WA1 Resources soars as company hits high-value rare earth Niobium

Wed 26 Oct 22, 11:37am (AEST)
A close up photo of an aviation jet turbine located at an airport in Italy. Niobium is used in the fabrication of propellor blades for flight
Source: Unsplash

Key Points

  • WA1 Resources share price is up 140% in the first hour of trade
  • Move comes as company reports niobium mineralisation in carbonatite
  • Niobium is a critical and strategic key material, classified as such by Australia, Japan, India, the USA, and the EU

WA1 Resources’ (ASX:WA1) exploration team has hit high-value rare earth element (REE) niobium at its Artuna project in the Pachpadra prospect area within a larger host carbonatite system. 

Targeting one specific anomaly within the Pachpadra prospect, called P2, the company sunk one RC drill hole in the 3km-long geophysical target, which the company notes has “significant” potential for further drilling. 

All in all, WA1 has found niobium, a number of other rare earths, and also phosphorous pentoxide. 

Worth noting is that the company is reporting far higher grades for Phosphorous Pentoxide than niobium or other REEs. Phosphorous pentoxide is used in a multitude of industrial processes, and it can be used as a fertiliser (the material is so strong, it is banned for domestic use in backyard gardens because it causes algae to bloom in waterways.)

The material is also used in lubricants, sugar refining, industrial chemical manufacturing, dehydrating, and flame retardants. 

What about grades? 

Meaningful cut-offs for ‘high-grade’ and ‘low-grade’ rare earths are difficult to put clearly given that the rock REEs are hosted in tend to be more important than how much of one material is contained within it. 

Low grades in a host rock that allows for easy processing can often turn up more material than high-grade material in host rock that poses too many downstream costs. That is true for REE mineralisation hosted in clays. 

Investor information provider Geology for Investors, however, notes carbonatite deposits, while the world's primary source of rare earth elements, are often unenconomical at low grades.

WA1 Resources reports: 

  • 54m @ 0.62% niobium, 0.18% other rare earths, and 3.85% phosphorous pentoxide. 

The company notes that comes “from 162m within an overall interval of:” 

  • 142m @ 0.31% niobium, 0.17% other rare earths, and 3.94% pentoxide. 

Okay, so wait. What’s niobium?  

Niobium meanwhile is a magnetic rare earth, with magnetic rare earths typically being the most valuable. 

Niobium is considered a critical mineral by the EU, the US, Australia, India, and Japan, opening up the possibility of WA1 becoming a preferred supplier of critical minerals. 

Government-level initiatives to secure stable supplies of such materials have come to the fore in 2022 following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has rejuvenated for a 21st Century audience the impact war has on global supply chains. 

A closer look

The London-based Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) highlights niobium's use in the aviation industry, where the metal has been most well known for its inclusion into propellor blades. 

The metal, highly resistant to corrosion, is also used as an alloy in the creation of stainless steel. 

Niobium-based alloys are also used in rockets and jet engines with both space and combat implications; it is also used as an alloy on oil and gas drill rigs where protection against tempestuous oceans is needed. 

Niobium also acts as a superconductor, meaning it can be used in MRI scanners, and in the hard-to-explain-clearly machinations of particle physics experiments. 

Put those relevant sectors together (defence, health, science, transport,) and it’s easy to see why the obscure material is on the radar of several major world economies. 

More assays to come from run 

“To date, we have only assaysed 4m commencing from 74m depth where drilling entered fresh bedrock. WIth the knowledge we are in a carbonatite system, we will assay single metre splits for the entire hole,” WA1 MD Paul Savich said. 

“Niobium has been identified as a critical mineral by a number of countries and is a key input to future technology, with ferroniobium metal at 65% purity selling for US$45,000 a tonne.” 

A look at WA1's three month charts as they stand today
A look at WA1's three month charts as they stand today
Disclaimer: Market Index helps small-cap ASX listed companies connect with Australian investors through clear and concise articles on key developments. WA1 was a client at the time of publishing. All coverage contains factual information only and should not be interpreted as an opinion or financial advice.


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Written By

Jonathon Davidson

Finance Writer

Jonathon is a journalism graduate and avid market watcher with exposure to governance, NGO and mining environments. He was most recently hired as an oil and gas specialist for a trade publication.

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