Element 25 is celebrating its status as Australia’s newest manganese producer from the Butcherbird project in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
Element 25’s first shipment of 27,000 tonnes of high-quality manganese concentrate from Butcherbird sailed from the Utah Point facility at Port Hedland in July.
The shipment marks the first stage of Element 25’s plan to become a globally significant producer of manganese concentrates for the steel industry, as well as high purity battery-grade manganese sulphate (HPMSM) for use in the booming lithium-ion battery sector.
“The shipment is the first step in what we see as a long journey,’’ Element 25 managing director Justin Brown tells Australian Resources & Investment.
The pre-feasibility study into the low cost first stage was only completed 14 months before the first shipment of concentrate. The speed to market by the project reflects Butcherbird’s long history as a known manganese occurrence, and the attraction of the lithium-ion battery boom creating a new and fast growing market for HPMSM.
“Butcherbird was long known about as a manganese occurrence, but nobody had ever had a proper look at it,’’ Brown says.
“We were the first to do that and we identified this massive resource – 263 million tonnes in resource, and potentially double that if we drilled more.”
A key reason why Butcherbird had long been overlooked was its comparatively low grade.
“It sits in the ground at around 10-12 per cent manganese content, which historically at least, is not a particularly exciting grade,’’ Brown explains.
“But we joined with the CSIRO in 2016 to unlock a high purity downstream processing angle which was very successful.
“The problem at that point was that the use of chemical or battery-grade manganese sulphate was fairly limited because the electric vehicle (EV) industry was just getting started. So we did quite a lot of work on producing an electrolytic manganese metal product which is 99.9 per cent pure metallic manganese for use in the steel industry along with the concentrates.
“But the challenge there was the capital requirement was quite high at $300-$400 million to get a plant up and running.’’
Instead, the company went down the low-cost option of first producing manganese concentrate for export.
“It has been more doable but we still want go down the value-add chain and we have done 90 per cent of the work to get there in terms of understanding what has to happen, and we are in the process of finalising a pre-feasibility study, which will be out later this year to show the potential of that journey,’’ Brown says.
Element 25’s project team is now turning its attention to a stage two expansion of the concentrate business, followed by a stage three development to convert the concentrate in to HPSM for batteries.
“One of the key criteria is that the supply of HPMSM needs to have high levels of ESG (environment, social and governance) compliance,” Brown says.
“So being zero carbon is a big part of that. It is a goal for us and is a requirement for products that have a desire to go into the EV industry, which is very much where we want to go.”
This story also appears in the August issue of Australian Resources & Investment.