Tertiary scouts for new sister metals

22 November 2005
Tertiary (Middle East), 100 per cent owned by UK-based Tertiary Minerals,announced in late October that it had started work on a pre-feasibility study aimed at the commercial mining of tantalum and niobium deposits at Ghurayyah, 85 kilometres from Tabuk in the northwest. The study, to be completed in the first quarter of 2007, will involve detailed metallurgical tests and market analysis. The client is the Petroleum & Mineral Resources Ministry.

UK-based St Barbara Consulting is acting as the technical consultant, while SRK Consulting, also of the UK, is assisting in drilling and sampling. 'Tantalum exists in nature as tantalum pentoxide and is found at Ghurayyah on the surface,' Patrick Cheetham, Tertiary's chairman, told MEED on 1 November. 'The oxide is then separated from the sand and refined.' Seven tonnes of both metals have been assembled at Jeddah for shipment to select laboratories for further tests. The recoverable deposits of tantalum pentoxide and niobium are estimated to be 94,000 tonnes and 940,000 tonnes respectively. Tertiary estimates the kingdom's tantalum pentoxide deposits to be the largest in the world.

The next stage in the project's implementation will be the carrying out of a bankable detailed feasibility study to include the construction of facilities for processing the deposits. 'We estimate capital costs of about $100 million for [construction of] the refinery,' Cheetham said.

Tantalum has wide applications in the electronics and aerospace industries, while its sister metal, niobium, is used extensively as an alloy for the manufacture of steel.

New investment in the kingdom's mining sector has come under increasing focus. The lead has been taken by Saudi Arabian Mining Company (Maaden), which is pressing ahead with major plans for the commercial mining of phosphate and bauxite deposits (MEED 7:10:05).


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