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Overcoming a ‘significant hurdle’ for critical minerals projects

critical minerals future

There is no doubting the importance of critical minerals for our green future, but in order to bring such mines online, juniors need to be strategic in their partnerships.

Stakeholder relationships can be a snag in ensuring explorers achieve the necessary approvals to elevate their project from exploration into production.

Speaking at the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC), Australian Strategic Materials (ASM) managing director and chief executive officer Rowena Smith shined a light on how partnerships and collaboration have gotten her company to where it is today.

Smith initially spoke about ASM’s partnership with the Australian Nuclear Science & Technology Organisation (ANSTO), which extends more than 15 years, and how this has been critical for the company to establish a flowsheet for its Dubbo rare earths project in New South Wales.

“In addition to a very long-life resource, we’ve got a very well-tested process flowsheet and that de-risks the project quite significantly,” Smith said during an IMARC panel discussion.

“In terms then of being able to move forward, the environmental approval process then becomes quite a significant hurdle for these projects.

“So then (it’s about) working in partnership with the New South Wales Government to make sure we are meeting a very high standard for ESG (environmental, social and governance) because that’s important to us and important to the community and important to our customers and investors.”

The role of government was an ever-present theme at this year’s IMARC, with not only the state’s role in financing and funding of mining projects discussed at length but also the acceleration of permitting and approvals.

As Smith suggested, an exploration company has an equally important role to play in this – solidifying their ESG credentials to ensure governments trust that they’re going to be responsible operators.

Beyond government relationships, the necessity of offtake and financing also comes into view.

“We’re now at the point where we’re looking for offtake parties and funders,” Smith said.

“To be able to get this project up, you need offtakers who are prepared to give long, secure offtake who ideally are going to participate in equity in the project and really help to address the fact that the mineral processing step is capital intensive.

“Then I think as you go forward in funding … these projects don’t really attract commercial banks. This is not the risk profile and the immediate return timeframe that the average commercial bank is interested in.

“So you’re looking at working with ECAs (Export Credit Agencies) … and those kind of partnerships with other jurisdictions become really important and they only get enabled if you’ve got government-to-government partnership happening.”

Smith recently visited Washington D.C. as part of a critical minerals trade delegation that met with US Government officials. Partnerships such as this will be critical in enabling future offtake and financing to flow towards the Australian mining sector.

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