The Donald Rare Earth and Mineral Sands Project is located in Victoria, Australia. (Credit: Enrique from Pixabay)
The Donald Project represents a globally significant supply of the critical mineral elements. In picture, Zircon (Credit: Rob Lavinsky, – CC-BY-SA-3.0)
The mine life is estimated to be around 41.5 years. In picture, a titanium crystal bar (Credit: Alchemist-hp/ Wikipedia)

Donald Rare Earth and Mineral Sands Project in Victoria, Australia, is one of the largest, undeveloped heavy mineral sands resources in the world.

The project has the potential to become a long-term supply of the critical mineral elements such as zirconium, hafnium, titanium, as well as rare earth elements such as neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium, and terbium.

The project comprises two deposits- Donald and Jackson, which were discovered by CRA in 1985. They were acquired by critical minerals mining and production company Astron in 2004.

Donald Rare Earth and Mineral Sands Project will be developed in multiple phases.

In April 2023, Astron announced the results of the Definitive Feasibility Study (DFS) for Phase I of the Donald Project based on the Donald and Jackson heavy mineral deposits. The cost for project execution is estimated to be A$364m.

The Final Investment Decision (FID) is planned for first quarter of 2024 with first production in the second half of 2025. The mine life is estimated to be more than 41.5 years in Phase I by accessing 17% of total project mineral resources.

Construction for Phase II, subject to additional permitting requirements, is planned to commence in 2029, with commissioning planned for 2030.

Donald Project Location and Site details

The Donald Rare Earth and Mineral Sands Project is located in the Wimmera region of Victoria in Australia, approximately 300 km northwest of Melbourne.

Overall, the project covers a total area of more than 426km2.

The project’s Donald deposit is within the Mining Licence MIN5532 and Retention Licence RL 2002, while the Jackson deposit constitutes an area covered by RL 2003.

The mining licence area encompassing the tenement MIN5532 is the site of the Phase I project. Key infrastructure such as roads, rail, and an intermodal freight hub are situated close to the mining operation.

Geology and Mineralisation

The two deposits of the project- Donald and Jackson- are fine grained WIM style heavy mineral sands accumulations.

The Donald deposit lies within the Murray Basin, comprising flat-lying Cenozoic sediments that overlie Proterozoic and Palaeozoic basement rocks.

The mineralisation at the deposit is contained within the Tertiary aged Loxton Sand, which is underlain by the Geera Clay and overlain by the fluvio-deltaic Shepparton Formation consisting of clay and silt.

Heavy mineral (HM) deposits within the Murray Basin are divided into two types- coarse grained, strandline deposits, and finer grained WIM style accumulations.

At Donald deposit, the fine-grained HM mineralisation turns into internal higher-grade zones trending from North to South. The initial mining operation will focus on this area.

The mineralisation deepens towards the West.

Donald Project Reserves

According to Astron, the Donald Rare Earths and Mineral Sands Project contains a total Mineral Resource of 5.8 billion tonnes of ore, at an average heavy mineral (HM) grade of 3.2%.

In March 2022, Astron announced a new ore reserve for Mining Licence MIN5532, the site of Phase I of the project.

The Ore Reserve stands at 309Mt @ 4.4% HM containing 13.6Mt HM. This includes a Proved Ore Reserve of 263Mt @ 4.4% HM and a Probable Ore Reserve of 46Mt @ 4.1% HM.

The updated ore reserve represents a 32% jump in heavy mineral content with contained zircon increasing by 15% to 2.2Mt.

The mining licence area contains monazite reserves of 245 kilo tonnes (kt) and xenotime reserves of 90k.

Mining and processing method

The Donald project will employ an open pit dry mining operation, and use excavators and trucks to mine ore and transfer waste.

Run of Mine (ROM) ore will be stockpiled at the mining unit plant (MUP), where it will be scrubbed, screened, slurried and pumped to the wet concentration plant (WCP).

The MUP will be relocated as mining will move along the designated path.

In Phase I, an independent contractor will be responsible for conventional truck and shovel operations to produce 7.5Mtpa of ore that will be fed to the MUP adjacent to the pit.

The ore will be concentrated using gravitational separation spirals via WCP and further processed at a concentrate upgrade plant (CUP) to separate the rare earth elements from the titanium and zircon concentrate by flotation.

HMC will be transported using trucks to Dooen intermodal rail terminal and then to a Victorian port via rail for bulk export.

The first phase will have a development period of 27 months, including a construction period of 18 months.

Contractors Involved

The Phase 1 DFS is underpinned by several independent technical reports by different consulting companies including Mineral Technologies, AMC consultants, Snowden Optiro, ATC Williams, AECOM, TAM International, TZMI, Adamas Intelligence, Powercor and ProjectWorx.

The Definitive Engineering Technical Review Study for the Donald project was completed by CSA Global.

The 2022 Mineral Resource estimate (MRE) was conducted by Snowdon Optiro.