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West Cobar Metals identifies gallium in historic assays from Salazar rare earths project

Jun 19, 2023

An examination of historical drilling results from the Salazar rare earth element project in Western Australia has identified concentrations of gallium for owner West Cobar Metals (ASX: WC1).

The intersections lie within an indicated and inferred mineral resource at the Newmont deposit of 83 million tonnes at 1172 parts per million TREO (total rare earth oxides).

They were reported near surface and concentrated in saprolite within the vicinity of amphibolite in the basement which is believed to be a unique factor for the rare earths-gallium association.

Best results were 18 metres at 44 grams per tonne gallium from 4m including 3m at 62g/t; 5m at 40g/t gallium from 11m; 32m at 34g/t gallium from 4m; and 8m at 31g/t gallium from 8m.

Higher grades will be targeted through re-assaying of samples from drill holes at Newmont.

Managing director Matt Szwedzicki said the company was “intrigued” to see elevated gallium concentrations in the historical assays.

“The Salazar project contains valuable rare earth element content as well as a unique mix of high-value minerals which we will consider in the context of co-products such as high purity alumina, scandium and titanium,” he said.

“Encouragingly, historical metallurgical testwork undertaken by Nagrom shows that the clays are amenable to leaching with the recovery of REEs, scandium and gallium concentrates.”

He said gallium was not systematically assayed in historical aircore campaigns or in the recent Phase 1 drilling program.

Gallium is used in alloys with other metals such as aluminum, copper and tin to create gallium arsenide which is used in semi-conductor fabrication.

It provides a critical component in multiple steps of the manufacturing process for internet infrastructure, computer chips and other electronic devices.

Gallium arsenide — a compound of gallium and arsenic — is used in high-frequency computer chips, as well as in the production of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and solar panels.

There are no pure or primary sources of gallium, rather it is commonly obtained as a by-product of other processes such as bauxite mining and zinc production.

According to industry research, China currently produces 80% of the world’s gallium and 60% of germanium supply.

Trade restrictions imposed by China to disrupt gallium and germanium exports from 1 August have resulted in growing concerns about how companies in the US and European Union will gain access to the metal.

The controls apply to chemical compounds including gallium nitride and germanium dioxide, which are essential to the global supply chain for dual-use applications such as advanced semi-conductors.

Germanium is also used in US defense applications including high-end semiconductors and night-vision systems.

The element is so important that the Pentagon has maintained a strategic stockpile.

Mr Szwedzicki said the trade restrictions provided the impetus for West Cobar to reassess material from the Newmont deposit.