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WA1 Resources’ Luni niobium discovery is shaping up to be one of Australia’s most significant mineral discoveries since Hemi or Julimar.

WA1 listed on the ASX in February 2022, following a A$4.5 million initial public offering, which was the minimum sought.

The company floated with the West Arunta project as its flagship. The project was acquired from Tali Resources in 2021 but only ever had a single diamond drill hole, focused on copper and gold mineralisation.

WA1 was looking for an iron oxide-copper-gold (IOCG) deposit and identified three prospects: Pachpadra, Sambhar and Urmia.

Luni emerges

In March 2022, just weeks after listing, WA1 completed a helicopter-supported ground gravity survey at Sambhar, which identified the Luni prospect.

At the time, WA1 described Luni as a “discrete east-trending strong amplitude gravity anomaly with a semi coincident magnetic anomaly high that is comparable to IOCG deposits such as Prominent Hill in South Australia”.

Field work at West Arunta, including Luni, kicked off in April 2022 with surface sampling, while the first drilling campaign started in July.

The first program comprised six reverse circulation holes at Pachpadra’s P1 and P2 targets and Luni.

In late October 2022, WA1 called a trading halt and reported the discovery of a niobium-rare earth element mineralised carbonatite system at P2.

Assay results included 54m at 0.62% niobium oxide (Nb2O5), 0.18% total rare earth oxide (TREO) and 3.85% phosphorous pentoxide (P2O5) from 162m.

WA1’s shares went from A23c to A84c on the news.

The stock kept running and a little over a week later, WA1 was back in a trading halt to respond to an ASX price and volume query.

The company said it had no new material information to reveal but flagged that it was awaiting results for a further six holes.

On November 14, WA1 called another trading halt after its stock rose above A$2 – making it a ten-bagger in just three weeks.

Two days later, reported the first results from Luni, 30km from P2, confirming the discovery of a second niobium-REE carbonatite.

Three holes were drilled over about a 3km strike length with mineralisation in all three holes, up to 1.3km apart.

Composite results included 4m at 2.88% Nb2O5, 0.68% TREO2 and 10.70% P2O5 from 32m: 24m at 0.82% Nb2O5, 0.21% TREO and 6.44% P2O5 from 157m; and 8m at 1.06% Nb2O5, 0.10% TREO and 0.79% P2O5 from 44m.

The stock remained in halt while WA1 raised A$10 million at A$2.

Last year was a huge year for WA1 as it continued to expand Luni, growing the company’s value in the process. WA1 shares were trading above A$6 by mid-year.

The company raised another A$15 million at A$5 in September 2023 and exited the year trading above A$12.

WA1 shares spiked to nearly A$15 in the opening days of 2024 and the company took full advantage, raising A$40 million at A$10 in January.

The rise has been all the more impressive given that WA1 has not been a regular on the conference or investor webinar circuit.

Argonaut has a price target of A$23.65, while Canaccord Genuity has a price target of A$27.50.

What is niobium?

Niobium is a light grey critical material that can be difficult to distinguish from tantalum.

It is used as a steel additive and in superconductors.

WA1 managing director Paul Savich told an event in Perth last month that every car on the road would have a couple of hundred grams of ferroniobium in the chassis to make the car lighter and improve fuel efficiency.

He said Perth’s Optus Stadium probably contained around 40t of ferroniobium.

Niobium’s use in batteries is one area WA1 sees demand growing.

The niobium market is small and highly concentrated with Brazil’s CBMM producing over 80% of global supply from its operations in Minas Gerais.

One of Luni’s advantages is its rarity but Savich said it created challenges in terms of educating the market.

“One of the common themes that I keep hearing is that people aren't familiar with the commodity,” Savich said.

“It's a big education piece for people to learn about the commodity to invest in it, and so our approach has been to be very targeted with the investors that we're talking to, that are happy to put the time and effort into it.

“We were looking for copper – we wanted something that has a spot market, but here we are and they’re the challenges we've got and we're trying to navigate them as well as we can.”

