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Highfield’s Potash Project Granted Environmental Approval

Shares of ASX-listed Highland Resources were up 32.39 percent after the company received the permit for its Muga project.

Australia-listed potash company Highfield Resources (ASX:HFR) has received an environmental permit for its Muga potash project in Spain.

The Declaración de Impacto Ambiental (DIA) approval from the Ministry for Ecological Transition is one of several permits needed to advance the company’s flagship potash project located 50 kilometers southeast of Pamplona.

Highfield was granted a trading halt on the ASX ahead of Thursday’s (June 6) announcement. Shares commenced trading following the release and were up 32 percent.

In order to move Muga forward and closer to the output stage, Highfield will now work on securing the mining concession and the building permits needed to move the project into the construction phase.

The potash developer will also purchase mining and processing plant equipment and complete the final project design.

“The awarding of the DIA is the most significant step for Highfield in de-risking the Muga project,” CEO Peter Albert said in the announcement. “The Muga project has the potential to deliver tremendous benefits to all of our stakeholders, and the Highfield team is excited to now be able to move towards mine construction.”

Highfield plans to build a low-cost conventional mine at Muga targeting the potash that is 350 meters below the surface. During Q1, an updated ore reserve estimate for the project increased the proven and probable ore estimate to 108.7 million tonnes.

In addition to the flagship Muga project, Highfield is also developing the Vipasca, Pintanos, Izaga and Sierra del Perdón projects, all located in the Ebro potash-producing basin in Northern Spain.

According to the US Geological Survey, Spanish potash production was down in 2018 from the previous year to 560,000 metric tons (MT) from 610,000 MT.

Potash prices have remained relatively stable this year at US$226 per tonne, but are still significantly lower than the 2009 high of US$850 per tonne. Despite steady price performance, demand is expected to grow to 46.2 million tonnes annually by 2022.

Shares of Highland Resources were up 32.39 percent on Thursday (June 6), trading at AU$0.92.

Don’t forget to follow us @INN_Resource for real-time updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Georgia Williams, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

Featured

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a bowl of U3O8 yellow cake

Australia is the second largest producer of uranium in the world. Here's a look at the mines that are producing today, and the significant ones that are being developed.

Despite sitting on the largest known recoverable resources of uranium worldwide — 1.69 million metric tonnes in 2019 — Australia uses no part of it for energy. Instead, Australia exports the valuable resource, which accounts for one-quarter of its energy exports.

In fact, Australia was the second largest producer of uranium in 2020, producing 6,203 metric tonnes. It was only beaten by Kazakhstan, which produced nearly 20,000 metric tonnes that year.

Australian uranium production has centred around three mines in recent years — Olympic Dam, Beverly Four Mile and Ranger — until the Ranger mine ceased operations in 2021.

Main mines in the country

Here's a closer at these mines and the companies that own them:

1. Olympic Dam owned by BHP Billiton (ASX:BHP,NYSE:BHP,LSE:BHP)

The Olympic Dam complex is built upon one of the world's most significant deposits of copper, gold, silver and uranium. In fact, it's the world's largest known uranium deposit. It has both underground and surface operations and it has a fully integrated processing facility, which means it is capable of extracting, refining and processing mined commodities.

In 2020, BHP Billiton produced 3,000 metric tonnes of uranium oxide (U3O8), which is nearly half of Australia's output and 6 percent of the world's production. In 2021, their uranium segment accounted for US$249 million in revenue.

Although the company produces a significant amount of global uranium, its production of copper, iron ore, coal and petroleum dwarfs its uranium production by a wide margin.

2. Beverly and Four Mile owned by private company Heathgate Resources

Australia's first in-situ recovery mine at Beverly sits on a uranium deposit about 520 kilometres from Adelaide. Owned by Heathgate Resources, a subsidiary of US-based General Atomics, the Beverly mine itself has all been mined out and production exclusively occurs at the nearby Four Mile mine (owned by Quasar, a subsidiary of Heathgate).

In 2020, Heathgate Resources mined 2,130 tonnes of uranium oxide from Four Mile, accounting for 4 percent of the world's uranium production.

3. Ranger Uranium Mine owned by Energy Resources of Australia (ASX:ERA)

Ranger was the longest serving uranium production mine in Australia at 35 years, located 8 km east of the town of Jabiru. The mine officially stopped processing operations in January 2021 after traditional owners of the land did not support extending the Energy Resources of Australia's (ERA) authority in the area. The company had already stopped mining operations back in 2012 and had been processing stockpiled ore since then.

The ERA, whose parent company is Rio Tinto, produced 1,574 tonnes of uranium oxide for 2020 — accounting for 2 percent of the world's uranium production — before shutting the mine down.

