FIRST trade samples of a premium Sulphate of Potash (SoP) agriculture fertiliser are on schedule to be produced in Canning Vale next month.
Australian Potash Ltd, identified on Australian Security Exchange (ASX) listings as APC, announced Friday its pilot evaporation ponds at Lake Wells, 200 kilometres north east of Laverton in the northern Goldfields, have produced first salts from potassium-rich brine pumped from under the lake’s salt crust.
An estimated 10 tonnes of potassium and sulphate bearing salts were left behind in the first harvest pond after a successful transfer of about 70t of potassium saturated brine from that pond into the second of three harvest ponds at its Lake Wells SoP project, APC said in a report to the ASX.
The next evaporation and crystallisation periods in the second and third harvest ponds are expected to produce more than 10 additional tonnes of salts, it said.
APC said it anticipated the third and final transfer of brine into the last harvest pond would occur within the next two to three weeks.
The pilot pond network at Lake Wells comprises a large pre-concentration pond and the three smaller harvest ponds, with hypersaline brine pumped into the first pond from five of a likely total of 35 production bores on the lake and increasingly concentrated brine transferred at intervals through the harvest ponds in sequence.
The final harvest salts will be a blend of salts left behind in all three harvest ponds.
APC told the ASX it expected to transport about two tonnes of the more than 20t of harvest salts it anticipated would be produced from the first complete pilot evaporation cycle at Lake Wells, to Canning Vale for processing.
In conjunction with Canadian processing consultant Novopro and the Australian arm of French global testing, inspection and certification services organisation Bureau Veritas, APC is developing a pilot SoP processing plant and laboratory at Caning Vale.
Novopro is sending its lead process engineer out to Australia to manage the initial pilot production run, which is expected to produce 250 kilograms of trade samples of SoP fertiliser.
APC has said the pilot production run would be before the end of the year.
The remainder of the harvest salts from the first evaporation cycle will be stockpiled at Lake Wells for future testing and processing.
Managing director Matt Shackleton said the “understanding of the evaporative environment” that APC obtains from the pilot pond network “is invaluable in our final design concepts for the commercial scale ponds”.
“Coupled with the more than 100 years of local meteorological records and our own long-term Class A evaporation pan trials, we are seeing confirmation of the evaporation models being developed by expert Canadian potash processing consultants Novopro,” Mr Shackleton said.
He said preparation of the company’s definitive feasibility study had entered its final phase across abstraction, evaporation and processing aspects of the project and APC was on schedule to produce its first commercial SoP products in 2020.
“We are very advanced with our permitting, with EPA (Environmental Protection Authority) approval of our environmental scoping document, have granted mining leases and have made material advancements in logistics,” Mr Shackleton said.
As previously reported, APC is one of five Perth-based companies looking to exploit potassium-rich brine beneath remote WA salt lakes and abundant sunshine to create high-performance, low salt index, SoP fertiliser.
It is investigating possible project development costs savings through a shared infrastructure arrangement with another prospective Lake Wells SoP producer Salt Lake Potash Ltd (SO4 on ASX listings).
Both APC’s and SO4’s SoP proposals were boosted recently by Laverton Shire council’s decision to seal part of the Great Central Road next year.
Laverton council has received contributions of $36.5 million from Main Roads WA and $4m from neighbouring Ngaanyatjarraku Shire and in its current financial year budget proposes extending a bitumen seal east from Laverton for up to 100km of the road – promoted for outback tourism as ‘The World’s Longest Short Cut’.
The turnoff to Lake Wells is 70km east of Laverton and services both the APC and SO4 mining camps there.
APC is also “scoping” feasibility with the Laverton council of sealing the 130km from the turnoff into Lake Wells to provide all-weather access for road trains.
As previously reported, APC’s focus is on exporting SoP to China and it plans to bulk transport SoP from Lake Wells to either Leonora or Malcolm rail sidings by road train and then rail freight it to Esperance port.
Its mining leases cover more than 30,000 hectares of the Lake Wells surface, sufficient for proposed stage-one production of 150,000t of SoP a year.
It proposes to build to 300,000t annual production.
While APC is likely to be the first to produce SoP fertiliser samples in WA, it trails competitor Kalium Lakes Ltd (KLL on ASX listings) on potassium salts production.
KLL is looking to initially produce 82,000t of SoP a year, from early 2020 and ramping up to full production of 164,000t a year at its Beyondie project, based on a chain of salt lakes 160km south-east of Newman in the Little Sandy Desert.
KLL managing director Brett Hazelden told the company’s recent annual general meeting 83 million litres of brine had been pumped into KLL’s gravity-flow pilot system of 11 evaporation ponds and has produced more than 10,000t of harvest salts since August last year.
KLL is continuing to work with its German consultant K-UTEC and the Saskatchewan Research Council in Canada on test work and process optimisation duplicated to verify the results, Mr Hazelden said.
It is aiming to achieve 90-98 per cent batch recovery of SoP.
KLL has completed a definitive feasibility study and also has mining leases covering its first stage proposal and had received a “positive” EPA indication on its environmental approvals approach.
It is looking at supplying the domestic fertiliser market as well as export markets.
Australia imports about 45,000t of SoP a year but it is estimated usage could increase to about 70,000t if it can be produced cheaply enough to make it viable for use in broadacre cropping.
KLL plans to roadtrain bulk SoP to Geraldton port for export and is conducting trials with part of the WA Salt Group and EcoMag Ltd for further processing and disposal of sodium chloride and hydrated magnesium carbonate by-products of its evaporation ponds system.