Frequently Asked Questions
Alkane Resources values its community and the environment, is transparent and continually seeks to provide the facts on the Dubbo Project. Below are Q&A’s to respond to some of the questions community members have asked.
Have more questions?
Please call, arrange to meet or email Mike Sutherland (02 6882 2866), our General Manager NSW who is happy to explain the project and the EIS.
What is the Dubbo Project (DP)?
The Dubbo Project (DP) is a $1B project and one of Australia's most valuable rare metal/rare earth project. When developed the mine area would be a shallow open cut of around 45 hectares
With an estimated mine life of 70+ years, the DP will be the next project to produce rare earths in the world expected to begin operation. It will be located 25km south of Dubbo and produce zirconium, (hafnium), niobium, (tantalum), yttrium and light and heavy rare earths.
Read more on the DP project page and watch our short video Introduction to the Dubbo Project for Community
What is mining ?
Mining is the recovery of resources of economic benefit through extraction and processing of ore to recover a saleable product.
The Dubbo Project ore contains economic zirconia, niobium, rare earths/metals and non-economic gangue minerals (waste). Iron and aluminium are the most abundant gangue minerals as they are common elements in many rock forming minerals. Uranium and thorium are also present in trace amounts, well below concentrations that would be economic to mine and process.
The Dubbo Project has submitted a development application to mine those elements that are of economic value which we are separating into product streams. The rest of the elements are not concentrated in the process or separated out individually as product streams and instead pass to waste storage.
Why does Alkane’s submission for the DP only outline the mining of a 19Mt resource when there is more than a 75Mt resource outlined to the market?
The Australian Stock Exchange rules stipulate that companies must disclose the total resource that they are aware of under company continuous disclosure rules, which Alkane complies with. The development application has been restricted to 19Mt for several reasons.
- At a mining rate of 1 million tonnes of ore per year, this represents an initial 20 year mine life. The Development of Planning & Environment, who assess the development application before making recommendations on conditions of approval, discourages application for periods beyond 20 years.
- The initial 19Mt of ore can be mined from above the surrounding groundwater table, thereby further minimising the potential for impact over that 20 year period.
If it is financially viable closer to that 20 year period then Alkane may submit a new project proposal to mine for a further period. At this time, further information on groundwater resources will be available, as well as a long history of operations, to enable a comprehensive assessment of potential impacts.
What is the anticipated mine life and what will be done to rehabilitate the land?
The project has approval to operate for 20 years. There is the capacity to operate for more than 80 years.
At the end of mining the land will be rehabilitated as per the rehabilitation plan in the Dubbo Project (DP) Environmental Impact Study (EIS).
How much rock will you mine each day?
1 million tonnes of ore will be mined each year at a rate of approximately 3,225 tonnes per day (Mining 7am to 6pm Mon-Fri and 8am to 5pm on Saturdays)
How do you get materials into and out of site?
The materials will be trucked onto site.
Will zirconia be mined at the Dubbo Project (DP)?
In short, No
- Zirconium (Zr) – is a metal and element number 40 on the Periodic Table
- Zirconia (ZrO2)– is zirconium oxide
- Zircon (ZrSiO2)– is zirconium silicate
Zirconia is known to occur naturally in a mineable form in very few places in the world. Currently a mine in Russia produces a small amount of zirconia (3% of world output) from a mineral called baddelyite, which is mined as a by-product of titanium mining. The remaining 97 per cent is currently produced in processing facilities using zircon (commonly found in mineral sands), rather than being mined from the ground.
The DP site contains no zircon or naturally occurring zirconia. Instead, the DP’s zirconia will be produced from an ore mined at the site containing eudialyte (which is comprised of zirconium cyclosilicate hosting calcium, water, yttrium, and heavy rare earths). This ore will undergo a series of chemical processes in the treatment plant to produce zirconia.
Zirconia is a stable, non-reactive, non-toxic, non-radioactive material that is used in a wide range of applications.
What is zirconia used for?
Zirconia ceramics are used in many applications including electronics, autocatalysts (for emissions minimisation), dentistry to produce fillings and artificial teeth and for internal bone replacements, and as a drying agent in paints (replacing lead). It is not harmful to humans.
With raw materials at the plant will there be the opportunity to value add to the materials in Dubbo with new industries?
We hope so, although clearly other businesses will want to see the plant up, running and stable before they would invest themselves. We continue to explore opportunities to add value to our products before they are exported from Toongi.
How would you rate your prospects in getting the project funded?
Whilst there is a much publicised downturn in the mining industry currently, the metals coming out of the Dubbo Project are critical for downstream manufacturing of products that consumers have as part of their everyday life, including those they need to lessen their impact on the environment. There is global demand for DP products from Europe, Japan, Korea, and the US who are all looking for secure supply outside of China.
The Export Credit Agencies from those countries assist their companies to secure access to these metals through low interest loans in the hundreds of millions of dollars. For example the Roy Hill Project has obtained more than $3 billion dollars from export credit agencies in Japan and Korea who are motivated by national interest ie securing their companies access to high quality iron ore.
