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    Tom O'Leary.

Iluka mining-plan potential might change Horsham’s socio-economic landscape

BY DYLAN DE JONG 

An Australian mining boss has suggested new technology being developed for a Wimmera mining project has potential to be an industry ‘game changer’ if successful.

Perth-based mineral-sands producer Iluka Resources, working on a mining plan likely to change Horsham’s socio-economic landscape, is on the cusp of developing a new technique to process Wimmera zircon to make it suitable for global markets. 

The company has, since September 2018, been exploring the potential of a multi-million-dollar Wimmera Project, a mineral-sand-mining venture about eight kilometres north of Toolondo.



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Company managing director Tom O’Leary said if Iluka had success in developing a solution to process the Wimmera’s zircon, which had issues with impurities, other commercial mining companies across western Victoria would also benefit. 

He said the project was one of three in Australia that could further leverage the company’s position in the global mining industry. 

Iluka is also assessing the feasibility of developing Australia’s first rare-earth refinery at Eneabba in Western Australia and an underground mining method to access the orebody more economically than conventional means at its Balranald mine in southern New South Wales. “Each of these projects are potential game changers for the industry,” Mr O’Leary said.

“Balranald and Wimmera are each focused on overcoming long-known technical challenges. Both the mining technology we’re developing at Balranald and the zircon-processing technology we’re developing for the Wimmera have potential applications beyond these respective deposits, both within and outside Iluka.” 

The company plans to build a mineral-separation plant and zircon refinery on the Wimmera site as part of the project. 

Mr O’Leary said the company’s success in developing the zircon-processing technique would determine its decision to proceed with the project.

“Wimmera Project work is focused on a processing solution to enable zircon, which is high in uranium and thorium, to be suitable for the ceramics market,” he said.

“These impurities are a challenge shared by all of the fine-grained mineral-sands deposits in western Victoria – one that Iluka has applied considerable effort to conquering,” Mr O’Leary said. 

“I’m encouraged by the progress we’re making in this regard.”

Iluka Murray Basin regional manager Dean Menzel said the company had ‘invested substantially’ in a processing solution for the Wimmera’s zircon since 2014. 

“Without a processing solution, the impurities make the zircon ineligible for the ceramics market, an industry that uses over half of all global zircon supply,” he said.

Iluka believes the Wimmera Project has potential to provide a multi-decade supply of zircon and rare earths.

The company also expects it to create 300 to 350 jobs during construction and an additional 280 to 350 full-time jobs for up to 25 years. 

Mr Menzel said the rare-earth-bearing minerals within the Wimmera deposit were also similar to Iluka’s stockpiled rare earths at Eneabba and could feed into the company’s potential refining activities in future years.

“The critical minerals Iluka produces are essential for a range of sustainable development applications including solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicles,” he said.

“Demand across this supply chain is expected to grow substantially over coming years as the world moves towards electrification and a low-carbon future.”

The company expects environmental studies and community engagement relating to the overall mining development to continue until late 2021 before it can seek government approval to proceed into a construction phase.  

Baseline environmental studies and community engagement relating to the development of the project’s Environmental Effects Statement continue through face-to-face and online forums. 

Iluka ran a face-to-face consultation session at Toolondo Hall and an online session in March. 

People who attended the consultations were interested in noise, air quality, traffic numbers, road impacts, water availability and security, groundwater, flora and fauna, job and growth opportunities.

The entire May 26, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire May 26, 2021 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!