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Fertiliser group PhosAgro targets rare earth processing

1 December 2011
Industrial Minerals

Russian company studies producing rare earths from phosphate by-product Russian fertiliser manufacturer PhosAgro is studying the potential to produce rare earths out of the by-product coming from its phosphate processing in 2017-2018, CEO Maxim Volkov revealed to IM.

PhosAgro, which mines and processes apatite-nepheline ore at its Khibiny deposits in northern Russia to produce apatite concentrate used in the production of phosphate fertilisers, said that its ore is also rich in rare earth elements “offering opportunities for new business ventures”.

The company explained that the by-product resulting from processing its phosphate ore such as phosphogypsum or phosphoric acid contain wasted rare earth which could be used in the future.

“We are working on developing a new technology to exploit rare earths from our by-product,” said Volkov to IM in an interview in London, adding that the company wants to “utilise the uniqueness of its ore”.

“Production could start in five or six years from now but we need to develop the technology first,” Volkov commented, underlining that “substantial volumes” could be produced.
“We may produce in the future several thousand tonnes of rare earth oxides per year,” he said.

This could come as good news for an industry keen to find new sources outside of China which controls 95% of the world production and as prices have rocketed dramatically during the last two years.

PhosAgro is Russia’s only nepheline concentrate producer and owns six deposits: Kukisvumchorrskoye, Yuksporskoye, Apatite Circus, Rasvumchorr Plateau, Koashvinskoye and Norkpakhkskoye.

According to the company, commercial resources of apatite-nepheline ore in the mined deposits stand at about 2bn tonnes. Ore extraction from the deposits is conducted via four mines (Kirov, Rasvumchorr, Central and Eastern) with a combined capacity of 27m tpa.

“Assuming apatite concentrate production remains at its optimal level of 8-9m tpa, the plant’s resource base will not be exhausted for more than 75 years,” believes PhosAgro.

Earlier this month, PhosAgro reported a 3.6% increase in its output of phosphate fertilisers year on year during the first nine months of 2011, with production of phosphate fertilisers reaching 3.025m tonnes between January and September this year.

The company also announced earlier this month that it is planning to merge two of its subsidiaries, phosphate fertiliser producer Ammophos OJSC, and nitrate fertiliser producer Cherepovetsky Azot OJSC.