A crucial part of the world’s transition to a more sustainable future rests on the mining industry’s ability to extract a feasible amount of rare earth elements (REEs) from the ground.
With electrification and renewable resources coming to the fore, global demand for rare earths, used in electric vehicles (EVs), wind turbines, smartphones, nuclear power, medicine and much more, is forecast to grow at an annual compound rate of 7.8 per cent over the next decade.
Additionally, The Columbia Climate School reports that rare earths will be required to meet the significant demand for solar panels, EVs and storage batteries, all of which are crucial to the world’s net-zero transition and ceasing fossil fuel use.
Western Australian explorer Hastings Technology Metals (ASX:HAS) is on the brink of becoming Australia’s next leading REE producer, and its Yangibana project in the Gascoyne region, is littered with the most sought-after REEs.
Also referred to as permanent magnets, rare earths are used to manufacture products like consumer electronics, humanoid robotics, industrial applications, and air-conditioning.
“Hastings will play a key role in contributing the critical inputs for electric vehicles, wind generation, humanoid robotics – we don’t want to be just a singular mining organisation where we just mine and beneficiate, we are aiming to be a fully integrated mine to magnet business,” Hastings CEO Paul Brown said.
Countless miners all over the world have aimed to capitalise on the demand for these critical minerals but Hastings has been gifted a headstart, owning a world-class rare earths deposit with one of the highest ratios of neodymium and praseodymium (NdPr) globally.
“Looking at our rare earths basket, we’ve got a very high percentage of neodymium and praseodymium which are the rare earths most in demand, and we are fully permitted – state, federal and heritage,” Mr Brown said.
“So the strategy is to understand the market, capitalise on the market, make smart investments and be fully integrated into the whole supply chain.”
The company is significantly advantaged against other rare earth competitors in the Gascoyne field, such as Lanthanein Resources (ASX:LNR) and Miramar Resources (ASX:M2R), because of this world-class magnetised deposit.
Hastings’ competitor advantage
There are 17 varieties of rare earths, but what catches the eye of explorers looking to extract the metal, is the permanent magnets neodymium, dysprosium, praseodymium, samarium and terbium.
These metals carry fluorescent, conductive, and magnetic properties, which become useful when alloyed, or mixed in small quantities with other more common metals, such as iron.
Despite their name, rare earths can be found quite easily, however, it’s their abundance, quality and ability to be extracted that make them hard to mine.
Over the past decade, Hastings has made strategic investments into its orebody at Yangibana. Since the first drilling program in early 2014, the company has conducted more than 300 bench scale tests, accumulated greater than 30 kilometres of drilling meterage and undertaken three pilot plant tests.
Today, the project boasts a mineral resource of 29.93 million tonnes and ore reserves of 20.93 million tonnes, supporting an initial 17-year mine life.
“Our geology and mineralogy is very well-understood and we have spent a lot of time, effort and money on making sure we have looked into the granular details to ensure we are familiar with this deposit and that our flowsheet works,” Mr Brown said.
Global reports from the Columbia Climate School outline a severe near-term demand for neodymium and praseodymium, which are expected to surge almost 50 per cent by 2050 and exceed 2030 supplies by 250 per cent and 175 per cent.
In a bid to become the next leading REE producer in Australia, Hastings has laid out a strategic plan towards production, which it’s aiming for in the first half of the 2025 financial year.
The flagship project is 250 kilometres away from Carnarvon in WA, on the property of the Gifford Creek Station, which covers Thiin-Mah Warriyangka, Tharrkari and Jiwarli country.
Hastings is developing the project in two stages, first with the initial construction of the Yangibana mine and beneficiation plant to produce 37,000 tonnes per annum (TPA) of mixed rare earth concentrate.
Stage two encompasses the construction of a hydrometallurgical plant with a capacity to produce 15,000tpa of mixed rare earth carbonate.
Upon completion, the Yangibana project is poised to position Hastings as a key contributor to the international critical minerals industry, delivering substantial returns for shareholders, local communities, and the Australian economy.
The company has reaped the benefits of the government’s crucial support of the critical minerals mining industry, with approval received from The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) for a $220 million loan facility.
Additionally, in FY23 Hastings was awarded a letter of support from Export Finance Australia for $110 million, and it received significant support from its shareholders, raising $110 million from placements over the course of the year.
Recent project updates
$126 million has already been invested in non-processing infrastructure at Yangibana. During September 2023, Hastings finalised early infrastructure works on the aerodrome, 294-bed village and road access, production bore fields and water pipelines.
“Having an operating village, airstrip and bore field provides a strong base from where we can ramp up our workforce and operational activities as we move into 2024,” Mr Brown said.
The company also awarded a $210 million engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract to GR Engineering Services (GRES) for the development of a beneficiation plant and associated infrastructure for Yangibana.
“Alongside our significant investment to date at site, we are building our internal processes and capabilities to support the move into project development. This includes safety, environment, procurement, and human resources,” Mr Brown stated.
“We are focused on finalising the optimal funding stack for stage one of the Yangibana project, this includes a flexible debt package that will drive the best economics for our shareholders…”
Strong ESG to become Australia’s next rare earth producer
Hastings is committed to operating sustainably, ensuring that it minimises its environmental and social impacts. The Company’s commitments are highlighted in its 2023 Sustainability Report.
The report highlights its dedication to compliance, gender diversity, and engagement with Traditional Owners, with more than 40 per cent female participation and complete compliance across the native title, environmental regulation and corporate governance.
“Our ESG efforts during FY23 have been assessed by third-party rating entities as part of our commitment to continuous improvement,” HAS Executive Chairman Charles Lew said.
“We received recognition from organisations such as Sustainalytics, where we ranked fourth out of 159 companies in the 2022 diversified metals mining subindustry category, and EcoVadis, where we were ranked in the top five per cent of all assessed companies.”
As Hastings prepares to move into development, the company has also secured a 20 per cent strategic shareholding in Neo Performance Materials – a leading global manufacturer of rare earth elements – providing the company with the opportunity to build a mine-to-magnet supply chain.
Hastings is emerging as a key contributor to Australia’s critical minerals industry, and with its world-class Yangibana deposit in the Gascoyne, the company will play a central role in shaping the future of sustainable technologies, from EVs to renewable energy and beyond.
Investors keen on participating in the rare earth sector would be wise to closely monitor Hastings’ trajectory as it approaches the threshold of becoming Australia’s next REE producer.