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Northern Minerals is an Australian focused rare earth explorer.

Northern Minerals (ASX: NTU) has released an additional production and processing update for the Browns Range pilot plant project in northern Western Australia, designed to capture additional value from existing stockpiles.

As quoted from the press release:

The company has investigated using ore sorting on the five stockpiles at Browns Range to improve beneficiation and feed to the processing facility, which will in turn result in an increase in the amount of rare earth oxides that can be produced by the recently commissioned pilot plant.

Northern Minerals’ managing director and CEO, George Bauk, said “We have successfully produced mixed rare earth carbonate from our Browns Range pilot plant and are working towards the technical and economic feasibility of the project. Today’s announcement, which demonstrates the potential to double the mill feed grade through ore sorting, has many positive benefits.”

“Ore sorting technology is readily available through a number of providers and our studies on the five existing ROM stockpiles have shown the potential for significant improvements in both processing plant efficiency and value recovery of heavy rare earth elements through its use. “We believe the up-front capital cost of retrospectively installing ore sorting technology ahead of the existing Brown Range Pilot Plant circuit is justified in light of the head grade improvement demonstrated in the testwork to date, along with the forecast economic benefits delivered by greater production output – both of which will flow-through to additional medium-term value for shareholders.”

“We are currently working on the more testwork, approvals, planning and the funding required for ore sorting at Browns Range with a view to have ore sorting installation in Q2 2019.”

Click here to read the full press release

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The mining and resources sector now sets its sights on Australia’s largest mining investment forum, Mines and Money @ IMARC, co-located with IMARC from January 31, 2022, to February 2, 2022, at the Melbourne Showgrounds.

It was gold price, lithium demand and China’s appetite for copper that dominated much of the discussion at Mines and Money Online Connect @ IMARC this week at the virtual event running from the 19th to the 21st October.

Mines and Money Online Connect saw 90 mining companies, 600+ investors and more than 2,000 participants log-on to hear mining executives and analysts discuss the next big thing for savvy investors in 2022.

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Rio Tinto Iron Ore Chief Executive, Simon Trott and Rio Tinto Managing Director of Port, Rail and Core Services, Richard Cohen, joined community members, local businesses and representatives from local government to celebrate the official opening of its new community ‘Hub’ in Karratha. Located on Ngarluma country in the heart of Karratha’s CBD, the new Rio Tinto Karratha Hub will make it easier for local …

Rio Tinto Iron Ore Chief Executive, Simon Trott and Rio Tinto Managing Director of Port, Rail and Core Services, Richard Cohen, joined community members, local businesses and representatives from local government to celebrate the official opening of its new community ‘Hub’ in Karratha.

Located on Ngarluma country in the heart of Karratha’s CBD, the new Rio Tinto Karratha Hub will make it easier for local people to connect with our busines.

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Rio Tinto is progressing an innovative new technology to deliver low-carbon steel, using sustainable biomass in place of coking coal in the steelmaking process, in a potentially cost-effective option to cut industry carbon emissions. Over the past decade, Rio Tinto has developed a laboratory-proven process that combines the use of raw, sustainable biomass with microwave technology to convert iron ore to metallic …

Rio Tinto is progressing an innovative new technology to deliver low-carbon steel, using sustainable biomass in place of coking coal in the steelmaking process, in a potentially cost-effective option to cut industry carbon emissions.

Over the past decade, Rio Tinto has developed a laboratory-proven process that combines the use of raw, sustainable biomass with microwave technology to convert iron ore to metallic iron during the steelmaking process. The patent-pending process, one of a number of avenues the company is pursuing to try to lower emissions in the steel value chain, is now being further tested in a small-scale pilot plant.

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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.

Interested in investing in gold in Australia? This guide covers multiple ways to enter the market, from physical metal to ETFs to stocks.

With gold sitting near all-time highs, interest is high and investors are looking at ways to enter the market.

Australian investors may want to turn their attention to their own backyard. Australia is currently the second largest gold-producing country in the world, and its western region is a jurisdiction that is increasingly being sought out by exploration and mining companies.

Read on for a breakdown of the Australian gold market, as well as how and why to invest in the area.


Investing in gold in Australia: A major producer

As mentioned, Australia is currently the second largest gold-producing country. Gold output in the country reached 320 metric tons in 2020, down slightly from 325 metric tons the previous year.

"There's three countries that combine the rule of law with significant gold production: Canada, the US and Australia. Outside of these three, there's not much gold, or there's not much protection for individual investors and companies," said Kevin McElligott, managing director, Australia, at Franco-Nevada (TSX:FNV,NYSE:FNV).

"Australia is very similar to Canada in many obvious ways. Large country, small population, western liberal democracy, high standard of living, high international trade, etc.," he added.

McElligott continued, "The difference for Australia is that gold is 12 percent of exports, versus 2 percent for Canada. So the gold producers are more important to the Australian economy, to maintain that high standard of living. There's higher political and social support for gold mining here."

One of the more prolific gold-mining areas of Australia is Western Australia, which accounts for close to 70 percent of the country's total gold output. In fact, gold mining is the third largest commodity sector in the state, behind iron ore, crude oil and liquefied natural gas, with a value of approximately AU$16.63 billion.

The Fraser Institute recently named Western Australia one of the best mining jurisdictions in the world, fourth on the list after Nevada, Arizona and Saskatchewan. The more than half a million square kilometre area has attracted major miners such as Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO,LSE:RIO,NYSE:RIO) and BHP (ASX:BHP,NYSE:BHP,LSE:BLT).

