe for a 20% equity interest in Australian Strategic Materials (Holdings) Ltd (ASMH) for a subscription price of US$250m (equivalent to AU$340m based on current exchange rates) (Proposed Transaction). ASMH is a wholly owned subsidiary of ASM and is the holding company for ASM’s Dubbo Project.

Key points

  • ASM has signed a conditional framework agreement with a consortium of South Korean investors for the acquisition of a 20% equity interest in ASM’s Dubbo Project holding company.
  • Under the Agreement a consortium fund will invest $US250m for the 20% equity interest.
  • The Investing Partnership intends to establish a second fund to develop a domestic Korean permanent magnet manufacturing business that will enter into an offtake agreement for NdFeB (neodymium-iron-boron) alloy from ASM’s Korean Metals Plant.
  • The Agreement creates a pathway for ASM to develop the Dubbo Project and execute its ‘mine to metal’ strategy.

The Agreement includes provision for a ten-year offtake agreement for up to 2,800tpa of NdFeB (neodymium-iron-boron) alloy from ASM’s Korean Metals Plant (KMP), which is currently under construction in Ochang, South Korea (Proposed Offtake Agreement). The volumes outlined in the Proposed Offtake Agreement anticipate 100% of the neodymium oxide planned to be produced at the Dubbo Project being the primary source of feed to the KMP post the completion of construction.

The Investing Partnership comprises three respected South Korean private equity firms (none of which are related to the Company): Cerritos Holdings Co., Ltd, Kamur Partners LLC and ACE Equity Partners LLC (the Investing Partnership). The Investing Partnership intends to establish a South Korean consortium fund (Consortium Fund) for the purposes of the acquisition of the 20% equity in ASMH. Further, the Investing Partnership intends to form a separate consortium fund to establish and develop a permanent magnet manufacturing business in South Korea (MagnetCo Fund). MagnetCo Fund will be the counterparty to the Proposed Offtake Agreement.

The Investing Partnership will arrange investment into the Consortium Fund which is expected to include strategic investment from major Korean industrial companies. Under the Agreement, the subscription funds are payable to ASMH on satisfaction of the conditions. The funds are intended to be used by ASMH, in combination with other funding sources, to progress the development of the Dubbo Project.

The Agreement represents an important contribution of financial support for the Dubbo Project, a proposed long-term polymetallic resource development containing rare earths, zirconium, niobium, and hafnium, all critical metals essential for advanced and clean technologies. ASM recently announced conditional finance support from Export Finance Australia (EFA) (ASX Announcement 28 June 2021).

ASM Chair, Ian Gandel, said: “I am truly delighted that the vision shown by the whole ASM team to become a leading global supplier of critical metals is bearing fruit. I would like to thank the Non-Executive Directors comprising Ian Chalmers, Nic Earner and Gavin Smith for their significant and valued contribution to ASM. In particular, I would like to acknowledge the loyalty and commitment that Ian Chalmers has shown to the Dubbo Project over the past 25 years. I would also like to thank our Managing Director, David Woodall, for his dedication and persistence to deliver this incredible opportunity during the Covid19 pandemic.

“We welcome the encouragement received from the South Korean business community and Government, which are grounded in strong relationships. We would also like to thank the Australian Government for its interest and support for our projects. We look forward to finalising arrangements with the Investing Partnership and funding entities as soon as possible and delivering on ASM’s ‘mine to metal’ strategy.”

ASM Managing Director, David Woodall, said: “In opening a financing pathway for the Dubbo Project, this Agreement heralds an exciting new phase in ASM’s growth and puts us one step closer to executing our ‘mine to metal’ strategy.

 “We are delighted our new South Korean partners have recognised the mutual value of the strategic investment opportunity represented by our integrated manufacturing capability that offers a new, cleaner source of critical metals and alloys to a rapidly expanding market. Cementing our ties with South Korea’s advanced manufacturing sector represents an incredible opportunity to create value from our Dubbo Project.”

CEO of Kamur Partners LLC, Jerry Kwak, said: “We are very proud to be associated with this strategically important project that will give rise to significant upstream and downstream benefits for both Korea and Australia, ushering in new opportunities for downstream permanent magnet product manufacturing.”

ASM and the Investing Partnership will now work towards finalising the conditions before completing the Proposed Transaction and Proposed Offtake Agreement by the end of 2021.

Signing ceremony for the Framework Agreement. Attendees from L to R: Ms Catherine Raper, Australian Ambassador to the Republic of Korea; Mr David Ko, CEO of ACE Equity Partners LLC; Mr PS Ra, CEO of Cerritos Holdings Co., Ltd; Mr Jerry Kwak, CEO of Kamur Partners LLC; Mr Ian Gandel, Chair of ASM; The Honorable Mr Dan Tehan, Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment; and Mr David Woodall, Managing Director of ASM.

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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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