According to their 2020 annual report, continuing mining at Ranger in the future is also unviable. A change in legislation would be required and the company states that monitoring the mine in the gap between ceasing and resuming operations would simply add to its cost burden.

While ERA still holds the lease on the nearby Jabiluka orebody, it has been firm that it will not develop the site without the consent of the Mirrar Aboriginal people, and so the Jabiluka development has been indefinitely deferred.

Future mines in Australia

Australia accounts for almost one-third of the world's uranium deposits and there are several future exploration and expansion uranium projects brewing in the country. With 31 known deposits for uranium including the three discussed above, the list for potential new mines or mines being brought back online is long. Here are a few noteworthy ones.

1. Honeymoon

The deposit was discovered in the 1970s, and in 2015 Boss Energy (ASX:BOE) bought Uranium One Australia and acquired the mine as part of the deal. The project is permitted to export up to 3.3 million pounds (1,496 tonnes) per annum and production is expected soon.

2. Mulga Rock

This polymetallic deposit was first discovered by PNC Exploration in 1979 and is now owned by Vimy Resources (ASX:VMY), formerly Energy & Minerals Australia. The deposit is divided into Mulga Rock East and West, and also hosts scandium, nickel and cobalt.

With approvals from both state and federal governments in 2016 and 2017 respectively, the mine can produce up to 1,300 tonnes of U3O8 per year. Vimy Resources intends to start on the Ambassador deposit with open-pit mining with an 85 percent recovery rate.

3. Angela / Bigrlyi / Obagooma / Thatcher Soak

Elevate Uranium (ASX:EL8), formerly known as Marenica Energy, has acquired or bought stakes in several mining projects in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. While there is no clear timeline on start of operations for any project, managing director and CEO Murray Hill was quoted saying that he expects the price of uranium to increase over the next decade, meaning the company would be well-leveraged as it bought assets at a reduced price.

Hill also expects modular reactor technology to improve in the next decade, allowing nuclear energy to be used across the landscape in rural areas and not just the bigger cities.

Market Outlook

After suffering low prices after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, the nuclear energy market is expected to pick up, with generation growing nearly 3 percent annually by 2040, according to the World Nuclear Association's Nuclear Report. As the world continues to pivot to net-zero emissions, nuclear energy will find increasing favour from countries looking to shift their energy generation to cleaner sources.

The report states that uranium production will remain stable until the end of the 2020s and then decrease by nearly half from 2030 to 2040, highlighting the need for increased exploration and production in the space to avoid future supply disruptions.

Many projects are at advanced development stages and are only waiting for improved prices from the market.

Don't forget to follow us @INN_Australia for real-time updates!

Securities Disclosure: I, Pallavi Rao, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

kangaroos in front of the sunrise

Silver is on the rise in Australia, with new silver mines opening, production potential booming and the precious metal's valuation reaching new heights.

Analysts have been bullish on gold for the better part of the past decade, but now it's silver's time to shine. While the price of silver tends to rise and fall alongside that of gold, silver's valuation is generally more volatile — slower to move in either direction, but more prone to abrupt spikes and plunges.

Considering the market's longtime gold rush, silver is due for a major price hike. In 2020, silver hit a seven year high with 27 percent year-over-year growth, climbing faster than gold. Silver was on the rise again in February 2021, bolstered by WallStreetBets fervour. Though prices have stabilised since, they remain elevated compared to the past decade. Additionally, at only a fraction of gold's valuation, silver is a much more attainable buy.

Shrewd investors are looking to Australia for their silver picks. A country whose silver mines continued to flourish even when most of the world was in a precious metal slump, Australia has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic as a major player in the global silver market.


A look at Australia and silver mining

When you think of mining in Australia, you may not think of silver, especially since the country is a top global producer of several other metals, including gold and iron ore. Nevertheless, silver is on the rise in Australia, with new silver mines opening, production potential booming and the precious metal's valuation reaching new heights.

This may be surprising news, especially since 2020 was an erratic year for silver. Global silver-mining production plunged by 5.9 percent in 2020 — its biggest drop in over 10 years —⁠ following four years of steady decline.

Output from primary silver mines plummeted by 11.9 percent year-over-year, while silver by-product suffered a more modest drop, with production from gold and lead-⁠zinc mines falling by 5.7 percent and 7.4 percent, respectively. Note that silver is largely produced as a by-product of other metal-mining processes, with 72 percent of silver production taking place at non-silver mines.

