A feasibility study is due for completion within weeks for the Ardmore phosphate rock project in north-west Queensland.
Centrex Metals acquired the project from Southern Cross Fertilisers in mid-2017 and is motoring towards expected first production early next year.
“The next step is to get the start-up plant up and going and we have contracted that to CDE Global,” Centrex managing director Ben Hammond said.
“That will be a 70-tonne-per-hour plant, which is half our eventual scale, and that will be commissioned next year with the aim to get some shipments to customers to secure long-term offtake contracts before we proceed to full-scale operations.”
Mr Hammond said Ardmore was expected to ramp up to full production in 2021.
Centrex plans to produce 800,000 wet tonnes of concentrate per annum over 10 years from the project 128kim south of Mount Isa.
The project is expected to cost about $60 million to bring into production and directly employ about 120 people across mining and transport operations.
Solid demand for Ardmore concentrate
Centrex already has an MOU with Gujarat State Fertilisers and Chemicals in India to progress a life-of-mine offtake agreement for 40 per cent of the annual output at Ardmore.
“That’s a non-binding MOU. Were in the midst of negotiating a binding agreement with them,” Mr Hammond said.
“We are also working with a number of other potential customers. We’ve just done 400-tonne trials with two different customers (fertiliser manufacturers) in the local region.”
Mr Hammond said Centrex was receiving a good response to the Ardmore product.
“There’s a number of advantages in our product over some of the ones on the market,” Mr Hammond said.
“Not only is it high grade, but our product has almost no cadmium in it.
“Also, for the customers in the Asia Pacific region we are targeting, it has good potential to reduce their freight costs coming from Australia rather than current suppliers in northern Africa or South America.”
He said Ardmore was one of a very few undeveloped high-grade phosphate deposits worldwide, at about 30 per cent phosphate.
A mining lease is already in force from the 1970s, the deposit is very shallow, the ore requires only simple processing and transport infrastructure is in place – contributing to a quick and relatively low capital start-up.
“I think it needed a revisit in terms of the processing to try and get a product that suits the Australian and New Zealand markets,” Mr Hammond said.
“We set out from day one to try and produce a premium product.
“If you were trying to run it as a run-of mine operation it would need particular markets to go ahead, but by doing that bit of concentration – producing the premium product – it makes the marketing a lot easier.
“… Centrex has a lot of processing experience across the projects we’ve done over the years.
“We have a fairly methodical approach to it. We always start at a microscopic level and work backwards, and that’s what has allowed us to come up with a solution that will probably achieve much better results than historically have been achieved on the ore.”