Earlier this week, Lynas Rare Earths Ltd. announced a $500 million project to expand capacity at the Mt Weld mine and concentrator in Western Australia. To meet Lynas’ ambition to growth plans for increased neodymium and praseodymium (NdPr) production, the company said a capacity expansion will be required at every production stage, including significant development of the Mt Weld ore body and beneficiation circuit.
“The rare earths market is growing at pace as the world transitions to new energy technologies such as wind energy and electric vehicles,” said Lynas CEO and Managing Director, Amanda Lacaze. “Lynas has a decade-long track record in responsible rare earths production and the Mt Weld expansion project we are announcing today is designed to ensure we continue to grow with the market as a supplier of choice.”
The plan is to increase feedstock production capacity from 7,000 metric tons per year (mt/y) NdPr equivalent today to 12,000 mt/y NdPr equivalents in 2024. Further capacity expansion in existing upstream and downstream production together with growth options for 2025 and beyond are also being discussed. This includes two additional stages at Mt Weld which offer a pathway to an additional 2,400 mt NdPr equivalent per year for each stage.
The initial expansion to 12,000 mt/y NdPr equivalent has been fully scoped and the company said it will fund the approximately $500 million investment for this stage of the project from cash flow. This project is based on known technology. It includes upscaled processing equipment, efficiency improvements, enhanced sustainability and will provide a platform for further capacity increases.
Key elements of the expansion project include improved crushing and grinding infrastructure, additional flotation circuits, and an apatite leach circuit. It will also require a concentrate dewatering circuit and load-out facilities. The mining operations will also need additional tailings storage facilities (TSFs), with segregated storage of process streams to enable potential future reprocessing. In addition to this initial expansion project, Lynas planning a staged transition from diesel-fueled power generation to gas and then hybrid renewable power generation.
Procurement of long lead equipment items has already started. Construction activities are expected to commence in early 2023, with full operation planned for 2024. Some infrastructure will be brought online in stages to accelerate production growth prior to the completion date.
“This investment is supported by our high grade, long life and reliable source of feedstock, the remarkable Mt Weld ore body,” Lacaze said. “Having a long-life resource is an essential foundation for success in the rare earths market and the recent 1 km deep drilling has demonstrated Mt Weld’s potential to supply feedstock for many years into the future.”
Mt Weld’s Rare Earth Ore Reserve estimate is 18.9 million mt at an average grade of 8.3% Total Rare Earth Oxide (TREO) for a total of 1.57 million mt contained TREO, and the Mt Weld Rare Earth Mineral Resource estimate was 55.2 million mt at an average grade of 5.3% TREO for a total of 2.93 million mt of contained TREO.