In addition to seeking investment from ECA’s Alkane is also seeking funding from strategic partners/customers in the aerospace industry and other end users who seek guaranteed long-term supply of the DP products.
Do the improvements to the water use for the project mean you will reduce the amount of limestone you need?
No we still need to neutralise the 1 million tonnes per annum of finely ground waste rock which undergoes roasting in a kiln with sulphuric acid. We’re just changing the way that we remove water from the process. Instead of passively evaporating waste water using the warmth of the sun we are forcing the water to be evaporated. We now plan to capture this evaporated water and then reuse it in our process which has allowed us to reduce our water consumption by half.
In relation to the evaporation pond does this mean the toxicity gets worse? Will it get closer to the creek?
No, the processing residues remain the same and are actually further from Wambangalang Creek than the closest pond formally was in our original design. 90% of the area for evaporation ponds have been reduced by using forced evaporation to remove and recycle water.
During construction the roads will be busy. How are you going to ensure access for the Rural Fire Service during increased traffic?
Assuming funding is in place, roadworks are expected to take place from early 2016 for a period of about 6-9 months. Traffic control will be in place as with any other roadworks on a public road network. Alkane will consult with Dubbo City Council about the construction schedule and traffic control, their requirements take into account emergency services access.
We’d like clarification and a good working relationship and have special training for the emergency services volunteers so we know where we stand and what’s required of us.
Alkane will get together with the Rural Fire Service volunteers to provide them with an understanding of any special site requirements. Alkane will have their own staff and equipment for fire fighting and for site emergencies and equipment and ambulance station which will work hand-in-hand with local rural fire services volunteers. Alkane will consult with local emergency services to ensure that they are familiar with the DP site facilities and our internal emergency response procedures.
Will you upgrade the electricity before you begin?
Early stages of construction will likely utilise existing powerat Toongi as well as generators.
Have you looked at opening the rail line?
Yes we are committed to reviewing this option within three years of the commencement of mining operations (as per Project Approval). Alkane needs to have the processing plant fully operational with confirmed reagent supply (largely from Newcastle Port) to evaluate the viability of upgrading the Dubbo-Toongi section of railway line. The critical issue will be gathering enough reagents at the one point in Newcastle to fully utilise a train service to the project.
What is the fence made of which will be alongside the zoo?
A Hebel style sound barrier (autoclaved aerated concrete) fence is currently being discussed with TWPZ - similar to the noise barriers you frequently see on freeways.
What is involved in putting in the gas and water pipe?
The water supply pipeline will be approximately 8.5km long between the processing plant and the Macquarie River and will be a buried 500mm diameter poly pipe in an easement which will also permit an overhead 11kV power line from the processing plant to the river pump. A gas pipeline from Purvis lane in North Dubbo to the project site is proposed to be buried in the railway corridor. Gas is required for direct heating the kiln which roasts the ore.
Is there a plan for a mobile tower?
Not at this stage but it could be a possibility as good communication systems across the site and beyond will be essential.
Why does the monitoring station have to go near the Toongi Hall? Why can’t the community choose another location?
Alkane is happy to discuss suitable locations with the Toongi community and provide this feedback and information to the EPA. However, the EPA makes the final decision as to where the monitoring station is to be placed. In most instances the EPA would stipulate monitoring at the nearest sensitive receptor such as a private residence or place where people congregate such as Toongi Hall and Recreation Reserve.
How much Sulphuric acid will you use? And what happens after you process? Do you use it?
Alkane will import around 110,000 tonnes of sulphur per annum and produce around 1,000 tonne per day of sulphuric acid from that sulphur on site. This action removes the need to transport large quantities of sulphuric acid daily to site. The acid is used in the kiln during roasting of the ore. The acid converts the valuable metals into sulphates (salts) which can then be dissolved in water (the leaching process). The filtered off ground waste rock is therefore in an acidic solution and is neutralised with limestone and deposited in the tailings storage facility.
I’ve heard concerns about dust from mine sites. How will you control the dust?
Water trucks, with dust suppressant if needed, are planned to be used. Alkane also plans to rehabilitate disturbed areas as soon as practical to reduce the footprint that can potentially generate dust.
Could you explain how the forced evaporation of water works?
Forced evaporation involves heating the waste water (like a kettle) until it forms steam which is captured as water and recycled through the processing plant. The residue of salts will be stored on site in a double plastic lined salt encapsulation cell, as detailed in the EIS.
Does Alkane intend to recover or produce uranium?
Alkane has no interest in the recovery and production of uranium for numerous reasons.
- the considerable additional national and international regulatory requirements for nuclear safeguards
- the additional capital requirements and process flowsheet development costs
- mining/producing uranium in NSW is illegal and is expected to remain so for 10+ years
Whilst the EIS comprehensively addresses the risks of radioactivity it does not address the production of uranium for sale or storage because Australia Zirconia Ltd is not applying to produce uranium, is not intending to produce uranium and does not seek approval to produce uranium.
