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ABx Group: Rare earths exploration, fluoride breakthroughs & bauxite triumphs

Manny Anton: I’m Manny Anton for the Finance News Network, and today I am talking with ABx Group. ABx Group is currently progressing three businesses, including discovering and developing an ionic absorption clay rare earth project in northern Tasmania, establishing a plant to produce hydrogen fluoride and aluminum fluoride from recycled industrial waste, and mining bauxite for the cement, aluminum and fertilizer industries. We welcome back ABx MD and CEO Mark Cooksey. Mark, welcome back.

Mark Cooksey: Great. Thanks, Manny. Nice to be here again.

Manny Anton: Let’s start with the rare earths business. The company has been busy drilling in the northern Tasmania exploration target area. What is the latest data and the news from that drilling campaign?

Mark Cooksey: Yeah. So we did some drilling late last year from October to December and then started again as soon as we could in mid-January. Been going strong since then. We’ve released some of the assay results back several weeks ago, which continued to be good. So reinforcing that we’ve got a good rare earth deposit and there’s more assay results on the way following this drilling. And the other thing we’re doing is more development work on the metallurgy. So as people know, we’ve had ANSTO do our metallurgical testing, but we’re also developing our own in-house method, which will compliment the ANSTO testing and allow us to faster work out which are most prospective areas for drilling.

Manny Anton: Okay, great. And I mean, the company recently announced the resource has been increased to 52 million tons, which is great news, but can we expect this latest round of drilling to result in additions to that resource number?

Mark Cooksey: I certainly think so. I mean, the 52 million tons was based off drilling that finished in I think August or so. So everything from October onwards is not in the resource estimate yet. So we’ve announced some of those assay results, as I’ve said a few weeks ago. There’s more to come. So yeah, I think we definitely expect a resource upgrade in coming months.

Manny Anton: Okay. And in terms of the drilling campaign, what can we expect coming up from that? What are the plans for the drilling campaign now?

Mark Cooksey: We will probably pause this campaign fairly soon, combination of, we’ve basically drilled all the areas that we’d planned and have approval for, and it is a bit time to take stock of all those results. So as I said, we’re getting assay results back now. We’ll be able to do a resource upgrade. We’re integrating our learning on the metallurgy side, so we’ve got to take stock for not that long, but can imagine several weeks or a month or two to then plan the next generation of the drilling program.

Manny Anton: Let’s move on to the ALCORE fluoride business. The company has now successfully commissioned and commenced operations at its bath pilot reactor. How have those test runs gone and what are the next steps?

Mark Cooksey: Yeah, so this is a pretty serious bit of engineering. I mean, the equipment was $50,000. You’re now using 10 kilograms of materials in the reaction, so of this bath waste and sulfuric acid. It’s a lot more than doing half a kilo or something in the earlier days. So it’s gone really well in that the reactor has performed. It’s done what we’ve wanted it to do. We ran it three times before Christmas and one since then. And we’ve actually just announced some results today from run three, which is continuing to show an increase in the yield of fluorine that we’re getting from the bath. Not quite getting to where we want to be yet, but we know part of the reasons why. Particular reason is controlling the particle size of the bath. And we’ve already put improvements for that. And we’d expect to see run four deliver more improvements.

Manny Anton: Great. Okay. And just one more quick question on our call. In terms of discussions with potential off-takers and partners, have there been some, what is the status of those?

Mark Cooksey: Yeah. For both ALCORE and rare earths, one of our main goals has been establish strategic partnerships, so they can be with customers or investors. It’s a good validation of your own strategy if people are interested in talking to you, people who know the business, and they are. So both on ALCORE and rare earths, we have lots of discussions with big companies in those value chains. We’d love to develop partnerships with those. That takes time and can be hard, but that’s certainly something that’s foreseeable and we’re working towards.

Manny Anton: And just to finish off, let’s close with the bauxite business. You announced recently that Adelaide Brighton Cement took a trial shipment of your bauxite, and they used it in the manufacturer of cement as was planned. And by all accounts, the results were good. So what does this now mean for ABx’s bauxite business, and what are the next steps for that business?

Mark Cooksey: Yeah, so I mean, we expected this to be good because Adelaide Brighton had previously purchased bauxite from us. This is similar. It’s from a different resource, so we had to just do the check. But yes, they’re happy, they really want our product. So the rate limiting step is how quickly can we get the mine approved? So we’re working flat out on that right now. That’s by midyear, we either are hopefully done or very close to having the mine approved. And as soon as we can, we’ll be starting to try and deliver product to Adbri. It’s nice to have a customer that’s really keen for your product.

Manny Anton: Yep. Okay, great. Well, Mark, thank you for your time today and we look forward to hearing from you again soon with further updates. And so far so good.

Mark Cooksey: Yep. Great. Thanks, Manny. Thanks for your time.

Manny Anton: See you next time.

Mark Cooksey: See you.

Ends.