What is U-pgradeTM?
U-pgradeTM is Marenica’s wholly owned patented beneficiation process that was developed on its namesake Marenica Uranium Project. It is a powerful tool that has allowed Marenica to seek further exploration opportunities as a result of a much lower cost base.
U-pgradeTM is a beneficiation process that rejects greater than 95% of the mass by utilising commonly used and well understood beneficiation unit processes and enable removal of the non-uranium bearing minerals.
Why use U-pgradeTM?
Calcrete hosted uranium ores are characterised by clay and carbonates, but the ore nearest the surface, generally representing about 15% of the resource, contains sulphate minerals. The carbonates consume vast quantities of acid, which requires the use of an “alkali leach”, however, the sulphates consume vast quantities of the alkali reagent meaning that this process route is uneconomic, which results in the high sulphate ore being excluded from the process plant feed.
The U-pgradeTM process removes the clay and carbonate minerals which means the concentrate can be leached using the more simple and lower cost “acid leach process”
Leaching in acid means that the high sulphate ore can be processed, bringing that ore into the mineable reserve and increasing the size or life of the project.
Transforming project economics
Rejecting more than 95% of mass of ore, prior to leaching, produces a low-volume high-grade concentrate. From a capital cost perspective this means less than 5% of the ore goes through the leach plant, thereby reducing the physical size of the plant and hence the capital cost. From an operating cost perspective, it means a reduction in power consumption, reagent usage, wear and tear and ultimately a smaller tailings dam. Combined, these reduction mean massive project cost savings.
A 2017 Scoping Study (“Study”) on the Marenica Uranium Project found that by using the U-pgradeTM process, capital and operating costs could be reduced by ~50% compared to conventional processing.
Production of a low mass concentrate provides additional leach / refining options. If the U-pgradeTM concentrate is transported off site to an existing leach / refinery for processing there is no need to build a leach and refinery facility on site and the capital costs will be further reduced.
Operating costs are predominantly tonnes based, therefore doubling the mined ore grade potentially halves the unit cost per pound of uranium in the ore. For example if the process unit costs are $5/t of ore and the ore grade is 100 ppm then the unit cost per pound of contained uranium is $22.73/lb; processing ore through the same plant at the same throughput rate but with an increased mined grade of 200 ppm results in a unit cost per pound of contained uranium of $11.36/lb. Further increases in mined grade are expected to further reduce unit cost per pound of contained uranium.
Where can U-pgradeTM be used?
U-pgradeTM can be applied to surficial uranium projects.
Marenica has completed extensive mineralogical analysis of ore samples from Namibia and concluded that the mineral associations are very similar for all deposits, with only the mineral quantities changing between and across deposits. This work led to the outcome that U-pgradeTM is expected to applicable to all surficial calcrete ores in Namibia. Ores from Australia were also tested and although the mineral ratios vary from the Namibian ores, the mineral characteristics are conducive to concentrating the uranium minerals by application of U-pgradeTM.
U-pgradeTM has been tested on numerous ore sources from Namibia and Australia with the following examples of ores that are amenable to U-pgradeTM:
- Paladin Energy Limited’s Langer Heinrich deposit
- Deep Yellow Limited’s Tumas deposit
- Orano’s Trekkopje deposit
- Toro Energy Limited’s Wiluna uranium project
- Marenica Uranium project
Marenica believes that U-pgradeTM is not limited to uranium ores, and is investigating the potential for application to other commodities.
What is the environmental impact of U-pgradeTM?
The U-pgradeTM process is a beneficiation process and thus, there is limited use of chemicals, limited to flocculants etc, i.e. the ore is not chemically attacked and altered during processing. The very low mass of the concentrate chemically attacked during the leach process, results in a reagent consumption of less than 5% compared to conventional processes, thus there is far less impact on the environment. There is <5% of the reagents trucked or railed through communities and the tailings dam is <5% of the volume of a conventional process.
Processing the U-pgradeTM concentrate at an existing refinery further reduces the environmental impact as the refinery will have established reagent transport corridors and the leach tail can be deposited into an existing tailings facility.