Anticipation builds

WA1’s extraordinary rise elevated it to the ASX’s All Ordinaries index in March as the company teased a maiden resource due by mid-year.

Earlier this month, Argonaut analyst George Ross said drilling results released to date reinforced the quality of the Luni deposit.

Argonaut forecasts a high-grade resource of 34Mt grading 2.6% Nb2O5, which would make it second in quality to CBMM’s operation.

“High-grade mineralisation remains our principal concern for estimate modelling as this material is the most likely source to be targeted during initial mine life,” Ross said. 

“Depending on how the estimate is cut, we could see a bulk tonnage resource exceeding 200Mt at a lower grade.”

Canaccord analyst Tim Hoff forecasts a high-grade resource of 41Mt at 2.3% Nb2O5 and an overall resource of 154Mt at 1.2% Nb2O5.

WA1 shares hit an eye-watering record high of A$23.20 in May, but has been heavily sold off ever since, dipping as low as A$15.03 on Monday before rebounding by 7% on Tuesday.

The initial resource has been slated for “late June”.

Share price performances of companies with highly anticipated initial resources have varied in recent years.

When Sirius Resources reported the initial resource for the Nova nickel discovery in 2013, despite beating expectations, its shares dropped.

In 2021, despite coming in ahead of forecasts, De Grey Mining shares dropped slightly when it released the maiden resource for the Hemi gold discovery, while shares in Chalice Mining surged by 28% on release of the initial Julimar resource.


Niobium processing expert and CBMM veteran Clovis Sousa joined WA1 earlier this year.

It’s early days in terms of metallurgical test work at Luni, with a five-month program focusing on flotation recently getting underway.

The first results of the beneficiation program were released on Wednesday and demonstrated a high-grade, low-impurity concentrate could be produced from Luni oxide material via two-stage flotation.

Open cycle float tests achieved concentrate grades of 51-61% with recoveries of 53-62%.

“With the flotation of niobium being a key technical challenge to solve, we view the results as positive and are the best that we have observed from peer reported test work,” Canaccord’s Hoff said.

“There remains a significant body of work to follow up on, including testing various grades, weathering states and defining mineralisation zones. There also remains optimisation work to define what an initial flowsheet may ultimately look like.

“However, today's results move the Luni deposit a decisive step closer to proving what we believe is world-class status.”

The stock surged 17% on the news, recovering some of the recent losses ahead of the initial resource.

Luni’s remoteness

The West Arunta project is 700km west-northwest of Alice Springs, 400km south of Halls Creek and 1100km east of Port Hedland.

The project’s remoteness presents a challenge for WA1 due to the lack of infrastructure.

“Common user infrastructure is what we need out where we are,” Savich said.

Savich conceded a lot of that infrastructure would have to be built by WA1 and the company is already looking into power and water solutions, as well as potential transport routes.

In anticipation of development activities, WA1 engaged with native title holders, the Ngururrpa people, last year.

WA1 signed a negotiation protocol with Parna Ngururrpa (Aboriginal Corporation) RNTBC (PNAC), the native title representative body for the Ngururrpa native title holders, with a view to entering into a mining agreement for the development and operation of the project.

Parna Ngururrpa (Aboriginal Corporation) RNTBC chair Mick Bennie described WA1 as a very respectful company said the group appreciated the early consultation.

Baseline environmental studies are underway.

Argonaut’s early forecasts are for a 17-year operation from 2030 to produce 30,000tpa of ferroniobium at all-in sustaining costs of US$14.80/kg.

Assuming a US$40/kg Nb2O5 (US$26/kg ferroniobium) price, Argonaut estimates the project would generate profits after tax of circa A$450 million per annum.

“The bar for the first project in the West Arunta is really, really high and Luni can shoulder that burden, but in time, with more infrastructure, hopefully the bar keeps getting lower,” Savich said.

“It's a really well-endowed belt – as others are out there exploring, people are going to find more things, so we just need to enable other projects to come along.”



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