TSX-listed Frontier Rare Earths has revealed an update to its National Instrument 43-101 compliant preliminary feasibility study (PFS) that is being carried out at its Zandkopsdrift rare earth element project in the Northern Cape, South Africa, adding that the project is progressing well.

Further, the company said that following completion of a preliminary economic assessment (PEA) on Zandkopsdrift during the first quarter of 2012, Frontier commenced work in the second quarter of 2012 on the wide range of studies necessary to complete the PFS on Zandkopsdrift.

A number of improvements to the flow sheet for the Zandkopsdrift rare earth processing plant (ZPP) have also been identified since November 2012, while the companys flow sheet has been revised accordingly and a confirmatory pilot scale metallurgical test programmme covering all major process steps was successfully completed in the first quarter of 2013, following which the ZPP flow sheet was frozen for the purpose of the PFS.

Frontier noted that the most significant remaining work required for the PFS is the finalization of engineering design and capital and operating cost estimates for the ZPP, which is currently under way and is scheduled for completion in July 2013. Accordingly, the results of the PFS are expected to be available and announced in the third quarter of 2013.

With preparation of the PFS now at a very advanced stage, planning has commenced for the definitive feasibility study (DFS) on Zandkopsdrift, which will start immediately after the PFS and is expected to take 9 to 12 months to complete.

The company advised that it is fully funded to complete the PFS and DFS on Zandkopsdrift from its existing cash resources. Along with its strategic partner, Korea Resources Corporation, which holds a 10% interest in and a 10% off take of production from Zandkopsdrift, Frontier said that it intends to commence rare earth production in 2016, with a target production capacity of 20 000 t of separated rare earth oxides per annum.

This would position Frontier as one of the first new major rare earths producers and one of the largest producers of separated rare earths outside China.

Metallurgical test work

The metallurgical test work for Zandkopsdrift has been carried out at Mintek in South Africa and SGS Minerals Services in Canada. The rare earths at Zandkopsdrift are contained in monazite (97%), for which a sulphuric acid cracking process has been widely used on a commercial scale for many years, and this process has been used as the basis for the flow sheets for both the PEA and PFS.

In the sulphuric acid process concentrated sulphuric acid is mixed with the feed material and baked in a rotary kiln to crack the rare earth minerals. The baked material is then water leached and the rare earths are precipitated as a mixed rare earth carbonate suitable for feeding to a rare earth separation plant.

A confirmatory pilot scale test programme covering all major process steps was successfully completed in the first quarter of 2013, following which the ZPP flow sheet was frozen for the PFS.

Zandkopsdrift processing plant and nine designs

The PFS engineering design for the ZPP is being undertaken by DRA Mineral Projects. The design work commenced in the first quarter of 2013 following the finalisation of the PFS flow sheet and is scheduled to be completed in July 2013.

Meanwhile, Frontier’s mine design consultants have completed a PFS level open cast mine design targeting the resource identified at Zandkopsdrift to date above the selected cut-off grade of 1.0% total rare earth oxide (TREO). The life of mine indicated by the PFS mine design has increased to more than 30 years and has a low average stripping ratio of 1:1 over the life of mine.

The PFS mine design comprises a three stage pit development. The initial high grade start-up pit (Pit 1) is created during the mining of the high grade 2% TREO material for the first 9 years. This is followed by a push back of Pit 1 during the next 8 years, targeting the material between 1.75% and 2% TREO, to create an intermediate pit (Pit 2).

A final push-back from Pit 2 will result in the lower grade material between 1% and 1.75% TREO, for the following 17 years, creating the final mine pit.

Zandkopsdrift mine access and road design

A preliminary design report has been completed for the upgrade of the access roads from the nearby N7 national highway to the Zandkopsdrift mine site.

This report will be issued for design review to the appropriate Provincial Authority later in 2013. The proposed road upgrading will see the surfacing of approximately 13km of provincial roads and 7km of private roads to a standard that will meet the long term transport and infrastructure requirements of the Zandkopsdrift mine.

Sea water desalination plant

Frontier revealed that a suitable site for a sea water reverse osmosis desalination plant to supply circa 2M m3/year of water to Zandkopsdrift has been identified approximately 35km southwest of Zandkopsdrift.

The company also pointed out that it has purchased the property on which this site is located in order to expedite planning and environmental activities, with the initial design of the bulk water transfer infrastructure, power supply and access road from Zandkopsdrift to the desalination plant progressing well.

Mining right application

On the subject of work on the mining right application for Zandkopsdrift, Frontier said that this important component of the overall project has further progressed and is scheduled to be completed and submitted to the South African Department of Mineral Resources in the second quarter 2013.

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