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Mining & Resources

Australian phosphate exports looking likely

31 Aug 2022, by Amy Sarcevic

Australia’s abundant phosphate reserves could soon be in the hands of European consumers, with final negotiations underway for Chatham Rock Phosphate’s (CRP) game-changing mine acquisition in Queensland.

Executive Director, Colin Randall, is hopeful that the company’s $12.3 million acquisition of the Korella mine, 150 kilometres south-east of Mount Isa, will service both domestic and international fertisiler markets.

The mine, which occupies 1602 hectares in the Cloncurry Shire, offers low cadmium phosphate and has an advantage over other Australian phosphate mines, given its ready access to rail. An application for two new exploration sites – Korella South and Korella North – will also strengthen the company’s ability to tackle export markets, he says.

Global demand on the rise

While domestic markets were the priority, Mr Randall said strong and growing demand for high quality, low cadmium phosphate, globally, was an incentive to accelerate the mine’s export potential.

“Domestically, there is a great need for monocalcium phosphate to provide phosphorous for farmed animals and help them build strong and healthy bones. It’s especially important for farmers in the North West and top end of Australia, where soil is phosphorous deficient,” he said ahead of the Australian Potash and Phosphate Conference, hosted by Informa Connect.

“Globally, there is an immediate need for low cadmium phosphate, with Europe severing its phosphate trade with Russia [in light of the Ukraine war].

“Agricultural regulation around cadmium is also tightening, so we are expecting demand for high quality fertiliser to grow, even in the Russia- Ukraine situation settles and normal trade ties resume.

“With the main, North, and South Korella sites, we hope to produce a combined 2.5 million tons of phosphate. Of that, half a million could go into the domestic market and around 2 million into export.”

Good infrastructure potential

With access to rail, the project is already half way towards its export milestone. Now, a scoping study is underway to determine viability for a 5 million ton per annum export facility at the port of Townsville. Mr Randall is encouraged by the work so far.

“The Port of Townsville is already undertaking a major upgrade of the channel leading up to its terminal. We hope to locate our onshore facility within the reclaimed area for our export facility. We have also started talking with above- and below-rail providers and are pleased with the outcomes of these discussions so far,” he said.

“Of course, organising a bulk commodities export facility will be subject to the usual challenges and will probably cost in the realm of $400-500 million. However, I don’t foresee any major obstacles – and with access to rail from our site, it is easy to demonstrate the viability of our operation to stakeholders. Unlike others phosphate mines in the region, that are remote from rail, we don’t need to rely on expensive double handling, so our costs will always be competitive.”

Mr Randall is also fresh out of a meeting with the Mt Isa -Townsville Economic Zone Development Group , which he says consolidated relationships with key phosphate proponents and gave fresh hope for his ambitions.

“We believe we have a very good relationship with the community already, and a having a phosphate mine with initially a domestic supply objective assists. These relationships are vital,” he said.

Rare earth ambitions

Mr Randall hopes to recover other potentially valuable minerals from the mine and is collaborating with CSIRO to explore how various rare earths can be extracted from the phosphate.

“There is a great deal of rare earth potential in this part of the world and I am excited to see where we can take this. The Geological Survey of Queensland recently identified that the South East corner of the Georgina basin was a hotspot for rare earth elements and that’s exactly where we are – it’s certainly a good spot to be,” he said.

Game on

Mr Randall recently moved to the Cloncurry region to be “closer to his work” and says this both reflects and strengthens his confidence in exporting phosphate from the site.

“I believe living in the region and being able to visit the mine daily gives us an operational advantage. It also signals just how serious I am about my plans in this space,” he concluded.

Colin Randall is Executive Director of New Zealand based Chatham Rock Phosphate Limited and Managing Editor for the Australia Potash & Phosphate Report.

Giving fresh updates on his Cloncurry project, he will present at the Australian Potash and Phosphate conference, hosted by Informa Connect.

This year’s event will be held November 22-23 at the Pan Pacific Hotel Perth. Learn more and register your place here.

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