Australia-based mining firm Astron said that phase 1 of its Donald rare earth and minerals sands project in Victoria, Australia will involve an overall estimated capital expenditure (capex) of A$364m ($240.32m), based on the findings of a definitive feasibility study (DFS).

According to the DFS, the project is expected to annually produce 7,200 tonnes of rare earth elements concentrate and 228,700 tonnes of heavy mineral concentrate containing final product equivalents of 42,500 tonnes of zircon and 152,000 tonnes of titania.

The critical minerals mining and production company said that the Donald project has more than 2,634 million tonnes of mineral resources at 4.4% heavy mineral grade.

It includes two adjoining deposits, the Donald deposit, which constitutes the area covered by MIN5532 and RL2002 and the Jackson deposit (RL2003).

The Donald project’s phase 1 development is located in MIN5532, which has around 17% of the overall mineral resource of the project.

Astron said that the operating life of the rare earth and minerals sands project is anticipated to be 41.5 years.

In addition, the DFS estimates a post-tax net present value (NPV) of A$852m ($562.5m) and an after-tax internal rate of return of 25.8% with a payback period of 3.75 years.

The company expects to take a final investment decision (FID) on the Donald project in Q1 2024 and the first production from the project is anticipated in the second half of 2025.

Prior to FID, Astron will focus on final project approvals, project financing, front-end engineering design and off-take agreements for the project’s phase 1 forecast production.

Astron managing director Tiger Brown said: “The project has been designed to be expandable, through higher production and downstream processing, funded from operational cash flows.

“The extended evaluation period for the project has meant that detailed evaluation and de-risking work has been undertaken, while advanced regulatory approvals and strong community support have been secured.

“The project is expected to enter the market at a time when the supply of the high-value products of premium zircon and higher titanium dioxide ilmenite, is challenged, based on the maturation of the mainstays of historical supply.”

Phase 2 operations of the Donald rare earth project are subject to additional permitting requirements and market conditions.

Construction for Phase 2 is scheduled to begin in Q1 2029, with commissioning expected in Q3 2030.