Dubbo Project timeline
Since the discovery of the unique Toongi deposit over two decades ago, the team at ASM has undergone a challenging but exciting journey to get the Dubbo Project to where it is today. Many valued partners have contributed to the vast amount of process and engineering development work, helping to establish a pioneering flow sheet and a solid business case.
The Dubbo Project is ready for construction, subject to financing. All major state and federal approvals and licences are in place (see above), along with an established process flow sheet and a solid business case. ASM is monitoring market demand for these critical materials and will seek further investment for this project when the time is right.
ASM completes Optimisation Study for the Dubbo Project, confirming strong financials. The updated Dubbo Project base case for the 20-year life of mine is expected to achieve a pre-tax NPV of AUD 2,361 million and a pre-tax project internal rate of return of 23.5%. This is a pre-tax IRR improvement of 6.0% compared to the 2018 Engineering & Financials Update. Read more.
Australian Government-owned’ Export Finance Australia (EFA) confirms interest in financing the Dubbo Project, stating it closely aligns with the recently announced initiative by the Australian Government to develop its “Critical Minerals” sector. Read more.
Investment in clean metallisation technology 2019
After several years exploring potential metal conversion technologies, ASM invested in a new clean, carbon-free metallisation technology developed by scientists at Chungnam National University (CNU) in Daejon, South Korea. Under an agreement with South Korea’s Zirconium Technology Corporation (Ziron Tech), ASM is part-funding the final stages of research and feasibility for the technology, including the development of a commercial-scale pilot plant. The technology promises to replace highly energy-intensive conventional metallisation processes with a more sustainable and cost-effective alternative. ASM has the exclusive global rights to commercialise the new metallisation technology in relation to zirconium and hafnium. The technology is theoretically applicable to all 18 elements produced by the Dubbo Project, including the high-value rare earth magnet metals, praseodymium and neodymium.
This investment is a significant step towards establishing a processing route for converting Dubbo Project materials into highly marketable high-purity metals, and represents the final significant outlay expected by ASM prior to project financing being achieved.
Dubbo Project: Engineering & Financials Update 2018
The results of the modularisation and value investigations, along with the product and process refinements since completion of the FEED, were summarised and presented in the Dubbo Project: Engineering and Financials Update (31 May 2018). The comprehensive report includes:
• A full update of feasibility and engineering
• Operations and infrastructure overview
• Updated financial models (capital, operating and revenue estimates)
• A summary of market conditions and marketing strategy
The substantial body of work and analysis undertaken on the Dubbo Project gives ASM a high degree of confidence in its ability to execute and deliver the program described.
Dubbo Project Engineering Financials Update
Flow sheet evolution to 2018
Substantial ongoing process improvements and optimisation of the flow sheet, particularly in the area of product purity, has been achieved through research at ANSTO Minerals. Product development objectives have been based on:
a) market research and discussions with potential end-users
b) the need to produce more specialised products that have a higher price-point – i.e. higher-purity or specific downstream products. (These two factors go hand in hand.)As a result, the final suite of products is very different from the original three product streams proposed in 2002. The 2018 version of the flow sheet shows the following product streams:
• Zirconium as zirconium oxychloride (ZOC), as well as a range of other materials
• Multiple streams of rare earths (with one being the key rare earth magnet materials Nd, Pr, Dy and Tb)
• Hafnium materials
2018 Flow Sheet
Australian Strategic Materials 2016
The name of Australian Zirconia Limited (AZL) was changed to Australian Strategic Materials Ltd (ASM) at the end of 2016. This reflected the fact that the project will produce globally significant quantities of hafnium and rare earth elements in addition to zirconium materials, as well as other minerals (such as niobium and yttrium). The project name of Dubbo Zirconia Project was similarly modified to the Dubbo Project. (While ASM is currently a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alkane, the Alkane Board is actively considering a demerger with the intention of listing ASM independently on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX).)
Environment Protection Licence 2016
The Environment Protection Licence for construction activities was granted on 14 March 2016 by the NSW Environment Protection Authority under the NSW Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997. A Conservation Property Vegetation Plan (PVP00199) has been negotiated with Central West Local Land Services to protect and conserve 1,021Ha of biodiversity offsets in perpetuity.
Modularisation and value investigations 2015
Following the completion of the 2013 DFS (and earlier studies) and the FEED, ASM sought to further identify opportunities to maximise value and reduce capex through a series of engineering reviews and options analyses (modularisation and value investigations). Central to this was assessment of the cost impacts of an aggressive modularisation strategy and a repeatable train execution methodology (that is, a staged approach to construction and development). The results of several work streams carried out from 2015 through to early 2018 demonstrated the strong potential for a modularised build approach, where the processing plant could be built in two stages, each of half capacity (500ktpa each), utilising some common infrastructure. This would allow the second stage to be built after the first stage is successfully commissioned and market pricing achieved for the products, allowing staging of capital and solid post-build cash flow. These results were combined by ASM and presented in the Dubbo Project: Engineering & Financials Update (2018).
Mining Lease 2015
Mining Lease (ML) 1724 was granted by the (then) NSW Department of Industry, Division of Resources and Energy on 18 December 2015. It covers 2,390 hectares and includes the operating site, significant biodiversity offset areas and residual agricultural land. ASM owns 3,456 hectares of land at Toongi, encompassing the Mining Lease.
