James Cook University scientists have uncovered the geological origins of valuable ores rich in dysprosium.
The rare-earth metal is used to create permanent magnets and is vital for producing technology including wind-turbines, electric vehicles and generators.
Its name comes from the Greek word dysprositos, which means ‘hard to get at’.
The findings on its origins were published in the journal Economic Geology by James Cook University PhD student Teimoor Nazari-Dehkordi and colleagues.
The investigation into how dysprosium orebodies form led JCU researchers to the remote Browns Range region of north-west Australia with its rich veins of the substance.
JCU’s Associate Professor Carl Spandler, a co-author of the study, said the research results would greatly assist mineral explorers looking for more of these orebodies.
“Most of the world’s rare earth element orebodies formed in very specific geological environments related to unusual magma types,” he said.
“We discovered that the ores at Browns Range formed over 1.6 billion years ago by very different geological processes. Instead of magmas, it was the action of salty fluids flowing through ancient sedimentary strata the led to their formation.
“Our new understanding of how these orebodies formed allows us to predict where more may be found. It turns out that there are huge areas of northern and north-western Australia that have very favourable geology to contain these types of ores. There may be vast treasures of rare metals out there, just waiting to be discovered.”
The study is the culmination of research collaboration between the Economic Geology Research Centre, James Cook University, HCOVGlobal Consultants, and rare metal miner Northern Minerals.
Northern Minerals has started commissioning a pilot plant at its Western Australian rare earths project and aims to be the first significant world producer of dysprosium outside of China.
Dr Spandler said researchers expected that the most prospective areas for this type of rare metal mineralisation would be in the northern Tanami and Kimberley regions of WA, and in the northern part of NT, rather than Queensland.
“I would not think that Queensland has the right geology for these ore deposits, but it certainty has a lot of potential for other types of rare metal deposits in the Mount Isa district (around the Mary Kathleen mine), and we have recently identified an interesting area of central Queensland (near Clermont) that is prospective for rare metals,” he said.
“My research work is focused on these areas of Queensland at the moment, and I expect the results of these studies will be out next year. ”