PERTH (miningweekly.com) – Rare earths producer Northern Minerals on Wednesday announced that it would partially restart operations at its Browns Range pilot plant, in Western Australia, while also restarting exploration activities across its tenements.
The company in March this year temporarily suspended operations at Browns Range in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, as travel restrictions were implemented making access to the remote site difficult.
The company said on Wednesday that the decision to restart operations followed the lifting of Commonwealth biosecurity restrictions applied to the Kimberley region as part of Covid-19 control measures.
Northern Minerals has started planning and logistics to support the restart of operations at the pilot plant, which will initially focus on testwork in the beneficiation circuit followed by tests in the hydrometallurgical circuit.
The company will also proceed with the mechanical construction and installation of ore-sorting equipment at the front-end of the pilot plant.
The partial return of pilot plant operations at Browns Range will result in approximately three-quarters of the previous project workforce being re-mobilised later this month. However, there are some positions that are likely to become redundant, the company has warned.
“We have taken the difficult decision to only partially restart the pilot plant at this stage, but believe it is the best immediate path forward in the project’s development. We will work closely and collaboratively with those members of the team impacted by this decision to redeploy them to other opportunities within the company, including within our exploration team, where it is possible to do so,” said executive chairperson Colin McCavana.
Meanwhile, exploration activity across the Browns Range tenement package would also be ramped up, with a budget of A$4.5-million to A$5-million being allocated for greenfield exploration, further evaluation of identified mineralisation and to boost confidence in resources, with the objective of increasing the overall life-of-mine potential of the project.
“Our significant commitment to exploration in the next 6 to 12 months will underpin our ongoing ambition to develop a full-scale heavy rare earths mining and processing operation at Browns Range in the future, which if successful would create significantly greater opportunities for Northern Minerals, the state and Australia in the global context of these critical minerals,” said McCavana.