Mining Industry

Ionic lays out immediate priorities for Makuutu project

Ionic lays out immediate priorities for Makuutu project
Mining News Pro - Ionic Rare Earths CEO Tim Harrison has told Mining Weekly about the company’s main priorities for the remainder of this year and 2022, before it takes a final mining decision on the Makuutu rare earths project, in Uganda.
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Harrison listed these as being validation test work on the project and potentially also a demonstration plant to help de-risk the adoption of the technology related to the project.

The project is currently undergoing a 7 800 m Phase 4 infill drilling programme, with which the company aims to increase resource confidence from the inferred to indicated classification on the large resources Area 1.

This area currently has an inferred resource of 96-million tonnes. The company intends for the indicated and measured resource base to be more than 250-million tonnes.

More than 5 000 m of drilling have been done to date and Ionic expects to conclude drilling within the next five weeks.

Harrison confirms that the current drill programme is meant to inform a feasibility study and resource upgrade, but the company plans to undertake more exploratory drilling around the project, potentially next year.

The company is targeting the completion of a feasibility study over the next 12 months. Other near-term objectives include the signing of offtake agreements, getting financing in place and receiving the go-ahead from the Ugandan government on its environmental-impact assessment, once it is submitted in the fourth quarter.

Ionic intends to apply for a mining licence by November 2022 and start producing rare earths in 2024.

A scoping study published by the company earlier this year has demonstrated the potential for Makuutu to become a sustainable, long-life operation, supplying critical rare earth oxides and heavy rare earth oxides to global markets and generating strong financial returns.

The study proposes an openpit mining operation over an initial 11-year mine life, with run-of-mine throughput steadily increasing from 2.5-million tonnes a year to 12.5-million tonnes a year by year ten.

Meanwhile, Ionic is also mulling the development of a standalone 4 000 t/y rare earth separation and refining facility for the downstream processing of mixed rare earth carbonate product, which would produce critical rare earth oxides and heavy rare earth oxides.

While the development of a dedicated refining facility has the potential to be substantially earnings accretive, Harrison says the company needs to consider its location, since these types of plant operate best in industrial park environments and require a reliable supply of electricity.

He tells Mining Weekly that the rare earths in Ionic’s basket have the potential to support a number of strategic industries. They enable, for example, offshore wind turbines, advanced communication and military applications, as well as commercial space exploration.

“It will ultimately help develop many industries, specifically related to high-value products.”

Responding to whether the company intends to increase its stake in the project from 51% to 100%, Harrison explains that the company will first increase its stake to 60% following the completion of a feasibility study.

It also has a pre-emptive right over the remaining stake and will consider its options in that regard in future.


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