- Alkane’s feasibility study for the Dubbo Project of April 2013 made it clear that uranium would not be processed and nothing has changed since.
- Alkane’s EIS development application (20 year project) is awaiting determination and the process does not include production of uranium now or in the future.
- Alkane has not applied for an exploration licence and the company has not tried to produce uranium even at laboratory level. The Project Approval for the DP does not permit the production of uranium, and the company did not seek that approval. To change this project approval (for this 20 year project) to allow production would require the company to apply for a modification, through a new Environmental approval process similar to the one which the project has just been through with public exhibition, comments etc.
Will uranium still be kept in the waste rock?
Yes, very low amounts of uranium are found with rare earths and are removed from the mined products as part of the approved process. Nothing will change with regards to the amount of uranium naturally in the ground.
What will be economic benefits will result from the DP?
The Economic Benefits associated with the DP include:
- creation of a construction work force ~300 - 400 (over 18-24 months)
- creation of 250 permanent jobs, most sourced locally
- approximately $50M pa in salaries/wages, utilities, plus other suppliers into local economy
- additional flow-on effects to other ancillary industries
- future access to substantial power supply and to gas pipeline.
- state royalties of $9.5M pa
- annual payroll to the State $34M pa
- corporate taxation of $70M pa
Where will the DP workforce be sourced from?
The workforce will be primarily sourced from Dubbo’s surrounding region (approx 80,000 people). The predicted long lifespan of the mine will provide genuine, long-term career opportunities to many people in the Central West NSW.
Where will the DP mine staff and managers live?
The DP staff will be primarily sourced from the local Dubbo area and will live locally.
There doesn’t seem to be areas onsite for accommodation for workers?
Correct. Workers are expected to be living in the local area. We have an open mind on this, as we also want to minimise our impact on available tourist accommodation.
Will you have tourism through the Dubbo Project?
Yes, we are considering arranging guided tours once the plant is built.
What sort of roles will be available at the DP?
A range of positions will be available, from forklift operators and logistics people to administration staff and people working on the process floor, right through to specialist roles such as chemical engineers and chemists. The DP will create some 250 permanent jobs; over 90% of these positions will be in the mineral processing facility rather than in the mine itself.
Alkane Resources will be seeking people with a range of educational qualifications, from TAFE/VET to university, and relevant professional qualifications. There will also be entry-level jobs available with opportunities for on-the-job training.
For more information on the roles which will be available click on DP Careers
With a Finnish ECI/ EPC contractor engaged what commitments or opportunities are there for Australian companies, suppliers or contractors?
Assuming that their proposal is acceptable to the company, Outotec will construct the processing plant on a lump sum contract and likely look to deliver project savings wherever possible. It is likely that project savings can be made through use of local content. Outotec will have the resources of the ICN gateway to draw on local expertise and supply.
Given that Ouotec who is Finnish are front runner for designer and builders for the plant what opportunities are there for Australian contractors?
Alkane has an Australian Industry Participation Plan in place. The purpose of this plan is to maximise Australian content in the project. There are many aspects of the project worth a substantial amount of money that can only be done by Australian contractors, such as earthworks, construction services, electrical installation, concreting and more.
Why is Alkane's headquarters in Perth when its operations are in the Central West of NSW?
Alkane Resources has been operating since 1980. Its headquarters were established in Perth in 1987 as part of Australia’s growing mining hub in that city, providing the company with access to international mining, geology, engineering, processing, laboratory facilities and expertise.
Alkane Resources has also established offices in the Central West of NSW in areas such as Peak Hill, Orange and Dubbo. These offices oversee the company’s exploration and community activities, and the development of the Tomingley Gold Operations and the DP. Construction of the DP is expected to commence in 2014 and operations will be managed from Dubbo.
Need more information
We are constantly updating the FAQ section with answers to your questions.
Alkane Resources values its community and the environment, is transparent and continually seeks to provide the facts on the DP project. Below are Q&A’s to respond to questions community members have asked in a variety of forums.
Independent information on radiation, uranium and radiation safety is available from
- Department of Energy (USA): http://www.energy.gov/ne/nuclear-fuel- facts-uranium
Environmental Protection Agency (USA): http://www.epa.gov/rpdweb00/radionuclides/uranium.html
- IAEA, 2009, World Distribution of Uranium Deposits (UDEPO) with Uranium Deposit Classification, IAEA-TECDOC-1629
- McKay, A.D. & Miezitis, Y., 2001. Australia’s uranium resources, geology and development of deposits. AGSO – Geoscience Australia, Mineral Resource Report 1.
- Skirrow, R.G., Jaireth, S., Huston, D.L., Bastrakov, E.N., Schofield, A., van der Wielen, S.E., Barnicoat, A.C., 2009. Uranium mineral systems: Processes, exploration criteria and a new deposit framework. Geoscience Australia Record 2009/20.