China has long held a strategic stranglehold on the production of rare earth elements across the globe. The United States Geological Survey says China has produced an incredible 87 per cent of the world’s total rare earths to-date. With such a fierce grip on the emerging market, the West and the rest are left with growing concerns about the security of key supply chains that could leave entire industries integral to the lofty goal of net-zero emissions at the mercy of international geopolitics.
Rare earths are essential to components used in a broad range of technologies, ranging from national security to energy and specifically magnets, lasers, wind turbines and electric vehicles to name just a few.
In the last 18 months, West Australian based Mount Ridley Mines has morphed itself into a possible rare earths contender. The company believes its namesake project is showing potential to host a major quantity of rare earth elements it considers critical to the modern move towards clean energy. Specifically, the critical category includes the light rare earths neodymium and praseodymium and the heavy rare earths dysprosium and terbium in addition to the commonly associated yttrium.
The Mount Ridley project is located approximately 35 kilometres northeast of the deep-water port of Esperance in Western Australia and covers an expansive 3,400 square kilometres.
The junior explorer believes the model of mineralisation it has in its hands is an ionic adsorption clay deposit that is similar to some of the predominant Chinese deposits.
The project was originally drilled for nickel as early as 2015, however more recently the company re-analysed 1,108 samples from previous air core work and found over half the samples contained significantly elevated levels of rare earths.
The first partial leach test results from 489 samples returned a grade of approximately 800 parts per million total rare earth oxides, or “TREO”. Remarkably, over 50 per cent of the TREO will be of the critical variety.
Importantly, the partial leaches generally had a recovery of over 80 per cent when compared to the original and destructive fire fusion assay. The junior says the high recoveries of the milder partial leach, as is typical of ionic adsorption clay deposits, bodes well for its proposed model of mineralisation.
According to Mount Ridley, the results returned so far compare favourably with the analogous Makuutu rare earths project in Uganda owned by the $198 million market-capped ASX-listed Ionic Rare Earths.
Notably for the junior, whilst not having the higher grades of hard rock rare earths deposits, ionic adsorption clay style deposits are typified by cheap processing costs. In addition to cost, Mount Ridley alludes to the potential large-scale of its system by noting the mineralisation is evident in drilling over an expansive area of 25 kilometres by 3 kilometres that encouragingly, remains open in all directions.
Interestingly, the company says the area drilled represents only 2 per cent of the project’s total size.
Final preparations are now being made to wheel in the rig with the drillbit slated to start spinning imminently.
The upcoming campaign will firstly aim to expand the mineralised footprint beyond the current 25km by 3km drilled area and perform resource-based drilling before testing the broader area.
Management anticipates a maiden resource for the project being tabled by the end of the year.
Wind turbines in particular rely heavily on rare earths, with each turbine requiring about two tonnes of the scarce metals, according to Mount Ridley.
Turbines were back in the headlines this week with news the Danish Copenhagen Energy company is contemplating wind farms in WA’s offshore waters.
The mass adoption of wind turbines is moving at a blinding pace with the multinational and long-time oil and gas company Shell recently inking a deal to buy 49 per cent of the Australian wind farm developer WestWind Energy.
With the globe’s appetite for all things electric seemingly growing by the day, demand for rare earths looks like being dragged along. When coupled with rising geo-political tensions things could get interesting quickly for Mt Ridley if it can prove up a serious endowment of rare earths on the doorstep of Esperance’s busy port.
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