A FRONT runner in a race to produce high-grade Sulphate of Potash (SoP) fertiliser in WA’s desert regions, Kalium Lakes Ltd (KLL), has cleared a final access hurdle.
KLL told the Australian Securities Exchange last Thursday it had signed a second native title agreement giving it access to all of the salt lakes and 2400 square kilometres covered by its Beyondie SoP project tenements, 160 kilometres south east of Newman.
The agreement signed with Mungarlu Ngurrarankatja Rirraunkaja Aboriginal corporation, representing the Birriliburu people, covers the second stage or eastern half of the project that is north west of Wiluna.
An agreement signed in 2016 with the Gingirana people already covered the first stage, western end of KLL’s Beyondie project which is based on a chain of salt lakes containing potassium-rich brine under their salt crusts.
KLL said the agreements provided for “a mutually beneficial relationship” with both native title holders and allowed them to participate in the project, including provision of a future royalties stream.
The Birriliburu people were granted native title over 66,000km2 of the Western Desert by the Federal Court in 2008.
Although KLL had an agreement with them, the Gingirana people were not formally recognised as native title holders of their land until Justice Michael Barker declared them to be at a special Federal Court sitting at Kumarina Roadhouse on December 7 last year.
KLL said it would apply for mining tenure over Beyondie stage one where it is collecting harvest salts from a large-scale pilot gravity-flow system of 11 plastic-lined evaporation ponds filled with brine, pumped from lakes at the western end of the chain.
Engineers are investigating fitting laser levels to a salt harvester to ensure the plastic pool liners are not damaged during salts harvesting.
The company is preparing to send several tonnes of harvest salts samples from Beyondie to potash industry consultants K-UTEC AG Salt Technologies in Germany, to test a gas-fired modular purification plant designed and built to produce a commercial SoP fertiliser product and ultimately for relocation to the Beyondie project.
Signing the agreement with MNR and formal recognition of the Gingirana people as native title holders gave both KLL and the native title parties “certainty”, said KLL managing director Brett Hazelden.
“These agreements, together with the strong relationship the Kalium Lakes team has established with both native title groups, will lead to opportunities for all parties involved and provides a firm foundation for a long-term relationship,” Mr Hazelden said.
The agreements provide for consent to grant of mining leases, ancillary tenure and approvals required for both stages of the project.
The project’s development is based on producing 150,000 tonnes of SoP fertiliser a year for domestic and international markets, with the option of an incremental ramp up from an initial 75,000t a year to minimise operational and financial risks.
Beyondie is projected to generate more than a billion dollars over a 21-year life based on an international SoP price of US$500/t and a currency exchange rate of 0.75 between Australia and the United States.
KLL estimates its operating cash cost of delivering SoP free on board ready for shipping at Geraldton port to be A$244-253/t over the life of the project.
It claims this puts Beyondie in the lowest quartile cost of global SoP production.
An estimated $220 million pre-production capital cost includes a 78 kilometre gas pipeline to the project and start-up cost could be cut to $124m with the incremental ramp up option.
Additional revenues are anticipated from potential recovery of magnesium by-products from the brine.
Earlier this month KLL told the ASX a 64-auger hole program at its Carnegie joint-venture potash project with BC Iron Ltd had confirmed prospects of it also being able to produce SoP fertiliser.
The joint venture is at Lake Carnegie, 200km east of the Beyondie project and between Beyondie and two similar but not as progressed SoP projects on Lake Wells in the northern Goldfields, about 500km north east of Kalgoorlie.
As previously reported in Farm Weekly, KLL is one of five Perth-based companies looking to exploit remote salt lake brine to supply growing domestic and global demand for SoP fertiliser.
Its proponents claim SoP can help “drought-proof” crops against climate change by strengthening plant structures.
Australian agriculture imports 40,000 tonnes a year of SoP fertiliser which sells in bulk for up to $950/t.
It is used mainly on high-value fruit, vegetable and flower crops because of its price premium over more readily available and cheaper fertilisers.
But domestic usage could grow to 70,000t annually if SoP can be produced more cheaply and in sufficient quantity, particularly if it becomes cheap enough for viable use on broadacre crops in marginal salt-affected areas, some have predicted.