Recent exploration activity in the Pilbara region of Western Australia has renewed interest and helped increase the country's consistent gold output. The area is currently in the midst of increased gold exploration thanks to a major discovery in 2017 by Novo Resources (TSXV:NVO,OTCQX:NSRPF) and Artemis Resources (ASX:ARV,OTCQB:ARTTF).

Some geologists have compared the geology of the Pilbara craton with South Africa's Kaapvaal craton and Witwatersrand basin. The similarities are significant considering Witwatersrand is home to the Earth's largest-known gold reserves and is responsible for over 40 percent of worldwide gold production.

Both the Pilbara and Witwatersrand are similar in age and composition, sitting on top of the Archean granite-greenstone basement. The Pilbara area hosts numerous small mesothermal gold deposits containing conglomerate gold — mineralization known to hold large, high-grade gold nuggets.

Following on after Novo and Artemis, a number of gold exploration companies have moved into the Pilbara area, including De Grey Mining (ASX:DEG,OTC Pink:DGMLF), Kairos Minerals (ASX:KAI,OTC Pink:MPJFF), Pacton Gold (TSXV:PAC,OTC Pink:PACXF) and Monterey Minerals (CSE:MREY).

Major mining companies like Kirkland Lake Gold (TSX:KL,NYSE:KL,ASX:KLA) have also invested in the region. Kirkland has committed C$56 million to Novo Resources, and its chairman, Eric Sprott, is a well-known resource investor who owns shares in Novo, as well as several other companies in the Pilbara region.

Investing in gold in Australia: Physical gold

Australians looking to invest in the gold space may want to look first at physical gold, which experts often suggest as a secure starting point for entering the market.

In terms of Australian physical gold, investors are able to buy and sell as much as they want, as the government does not place a minimum or maximum on the amount of the yellow metal in one's possession.

However, it's worth noting that some banks do not technically permit the storage of bullion; this is listed in the terms and agreements that customers must sign when they register. Private investors who reside in Australia should also keep in mind that physical gold can't be insured.

Below are examples of the types of Australian physical gold available for investors at the Perth Mint:

  • Bullion coins — The mint offers the Australian Kangaroo, a gold coin containing 1 ounce of 99.99 percent pure gold.
  • Minted bars — The Perth Mint also gives investors the option to buy minted bars in eight different sizes ranging from 1 gram to 10 ounces. The minted bars are 99.99 percent pure gold.
  • Cast bars — The mint describes cast bars as "one of the most cost effective and convenient ways to buy precious metals." These 99.99 percent pure gold bars range in size from half an ounce to 50 ounces.

Investors who don't want to buy physical gold directly from the Perth Mint can also buy from dealers; Australians may also want to consider reputable products like the American Gold Eagle and the Canadian Maple Leaf.

Investing in gold in Australia: Gold ETFs

Exchange-traded funds, better known as ETFs, are another popular way of getting exposure to the gold space. They trade like stocks on an exchange, which makes them easily accessible, but tend to be less risky.

The ASX is home to a number of gold-focused ETFs; read on to learn about a few of the choices available:

  • ETFS Metal Securities Australia (ASX:GOLD) — This ETF has been listed on the ASX since 2003, with a management fee of 0.4 percent. With this ETF, one share represents about a tenth of the spot gold price. For example, if the physical gold spot price is trading at AU$1,593.10 an ounce, one share, or unit, of this ETF will be roughly AU$153.
  • Perth Mint Gold ETF (ASX:PMGOLD) — The Perth Mint Gold ETF also launched in 2003, but has a much lower management fee of 0.15 percent. This is because its structure allows for lower storage costs. This ETF tracks the gold spot price, but the gold is held by the Perth Mint on the behalf of investors. It also doesn't have the same level of liquidity as ETFS Metal Securities as it trades at about a fifth of its size.
  • BetaShares Gold Bullion ETF (ASX:QAU) — The BetaShares Gold Bullion ETF is unique from the two ETFs listed above as it tracks the US gold spot price, providing "purer" exposure to the US spot gold price. BetaShares units are equal to one-hundredth of the US spot gold price. That means that a movement of a dollar in the US spot gold price is equal to a movement of a cent in BetaShares. The ETF has a management fee of 0.59 percent
  • Van Eck Vectors Gold Miners ETF (ASX:GDX) — Launched in 2015, this ETF provides diversified exposure to gold-mining companies. While only 13 percent of its holdings are ASX-listed stocks, its top 10 constituents include two Australian companies, Newcrest Mining (ASX:NCM,TSX:NCM,OTC Pink:NCMGF) and Northern Star Resources (ASX:AST,OTC Pink:NESRF). The management fee is 0.54 percent.

Investing in gold in Australia: ASX-listed gold stocks

Finally, those interested in investing in gold in Australia may want to look at gold-mining and exploration companies listed on the ASX. An easy place to begin is with the biggest gold companies listed on the ASX:

The biggest gainers are another solid point to start from:

Finally, those more interested in particular jurisdictions may want to check out these state-by-state overviews of ASX-listed gold companies:

As with any investment, the key to investing in ASX gold stocks is to keep due diligence front and centre.

This is an updated version of an article first published by the Investing News Network in 2019.

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

Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, currently hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

Editorial Disclosure: The Investing News Network does not guarantee the accuracy or thoroughness of the information reported in the interviews it conducts. The opinions expressed in these interviews do not reflect the opinions of the Investing News Network and do not constitute investment advice. All readers are encouraged to perform their own due diligence.