A public hearing process for VHM’s Goschen rare earths and mineral sands project is underway, and the explorer is ready to hit the ground running.

It’s been six months of rapidly progressing milestones for VHM as the explorer steadily realises its flagship Goschen rare earths and mineral sands project in north-west Victoria.

The latest step wrapped up in April with the conclusion of a public hearing on the project’s environment effects statement (EES). The hearing was held by an independent inquiry and advisory committee that will now advise Victoria’s Planning Minister Sonya Kilkenny of the environmental effects.

A positive ministerial assessment for the Goschen EES will trigger the Earth Resources Regulator assessment of VHM’s mining licence application and be the green light for VHM to apply for its relevant permits. This will bring the company closer to its highly-anticipated final investment decision.

If all goes according to plan, VHM will reach first production in 2025.

Goschen will supply the ‘big four’ rare earths the Australian Government has outlined as being key to an electrified future in its Critical Minerals Strategy: neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium and terbium.

We’re all in this together,” Douglas said. “And this is a huge opportunity for everyone, from the local community and landowners to the government to Australia as a whole, to participate in what is gearing up to be a huge success.”

VHM chief executive officer Ron Douglas.
Image: VHM

The Goschen project already has buyers at its heels, with VHM recently inking an offtake agreement with Shenghe Resources for the first three years of operation.

The deal involves the supply of 6400 tonnes per annum of rare earth mineral concentrate and 100,000 tonnes of zircon-titania heavy mineral concentrate, which make up approximately 60 per cent of forecast production per annum.

A hydrometallurgical circuit to produce a mixed rare earth carbonate (MREC) product is also in VHM’s plans for the Goschen operation. Pilot-scale MREC test results have provided exceptional recoveries of 97 per cent neodymium–praseodymium, 92 per cent dysprosium and 94 per cent terbium.

At the helm of VHM’s pedal-to-the-metal process has been the newly minted managing director and chief executive officer Ron Douglas, who brings a wealth of experience in senior project development roles at the likes of Newcrest, Rio Tinto, Orica and Ausenco.

“The public hearing process ended on a high note, with VHM demonstrating to all involved that our exhaustive environmental analysis was robust,” Douglas told Australian Mining.

Douglas said VHM is wasting no time while deliberations are carried out. The Goschen definitive feasibility study only covers half the total orebody, which means there is much work to be done to fully realise the project’s significant potential.

Thanks to millions of years of ancient sea movements, the rare earths mineralisation in the area has been concentrated into horizons no more than 30m in depth, which means VHM has the liberty to use conventional, low-cost mining and processing methods.

The farmland purchased for the Goschen footprint will be progressively mined and rehabilitated in blocks. With an avid focus on protecting the soil integrity throughout the mining process, VHM will return the paddocks to a standard suitable for farming as soon as practicable.

“If we’re going to control our own future, we need to have our own supply chains,” Douglas said when reflecting on Australia’s capacity to build industries linked to global net-zero targets and renewable technologies.

“Victoria has the assets to become a critical minerals powerhouse, it’s just a matter of working together with government to create a domestic rare earths supply chain and production cycle to rival what has traditionally been China’s stronghold.”

If the minister grants all necessary approvals for the ESS, Goschen will be poised to become a leader in establishing Victoria as a critical minerals hub and creating new job and investment opportunities for the region.

“We’re all in this together,” Douglas said. “And this is a huge opportunity for everyone, from the local community and landowners to the government to Australia as a whole, to participate in what is gearing up to be a huge success.”

This feature appeared in the June 2024  issue of Australian Mining News