This production downturn was the result of COVID-19 restrictions that forced mines to suspend operations temporarily. Silver mine closures hit certain places harder than others, with extended closures in top silver-producing countries such as Peru, Mexico, Argentina and Bolivia causing major production drops.

Australia, however, was an exception to this rule, with production increasing by 3 percent. The reason for Australia's success is that it remained relatively untouched by COVID-19 restrictions. While other countries were forced to shut down production facilities, Australia was able to avoid these closures, continuing — and even upgrading — regular operations.

Australia is now the fifth largest silver producer globally, with an annual output of 43.8 million ounces in 2020. While the output of silver-mining giants such as Mexico and Peru (178.1 million and 109.7 million ounces produced in 2020, respectively) continues to far exceed that of Australia, global demand for silver is on the rise, hitting 900 million ounces annually and making room for a new silver-mining powerhouse.

What should investors know about silver investing in Australia?

Silver remains a relatively untapped resource in Australia, which means that investors have plenty of major mining companies to choose from.

Australia's largest mine is the Cannington mine owned by South32 (ASX:S32,OTC Pink:SHTLF). It is ranked as the ninth largest silver-producing mine worldwide, with 11.6 million ounces produced in 2020.

The country's second biggest silver-producing mine is the Mount Isa zinc mine. It is owned by Mount Isa Mines, a subsidiary of Glencore (LSE:GLEN,OTC Pink:GLCNF), and produced around 5.8 million ounces of silver in 2020. The Tritton copper mine, owned by Aeris Resources (ASX:AIS,OTC Pink:ARSRF), followed closely behind with nearly 4.5 million ounces produced in the same year.

Other notable Australian silver mines include the Golden Grove mine, which is owned by 29Metals (ASX:29M), and the Dugald River mine, which is owned by Metallic Minerals (ASX:MMG,TSXV:MMG,OTCQB:MMNGF). In 2020, these mines produced around 2.9 million and 2 million ounces of silver, respectively.

Australia's impressive silver-mining industry is well-positioned for further expansion, with Silver Mines (ASX:SVL,OTC Pink:SLVMF) planning to launch its Bowden silver project in 2023. This New South Wales-based silver mine is projected to produce around 6 million ounces of silver annually, which would make it the country's new second largest producer. The company hopes to capitalise on the promising solar panel market, which currently accounts for about 5.5 percent of all silver demand worldwide.

Moreover, Australian company Thomson Resources (ASX:TMZ,OTC Pink:TMZRF) bought the New South Wales-based Webb and Conrad silver projects from Silver Mines earlier this year in a transaction worth around US$8.6 million. The deal closed on March 31, and will enable Silver Mines to concentrate on its flagship Bowden project.

Investing in silver in Australia

There are many ways to invest in silver, including physical silver, stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, options and futures. Choosing which investment route to take is all about balancing risk and reward.

Investing in physical silver is the most straightforward option: you simply buy a tangible piece of the precious metal in the form of bullion, official coins or medallions. Bullion is a bar or 1 ounce coin of solid silver with at least 99.9 percent purity. Official silver coins are currency produced by a government mint, while silver medallions resemble coins, but lack monetary value, .

The price of physical silver rises and falls alongside the metal's market value. Physical silver is a relatively safe investment, since its value can't be affected by third-party interference or bad business practices (risks characteristic of mining stocks). However, if you plan to trade often, the added costs of buying, selling and storing physical silver may make the investment not worth your while.

Investments in physical silver rose by 8 percent last year, boosted by silver's status as a safe asset and market bullishness on gold. In Australia, coins and medals fabrication increased by 35 percent year-over-year, making physical silver a smart choice for any risk-averse investor.

Of course, low risk often means low reward. If you're looking for a bigger payday, consider investing in silver-mining stocks instead. After all, when silver's market price goes up, it is often the case that the value of a mining stock could spike far higher than that of the physical metal. The disadvantage is that mining stocks are always risky — even when the silver market is strong, a mining endeavour can fail to pan out.

ETFs offer investors the best of both worlds. ETFs are a basket of varied equities, including physical metals and shares in mining companies. Much like individual stocks, they are liable to rise or fall in price according to the market, though they tend to be less risky than stocks.

In 2020, ETF investments were at an all-time-high, though Australia only has one silver ETF that includes the physical precious metal. Stocks are a much more common means of investing in silver in Australia. The country boasts over a dozen silver-mining companies, including South32 and Silver Mines, as well as Newcrest Mining (ASX:NCM,TSX:NCM,OTC Pink:NCMGF), Golden Deeps (ASX:GED) and Investigator Resources (ASX:IVR).

Don't forget to follow us @INN_Australia for real-time news updates.

Securities Disclosure: I, Isabel Armiento, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.