Oxide
Separation Plant

Alkane Resources Ltd (Alkane) is a multi-commodity exploration and development company with projects that are predominantly located in the Central West region of NSW but extend throughout Australia.

The Dubbo Project is a large in-ground resource of zirconium, hafnium, niobium, yttrium and rare earth elements and is the most advanced poly-metallic project of its kind outside China, making it a potential strategic and independent supply of critical minerals. Primero worked closely with Alkane to complete an engineering study for the Oxide Separation Plant (OSP).

FEASIBILITY | DESIGN

MINERALS

A revolutionary carbon-free metals process producing oxygen as a by-product with the potential to provide a cost-effective and environmentally superior alternative to the traditional Kroll process used to make high purity Zirconium, Hafnium and Titanium metals.

Overview

During the development of the process for the Dubbo Project Australian Strategic Materials Limited (ASM), a wholly owned subsidiary of Alkane, defined technology capable of separating Hafnium (Hf) and Zirconium (Zr) from Zirconium Oxychloride (ZOC) which contains both elements. The technology uses solvent extraction to produce a high purity Zirconia (ZrO​2)​ with very low levels of Hf suitable for use in the nuclear industry, a product called Dehafniated Zirconia (DHZ). The process also produces a high purity Hafnia (HfO​2)​.

Subsequently, ASM is seeking to commercialise the technology and build a demonstration chemical process plant that is designed to process and produce DHZ and HfO​2.​ Primero was engaged to undertake an engineering study to investigate the Capex for the development of the oxide separation plant (OSP).

The OSP is designed to treat 9,500 tonnes of ZOC equivalent per annum, producing 3,000 tonnes of Zirconia and 29.5 tonnes of Hafnia per annum.

Using Primero’s expertise for the modularisation of such small plants, ASM seeks high level design concepts for a modular and highly mobile plant that has minimal Capex and ability to be located in such places as to minimise cost for raw materials and utilities.

High Purity Zirconium

As a result of its corrosion resistance, Zirconium is widely used in the chemical industry where corrosive agents are used. Also, due to its excellent high temperature properties, coupled with its low neutron absorption, it is also used in the construction of nuclear reactors.

The chemical properties of Zirconium are very similar to those of hafnium. As a result, typical processes used for the recovery of zirconium will not remove hafnium which can be present in commercial grades of zirconium at levels as high as 4.5%. A high purity grade of zirconium containing less than 0.01% hafnium is used for nuclear applications.

Future State

At time of publication, Alkane is investing in a new clean metal and high purity processing technology being developed in South Korea. The technology converts metal oxides into metals through a carbon-free electrolytic process, with oxygen as a by-product, making it a cost effective and environmentally superior alternative. The technology has the potential to replace the Kroll process, a highly energy intensive process that has been used broadly in the industry since its development in the 1940s, with a more environmentally sustainable process which, when commercialised, is estimated to reduce metallisation costs by in excess of 50%.

Alkane is investing US$1.2 million towards a pilot plant facility to complete late stage piloting and a feasibility study for larger scale development and commercialisation of the process. An investment in downstream processing that will improve the economics of the Dubbo project as well as giving it an involvement in the wider commercialisation of the breakthrough technology.