Australian mineral exploration company Ionic Rare Earths (IonicRE) has secured a provisional mining licence for the Makuutu Heavy Rare Earths Project in Uganda.

Uganda’s Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines (DGSM) has provisionally granted the Stage-1 Large scale Mining Licence (LML00334) over Retention Licence (RL) 1693.

It is the first large-scale mining licence awarded in Uganda under the Mining Act 2022.

The mining licence is pending the formal signing of documents and gazetting in Uganda.

Uganda’s Minister of Energy and Mineral Development (MEMD) Ruth Nankabirwa Ssentamu is expected to sign the documents this week, before gazetting.

Ionic Rare Earths managing director Tim Harrison said: “The provisional award is part of the official commitment from the Government of the Republic of Uganda and clears the path for the Makuutu Project and the ongoing development of Uganda’s mining industry.

“This is an important step forward for Ionic Rare Earths in mining, refining, and recycling the heavy rare earths critical for the energy transition, advanced manufacturing, and defence.

“This reinforces the Makuutu Heavy Rare Earth Project as one of the world’s largest and most advanced development-ready heavy rare earth element assets, and we look forward to progressing the next steps and commissioning our Demonstration Plant at Makuutu.”

IonicRE owns 60% of the Makuutu project and is increasing its ownership to 94% in Q1 2024.

The project is supported by existing infrastructure and will become a long-life, low Capex, scalable and sustainable supplier of high-value magnet and heavy rare earth oxides (REO).

In March last year, IonicRE announced a positive stage 1 Definitive Feasibility Study (DFS) for the first of six tenements, which defines a 35-year life initial project producing a 71% rich magnet and heavy rare earth carbonate (MREC) product basket.

The Stage 1 Mining Licence covers the area set out in IonicRE’s mining licence application TN03834, covering around 44km2 of the project’s near 300km2 tenements at Makuutu.

Currently, the Mineral Resource Estimate (MRE) for Makuutu shows 532 million tonnes at 640ppm Total Rare Earth Oxide (TREO) with a cut-off grade of 200 parts per million (ppm) TREO minus Cerium Oxide (CeO2).

Ionic Technologies International, a UK subsidiary of the Australian mining company, has developed processes for the separation and recovery of rare earth elements (REE).

The UK subsidiary is focused on the commercialisation of the technology to achieve near-complete extraction from spent magnets and waste to high-value magnet rare earth products.