Construction is set to begin for the first heavy rare earths mine outside in Australia. Northern Minerals' $56 million pilot plant will be located near the Western Australia-Northern Territory border, and will focus on producing dysprosium. This rare earth metal is mostly used to make industrial magnets for electric vehicles and wind turbines. Over the course of three years, the pilot plant is designed to test the viability of a full-scale mining project.

Over the course of three years, the pilot plant is designed to test the viability of a full-scale project. The Browns Range project will have a throughput of 60,000 tonnes per annum, which will represent 10% of the size of the proposed full-scale mine. This major mining project is making waves in the mining industry as it represents a significant first for the Australian mining industry in the realm of heavy rare earths mining. As well as the strengthening of relations with Chinese investors, with Huatai Mining committing a hefty $30 million in exchange for a 31 percent stake in Northern Minerals.

Job Generation

The pilot plant is expected to generate 35 jobs for its operation, with even more to be created during the initial construction and development of the mine. Also, once feasibility has been confirmed via the success of the pilot plant, the full-scale project has the potential to employ approximately 350 people. A memorandum of understanding has been struck between Northern Minerals and the local government to ensure that local people are also employed for this project.

For the local community of Ringer's Soak, this boost in local jobs is a welcome opportunity, as the area has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the whole of Australia. Factors such as its remote location, the young population (50% under 25), and a general lack of skills and training, have contributed significantly to the unemployment issue. To help combat this, the local government has collaborated with the TAFE to launch initiatives aimed at increasing the skill sets of the locals to improve their employability and suitability for the pilot plant roles.

The construction of the Northern Minerals pilot plant will pioneer a new direction in the mining industry and has the potential to help a community get back on their feet. Only time will tell if the pilot plant will prove to be feasible and the development of the full-scale heavy rare earths mine will come to fruition.

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