Front End Engineering Design (FEED) 2015
The Front End Engineering Design (FEED) for a 1Mtpa processing plant, founded on a sulphuric acid roast-leach and solvent extraction circuit to recover zirconium, hafnium, niobium and rare earth products, was completed by Hatch Pty Ltd in August 2015. This incorporated improvements and process optimisation achieved since the 2013 DFS by AZL in partnership with ANSTO, TZMI and Hatch. The FEED included improvements for water management and waste treatment, as well as a revamped rare earths circuit to improve recoveries. The developments reduced total water consumption from 4 gigalitres per annum to 2Glpa and the site footprint by 50% to approximately 500ha.
DZP FEED completion highlights robust project economics
Hafnium circuit 2015
In response to significant market interest, a process pathway to recover hafnium as an additional product for the Dubbo Project was developed by ANSTO Minerals. This had little impact on the existing flow sheet, with hafnium extracted from the zirconium refining circuit. It added significant value to the project and has the added benefit of enabling the production of high-value low-hafnium zirconium products.
Federal environment approval 2015
On 24 August 2015, the federal Department of the Environment granted development approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This related to the DoE’s assessment of the impact of the project on the Pink‐tailed Worm‐lizard (PTWL).
Development consent 2015
The NSW Planning Assessment Commission granted development approval for the Dubbo Project on 28 May 2015, subject to various consent conditions which have been met.
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) 2013
The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was prepared by R.W. Corkery & Co. to accompany AZL’s application for development consent to construct and operate the Dubbo Zirconia Project. The purpose of the EIS is to detail the local environment and predicted impacts of the project on the surrounding physical, biological and socio-economic environment.
Environmental Impact Statement
Definitive Feasibility Study 2013
The Definitive Feasibility Study (DFS) for the Dubbo Project was completed in 2013. It built on previous studies prepared by TZMI in 2011 and SNC Lavalin in 2002. The 2013 DFS was based upon a 1 million tonne per annum processing facility located at the project site south of Dubbo, and drew upon data produced by the DPP.
Definitive Feasibility Study confirms robust Dubbo Project
Demonstration Pilot Plant 2008
After a hiatus of a few years, AZL realised a much larger, more robust pilot plant was needed to take the project further. For this AZL approached ANSTO Minerals in Sydney (a division of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation). The Demonstration Pilot Plant (DPP) was built onsite at ANSTO 2007-2008 to support further development and optimisation of the flow sheet – as well as fully integrate the recycle streams and help de-risk the whole process. Since its commissioning in 2008 until the present day, the DPP and team at ANSTO Minerals have played a vital role in product and process development for the Dubbo Project.
Ore geology and mineralogy
The Toongi deposit comprises largely homogeneous trachyte lava flow formed approximately 190 million years ago. The ore mineralogy is unusual, comprising three minerals uncommon in themselves and not usually found together. They are dispersed in a homogeneous fine-grained interlocking alkaline volcanic rock. The key mineral is a hydrous zirconium silicate similar to eudialyte, containing all the zirconium, hafnium, yttrium and heavy rare earths. The other two minerals of interest are natroniobite, which hosts all the niobium and tantalum, and bastnaesite, which hosts all the light rare earths. Given the unusual mineralogy, a great deal of experimental process development work was required to develop a process flow sheet that would permit recovery of all these different elements from the rock.
Resource drilling of the Toongi deposit took place in 2000 – 2001.
Australian Zirconia Limited formed 2000
Australian Zirconia Ltd (AZL) was formed by Alkane in July 2000 to hold all the assets of the project, then known as the Dubbo Zirconia Project (DZP), and to facilitate the ultimate development of that project. AZL was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Alkane (and has since been renamed Australian Strategic Materials).
Initial flow sheet development 1999
Alkane appointed minerals consultant TZ Minerals International Pty Ltd (TZMI) to manage the development program and feasibility study of the Dubbo Zirconia Project.Alkane/AZL and TZMI worked with Lakefield Minerals (now SGS) in Perth to develop the first process flow sheet for the recovery of zirconium, niobium and an yttrium-rare earths concentrate. It was established early that the whole ore would need to be treated. When physical separation processes (flotation, gravity separation) didn’t work, a range of chemical, roast-leaching processes using different leaching agents were trialled. The only viable process proved to be a sulphuric acid roast-leach, which dissolves the three minerals of interest without dissolving too much of the host rock.
The process to recover all the different metals of interest from solution, easily and economically into a saleable product, is complex. To work through the variables, a mini-pilot plant at Lakefield’s premises in Perth was initially used. By 2002, a flow sheet for the recovery of zirconium (as zirconium basic sulphate), niobium (+Ta) concentrate and an yttrium rare earths concentrate was established.
The front part of the 2002 process (milling, sulphation and leaching) remains pretty much the same today. In 2002, this was followed by filtration, solvent extraction and a complicated series of refining, precipitation and filtration stages to produce three product streams. But further development was needed to:
explore higher-value product options to cover the high processing costs – and later in response to market developments.
make this complicated, resource-intensive process more efficient and environmentally friendly.
The unusual rock sequence that contains the Toongi deposit was discovered by another exploration company in the 1980s while searching for gold in the area. Preliminary analysis revealed the mineral assembly was similar to an existing 1980s project that ultimately didn’t proceed. It was recognised that much of the conceptual work undertaken for that project could be used as a launching point for process development. The proximity of the Toongi deposit to Dubbo, a major regional centre with infrastructure and services, was also considered an advantage. Thus what is now known as the Dubbo Project was born in 1998.