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Mine to metals model makes ASM a rare opportunity

IT IS a straightforward story; Australian Strategic Materials has a high quality and very robust rare earths and critical minerals project at Dubbo, which the company will mine and refine in situ to produce high purity oxides ꟷ then take the process one step further to offer full metallisation if desired by customers.

Australian Strategic Materials
 ASM’s Dubbo project will provide a long-term resource of rare earth and critical minerals

ASM’s Dubbo project will provide a long-term resource of rare earth and critical minerals

That is how managing director and CEO Rowena Smith sums it up, as the company she leads is somewhat unique in the green metals space where, in Australia, there is precious little of this kind of vertical integration.

ASM is focused on the production of specialty metals and owns the Dubbo project in Central West New South Wales which has long-term resources of rare earths, zirconium, niobium and hafnium - critical materials for a diverse range of emerging and sustainable technologies.

ASM also has the fully commissioned and operational Korean Metals Plant in the Ochang Province, about 115km south of capital city Seoul. This is where ASM has the added capability of refining oxides into metal.

"We are building a rare earths and critical minerals business to provide all the high-tech metals that are needed for the challenges we face both today, and into the future, needed to support clean energy transition," Smith said. 

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The Dubbo project has strong ESG credentials - a key factor in ongoing offtake discussions

Rare earths are critical for use in the manufacture of permanent magnets, electric vehicle design, wind turbines and many other clean energy technologies and other advanced technologies that are in the throes of being developed.

"In order for the world to transition to that clean energy, we need to have a strong supply of rare earths, and at the moment there is really only a single supply chain for rare earths from China. And it is not anticipated that it will be able to meet the growing demand for the production of those clean energy technologies."

Smith says the world needs a more diverse supply chain, citing the disruptive experiences of Covid-19 and heightening geopolitical tensions, which have emphasised how important it is to have some diversity. There is also the prediction that by 2030 there will be a big gap between supply being able to meet the growing demand.

"Because of that, governments worldwide have started to prioritise the development of rare earths supply chains. They are looking to make sure they've got sufficient domestic supply to be able to support their own industry," Smith said.

Australia is no exception in this regard and towards the end of 2022, ASM received $10 million from the New South Wales Government and this year $6.5 million from the Australian Federal Government to support early establishment activities and non-process infrastructure work in Dubbo.

ASM identified Korea as being one of the early leaders in this kind of support for rare earths companies, a philosophy which has been followed by Australia, the United States, European nations and more recently Japan.

ASM has a mine-to-metal strategy which is quite deliberate, as there are currently no equivalent supply chains outside of China.

"If you establish just one piece of that supply chain you have to rely and depend on others to provide the upstream or develop the downstream. We are committed to doing the mining in Dubbo where we've got a world-class asset which does both rare earths and other critical minerals.

"We will mine there, separate and refine and take it all the way through to high purity oxides, right there in Dubbo. But then we will also offer our partners the option of taking that through to metal and specialist alloys for production of permanent magnets and other critical products that support all of those advanced technologies," Smith said.

ASM has worked in Korea for more than a decade, working on technology development and it was a natural progression to build the Korean Metals Plant there. Now in production, it produces a light rare earths neodymium praseodymium metal (NdPr) which is sold in Korea to an industrial magnet producer. ASM is also producing a NdFeB [neodymium iron boron] alloy for a US customer. Talks for the products from the Korean Metals Plant are continuing with potential customers in the US, Japan, Europe and Korea.

To keep the Korean Metals Plant running at capacity before Dubbo comes online, ASM has entered into an agreement with a Vietnamese rare earth oxide producer to provide feed. 

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The Korean Metals Plant is in production and supplying NdPr metal and NdFeB alloy to customers

Right now, ASM's priority is to secure offtake agreements for Dubbo, and the intention is to have those in place by the end of 2023.

Final investment decision is expected to be complete by the end of 2024, paving the way for production and first product from the project by 2027.

Key to the support of the Dubbo Project is its strong ESG credentials, says Smith, a factor which is hugely valued by customers who require both heavy and light rare earths.

"The Dubbo project is in a strong ESG jurisdiction, and we have done a lot of work over time to strengthen the ESG credentials of the project. This is critically important when we are talking to European and American end users."

Smith singles out the car producers as being particularly sensitive to ESG.

"The car producers go directly to the customer, and if the customer is going to buy an electric vehicle it is because they have got some sensitivity in terms of climate change. They want to know that they are buying a vehicle that meets those same values in all other components of the vehicle.

"You don't want to have a low-carbon vehicle which is causing all sorts of other problems. As a result, the car manufacturers have got very ambitious statements about their carbon neutral targets. So they looking for that from their supply chain ꟷ and we are really well positioned to meet that," said Smith.

ABOUT THIS COMPANY
Australian Strategic Materials

Australian Strategic Materials ASX:ASM

 

Head office address:

Level 4, 66 Kings Park Road, West Perth, Western Australia, 6005

 

Postal address:

PO Box 768, West Perth, Western Australia, 6872

 

Tel: +61 8 9200 1681

Email: info@asm-au.com

Web: www.asm-au.com

 

Directors:

Ian Jeffrey Gandel (non-executive chair)

Rowena Smith (managing director and CEO)

Nic Earner (non-executive director)

Kerry Gleeson (non-executive director)

Gavin Smith (non-executive director)

 

Market capitalisation: $206.71 million

 

Quoted shares on issue: 166 million

 

Major shareholders:

65% retail and others

21% directors and management

9% foreign institutions

6% domestic institutions

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