Feb 06, 2021

Look north to turn the tungsten tide

Look north to turn the tungsten tide

Tungsten hit national headlines this week when King Island Scheelite secured a $10 million government loan to redevelop its Dolphin tungsten project in Tasmania, with the move heralded as a chance to break China’s stranglehold on a key commodity.

But at the other end of the country, EQ Resources is already exporting tungsten from its Mount Carbine project – in a region that is home to a cluster of known deposits including Wolfram Camp and Watershed.

“Between (Tungsten Mining’s) Watershed and our deposit it could be a major employer and a major tungsten producer globally,” EQ Resources chief executive officer Kevin MacNeill said.

The Mount Carbine project has started to export tungsten concentrate on a monthly basis, to customers in the US, Europe and Asia. Current concentrate production is from tailings reprocessing at the historical mine site north-west of Cairns, ramping up to 60 tonnes a month during 2021.

EQ Resources will soon commence an update of its feasibility study for underground mining and a stockpile processing operation that would scale up production significantly to about 3000 tonnes of concentrate per annum.

“We’re the only primary tungsten producer in Australia right now,” Mr MacNeill said.

“I think Australia has the second largest resources of tungsten in the world and is one of the smallest producers.

“So we’re happy to see the government support coming in for King Island Scheelite to be able to realise some of these resources that they have.”

Ore sorting at the Mount Carbine site in Far North Queensland.

Tungsten has been earmarked as a critical mineral, with uses including electronic applications, lighting, construction, mining, steel and alloys.

The 2020 Australian Critical Minerals Prospectus listed the major producing nations in the previous year as China (70kt) – 82 per cent of production globally, Vietnam (4.8kt) – 6 per cent, and Mongolia (1.9 kt) 2 per cent.

When it came to known tungsten resources China was listed first with 1900kt or 51 per cent of the total, followed by Australia (394kt) with 11 per cent and Russia (240kt) with 6 per cent.

Critical minerals opportunity ‘extensive’

Association of Mining and Exploration Companies (AMEC) Queensland manager Kate Dickson said it was fantastic to see state governments step up and help projects like the King Island tungsten mine restart.

She said the Federal Government’s NAIF program was also essential for helping to fund the many resource projects that were critical for the northern region and critical for technology growth.

Kate Dickson, AMEC.

“The critical minerals opportunity in Queensland is extensive,” she said.

“Queensland is an attractive, stable and sustainable jurisdiction for any new or expanding mineral project.

“There are three impressive Queensland tungsten projects in AMEC’s recently released Critical Minerals Investment Opportunities brochure ready for investment from both private investors and government.”

The companies involved include Mount Carbine operator EQ Resources, Watershed owner Tungsten Mining, and Transition Resources – which counts tungsten among the critical minerals and precious metals it is targeting at its North-West Queensland tenements.

The critical minerals potential is not lost on the Queensland Government, according to new Resources Minister Scott Stewart.

“Queensland is rich in the minerals needed to manufacture the computers and smartphones we are communicating with, the renewable energy components needed to power them and the batteries we need to store the power,” he said.

“The Palaszczuk Government is focused on opening these untapped ‘new economy’ minerals and we want to see Queensland become a leading global exporter in this sector.

“As part of our economic plan for recovery, we announced a $10 million four-year booster pack of grants to supercharge exploration and to drive future resources jobs.”

Tungsten is used to harden items such as drill bits.

EQ Resources last year won a grant of $220,000 under the Queensland METS Collaborative Projects Fund for work with X-ray ore sorting technologies at the Mount Carbine site.

And Mr MacNeill flagged the potential to seek government assistance as the project progressed, including the plans to reopen the 430m long historical decline at the Far North Queensland tungsten mine.

“The price of tungsten has increased from about $200 MTU, which is basically $20,000 a tonne, close to $250 MTU, which equates to about $25,000 a tonne. And we’re expecting that to probably go to $30,000 a tonne,” he said.

“So tungsten is on the increase. It’s a critical metal, and the problem is the dependence on China, which makes up most of the production of tungsten.

“Nobody can really say how much that is and what is used internally, but we do know their mines are very high-cost mines.

“We believe that governments around the world are just getting very nervous. Tungsten is used in military equipment, hardening steel, that type of thing.

“So with critical metals in Australia, they are looking at ways to help our industry.”

Media attention around tungsten after the King Island Scheelite announcement saw that company’s stocks rise 58.06 per cent in a day to finish at $0.245 at the end of trading Thursday. EQ Resources rose 20 per cent to $0.048 and Tungsten Mining rose 37.14 per cent to $0.240 in the same timeframe.