Sheffield Resources has secured financial assistance of up to A$160m ($119m) from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) for its Thunderbird mineral sands project in Western Australia.

The project in the Kimberley region is being taken up by Kimberley Mineral Sands (KMS), a 50:50 joint venture (JV) between Sheffield Resources and YGH Australia Investment (Yansteel), a fully-owned subsidiary of China’s Tangshan Yanshan Iron & Steel.

According to Sheffield Resources, the NAIF facility is an important part of the nearly A$300m–A$320m ($223m-$238m) of project financing to be secured for the development of the Thunderbird mineral sands project. The financing is conditional on completion of definitive and binding documentation and preceding customary conditions to drawdown.

Sheffield Resources said that Kimberley Mineral Sands will now pursue wrapping up the project financing to fully cover the construction of Thunderbird stage 1 through a third party commercial loan facility.

Sheffield Resources executive chair Bruce Griffin said: “Sheffield is extremely pleased by the level of support shown by NAIF and the Federal Government for the Thunderbird mineral sands project.

“The NAIF commitment will enable KMS to finalise project funding requirements for Thunderbird and progress construction activities, with the aim of delivering first production in early 2024.”

The stage 1 construction on the Thunderbird mineral sands project will see the deployment of nearly 350 people. It will also bring in around 350 jobs across the estimated mine life of 36 years.

The development concept for stage 1 of the project has been agreed upon by the Kimberley Mineral Sands partners to be a 10.4 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) mine and process plant for producing a zircon rich non-magnetic concentrate and low temperature roasting (LTR) ilmenite.

Kimberley Mineral Sands has a binding offtake agreement in place for 100% of the magnetic concentrate with Yansteel.

Stage 1 and 2 of operations at the Thunderbird mineral sands project are projected to yield 1.4mtpa of zircon and ilmenite concentrates over the mine life.