AUSTRALIAN resource company Centrex is powering ahead with its Ardmore Phosphate Rock Mine project in north-west Queensland, with the organisation well on the way to achieving its goal of replacing about 60pc of Australia’s phosphate rock imports.
The company predicts it will hit its Stage 1.5 annual production target of 625,000t by January 2024, and reach its long-term output goal of 800,000t per annum in three years.
This comes eight months after Centrex commissioned the Ardmore processing plant located 110km south of Mt Isa.
Australia is heavily reliant on overseas supply chains for phosphate rock stocks, importing about 400,000t per annum, mainly from North Africa.
Centrex, via its subsidiary Agriflex, is aiming to take a leading role in supplying the Australian and New Zealand markets, which together use approximately 1 million tonnes of rock phosphate annually.
Centrex managing director Robert Mencel said when the company hits its maximum production capacity, it expects to supply about 500,000-600,000t to Australian and New Zealand customers.
“We also expect to sell around 200,000t-300,000t to other markets, most likely north Asia,” Mr Mencel said.
“We are looking at being the main supplier for Australia and New Zealand.
“We are really looking to improve food security for this part of the world and really try to do the right thing by the Australian fertiliser producers and ultimately Australian farmers and people.”
Mr Mencel said all of the mine’s production for the next three years has been allocated to customers.
These include New Zealand cooperatives Ravensdown Ltd and Balance Agri-nutrients, Incitec Pivot, Ameropa and one of the world’s largest fertiliser traders, Samsung.
It is anticipated that Samsung will open doors for Centrex’s product to be sold into other foreign markets, such as South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, India and Mexico.
The company also sells smaller volumes direct to farmers, and currently has customers in Queensland, the Northern Territory, Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales.
Mr Mencel said since October, the company has shipped four cargos from 500t to over 7000t to local and New Zealand buyers.
“In March we expect to start increasing the tonnages and going forward we hope to do 10-15,000t shipments and do them at least once a month.
“Within the next five months, we are expecting to be sending some product into north Asia.”
Long Term Offtake Agreements are currently being negotiated and are expected to be finalised in coming months.
Subject to weather events, the company is targeting to sell approximately 26,000t in the current quarter, and 45,000t in the June quarter.
Certainty for consumers
Ravensdown general manager supply chain Mike Whitty said sourcing phosphate rock from Australia has helped the company manage supply-chain risks that were further highlighted by COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine.
“It’s early days, but Ardmore Phosphate Rock has the potential to form a part of Ravensdown’s nutrient offering, helping to firm up local supply of high-quality superphosphate for New Zealand farmers and growers,” Mr Whitty said in a statement.
“We’re operating in an ongoing environment of instability when it comes to managing supply-chain risks and increasing costs.
“It’s a culmination of familiar factors, including the conflict in Ukraine, political tensions in other parts of the world, and we’re seeing that COVID-19 has a very long tail.
“If the last few years have proven anything, it’s the value of having more options.”
Growth geared to bulk
Phosphate rock from Ardmore is transported via rail to the Port of Townsville.
Mr Mencel said currently most of the shipments are via containers, which are less efficient and more expensive than bulk shipments.
He said, as the company moves towards its 800,000t output goal, it is also working to make all shipments via bulk “to get our costs down further”.
This output goal is the centrepiece of Stage 2 of the Ardmore project.
Mr Mencel said when production gets closer to this target the company will consider expanding its business footprint and processing operation.
He said having a site at the Port of Townsville would be ideal to streamline the supply chain from mine to port.
It is believed the scope of this proposed facility would include administrative, storage, staging and ship loading.
He said “we are looking into our options” to make this happen.
Mr Mencel said Centrex was also talking with interested parties and testing possible new processing opportunities.
“Our product is very high grade, and we are talking to a lot of people and there is a lot of interest in what our product could be used for.
“The next step is to create things like dicalcium phosphate, which is effectively phosphate that can be used in animal feeds.”
He said there was also an option to process the raw material into phosphoric acid which can be used in food and cleaning products as well as fertilisers.
“We are doing some test work and having a look at what kind of options and processes make sense for us and where would we potentially want to do that.
“Townsville is a very good option of course.”
In addition to Ardmore, Centrex is progressing several mining projects across the country.
It is in the early stages of developing a processing plan for an Oxley potassium fertiliser project in Western Australia.
Metallurgical test work is continuing at the site.
However, the potential volatility in potash prices and high cost to mine and process the raw material are roadblocks in the way of Centrex moving forward with the project.
Centrex also has an exploration licence on a site in the Northern Territory which could be mined for phosphate.
It also has an exploration licence for a site in NSW’s east Lachlan Fold Belt.
Ongoing technical studies are underway at the site, which could yield quantities of base metals.
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