Vanadium is used as an alloy for steel (85 per cent of use) and a smaller amount for titanium.
The plant has since ceased operation with falling vanadium prices (December 2002). The Windimurra mine was built in 1999 at a cost exceeding A$200m. Over 30 million pounds of high quality vanadium pentoxide was produced at Windimurra, however production ceased in March 2003, and in early 2004 much of the plant and equipment was demolished and removed by the previous owner.
A vanadium pentoxide project operates at Windimurra (80 km SE of Mt Magnet, and 500km north east of Perth) in Western Australia by Precious Metals Australia and Swiss-based Xstrata, offshoot of Glencore International (Glencore is also a partner in nickel project at Murrin Murrin) which has vanadium production facilities in South Africa. It cost A$120million and employing 100. The WA Government has contributed a $20 million loan for a $50m gas pipeline (365 km from near Geraldton to the project) and $96m to upgrade roads to become the lowest cost in the world. Commenced in 1999, Australia joins South Africa, Russia and China which represent 70 per cent of world supply, as producers of vanadium. The project is 50 per cent larger than the next biggest producer.
During 1998/99 the price of vanadium pentoxide fell by two thirds to just US$1.35 per pound (five year average price is US$3.93 per pound). Production cost is US$1.40 per pound. Prices have ranged from $US1.50 to $US6.20 per pound steadily increasing during past five years with a 15 year average of US$3.75. In 2000 the price fell to US$1.35 promoting Precious Metals to sell out to partner Xstrata, offshoot of Glencore International.
With reserves of 106 million tonnes (300 million tonnes?) at 0.47 per cent vanadium pentoxide (V2O5), it is reputedly the world's largest undeveloped deposit and would have a life of 30 years to produce 16 million pounds of vanadium costing US1.60 per pound. To produce 7200 tonnes of V2O5 per year, it will represent 12 per cent of world production. (Overburden ratios are very low and the mineable ore is very thick (about 150 metres).
The project is helped by access to cheaper process chemicals that a by-products of other activities in Western Australia
Sodium oxalate, some 50,000 tpa, is a by-product from alumina production and used to leach the vanadium at a temperature of around 1100 C (vanadium is found in association with iron oxides after a magnetic concentration). The concentrate is roasted to produce sodium vanadate which is is then desiliconated.
Ammonium sulfate (from nickel refining - about 15 000 tpa from Anaconda Nickel) used in the precipitation process with caustic soda to produce ammonium metavanadate which is calcined at 600 C to produce vanadium pentoxide. (The company owns a patent over the use of sodium oxalate in the process and helped by high evaporation rates to avoid a salt recovery plant.)
The vanadium pentoxide powder is melted and poured into flakes.
Precious Metals Australia raised $42 million; Xstrata (a subsidiary Glencore International) funded the first $35 mill to earn a 51% stake, and both of the jv partners raised the remaining $86 mill between them.
Tanganyika Gold owns the Balla Balla deposit near the old Whim Creek copper mine 80 km north of Karratha (9 km from the North West Coastal Highway).
It once planned to produce 13.2 million pounds of vanadium for a 30 year mine life with capital costs estimated at A$94.7m and production cost of US$1.60 per pound. It claims advantage from access to gas and the excellent metallurgical characteristics of the ore. Cape Bouvard, is to commit $10 mill to Tanganyika Gold's proposed $100 mill, 6000 t/year vanadium pentoxide Balla Balla WA project, after already having assumed an equity stake worth $2.7 mill in recent weeks; May 1999 Thiess Contractors committed $2 mill to the project and pledged to commit another $3 million when development financing approvals were in place. A bankable feasibility study was due to be completed by the end of 1999.
In 2000, Tanganyika now plans to produce ferrovanadium instead of vanadium pentoxide that can be directly used in steel manufacture. Ferrovanadium is produced by an aluminothermic reduction of a vanadium oxide concentrate (V2O3 or V2O5). Ferrovandium contains 80 per cent vanadiumvanadium is therefore more valuable and reduces the freight cost incidence of moving a more dilute form of vanadium pentoxide (3200 tonnes of ferrovanadium as planned to be produced per year contains the same amount of vanadium as 6 000 tonnes of vanadium pentoxide). Thyssen Kruppe of Germany will assume three-quarters of production. It has a resource of 85 million tonnes a0.8% of V2O5 adequate for 30 years production.
Dominion Mining also owns a project at Balla Balla in the Pilbara with 40 million tonnes grading 0.58 per cent.
Renewable Energy Corporation is investigating a 6000 tpa plant to cost A$100million (status April 2001).
Gababintha-Yarrabubba, near Meekatharra in Western Australia is owned by Greater Pacific Gold nl A 15 km zone up to 15 m depth inferred resc of 63mt grading 1.12% V205 plus 55mt grading 0.55% V205. Reserves are 38 million tonnes at 1.1 per cent vanadium pentoxide (twice that at Windimurrra or at Balla Balla).
Another vanadium tenement is at Youanmi owned by Gindalbie Gold.
Fimiston Mining owns Julia Creek near Mt Isa in North Queensland. It owns 60 million tonnes grading 0.42 per cent in the oxide zone (to 15 m) on top of oil shale (some two billion tonnes which contains vanadium as well). New technology has to be developed.
In June 1999, it was announced that Fimiston Mining has pushed forward scoping studies of its proposed Julia Creek, Qld vanadium project, and is moving to complete its pre-feasibility study.
At Wundowie, about 50 km east of Perth had a project but with high silica content, produced only 500 pounds. Clough Resources is aiming to restart the project.
Update May 2001
Tantalite, (Fe, Mn) (TaCb)2O6), is produced by Sons of Gwalia from two mines at Greenbushes south of Perth (700,000 pounds being upgraded to 1,300 000 pounds per year) and Wodgina 100 km south of Port Hedland (500, 000 pounds being doubled by 2002) with quantities expressed as tantalum pentoxide. Reserves are 160 million pounds.
The expansions will lift production by Gwalia from 25 to 40 per cent of world production of 1.2 million pounds (544 tonnes) per year. By 2003 it will producing 2.4 million pounds per year.
The tantalite is used in electronic devices and is growing at 10 to 15 per cent per year with demand for tantalum, in the form of concentrates, at more than 6 million pounds a year. There are two main producers, Cabot of the US and Bayer in Europe.
The price of tantalum in 2000 is around US$120/kg.
Alkane Exploration has a tantalum containing rare earth deposit at Toongi, 30 kilometres south of Dubbo in New South Wales as part of a rare earth (zirconia, yttria and niobium) deposit. The deposit contains 83 million tonnes at 0.027 per cent tantalum oxide. It plans to go into production in 2003.
Kanowna Lights will begin (2001) production of 25 000 pounds of tantalum per year at Arthur River 100 km north of Gasgoyne in WA.
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