U-pgrade™

Introduction

In spite of this significant size (57Mlbs) of the Marenica deposit, the Marenica Project was determined to be uneconomic using the 'conventional' alkaline leaching process, due to its low grade and the depressed prices for uranium prevailing in mid-late 2011.   Initial investigative geometallurgical work revealed a potential solution.

In 2012 the company embarked on an R&D program to develop a uranium concentration process that was unique and ground breaking and lowered the extraction cost of uranium at the Marenica Uranium project. 

A team of experts was assembled to direct the research.  The experts included industry consultants and senior scientists from the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) an Australian Government owned and run organisation regarded as one of the preeminent research and scientific organisations globally. 

Since that time Marenica has undertaken considerable testwork and analysis of its ore which has resulted in a breakthrough process.  The results were tested under a range of assumptions and operating factors to confirm the applicability of this new process to the Marenica Uranium Project.  This initial bench scale testwork cost over US$3 million, and included successful tests on over 3 tonnes of ore from the Marenica Project. 

The testwork resulted in a new uranium concentration process that is capable of concentrating uranium ore by a factor of up to 50 times.  The results for the Marenica Project ore are summarised below; 

 

Before

After

Ore sample

1 Mt @ 100ppm

13,000t @ 5,000ppm

Process recovery

75%

72%

OPEX

US$80/lb

US$40/lb

 The concentration of Uranium in the feed to the leaching circuit dramatically reduces the mass of material (ore) to be leached and therefore the size of the traditional leaching plant.  Initial assessments and estimates indicate that by using this new process a reduction in operating costs of 50-70% and capital costs of 30-50% is achievable.

Given the breakthrough nature of this new process, Marenica has taken the step of applying for a patent to protect this valuable IP which will be known under the trademark of U-pgrade™. 

It has become clear that this process has widespread and global applicability to many uranium mines.  The emphasis of UB has therefore evolved from a focus on the Marenica Uranium project to other uranium assets, where U-pgradeTM could revitalise their project economics. 

The Process / U-pgrade™

Following considerable testwork and analysis U-pgrade™ was shown to concentrate the Marenica ore to achieve dramatically improved project economics. 

This new process was also successfully applied in bench scale testwork to 7 other third party ore types.  The results were predictable, explainable and consistent with the outcomes from the Marenica Ore testwork. 

During this testwork U-pgrade™ has been shown to be applicable to other calcrete-hosted, and a number of other surficial, uranium deposits. 

U-pgrade™ is an invaluable process at any time and particularly in the current economic downturn and the low uranium price environment in which we find ourselves.  It provides the potential to dramatically increase the profitability of medium to higher grade surficial deposits, as well as transform the lower grade ones such as those found at Marenica’s site in Namibia, from sub-economic into economic.

U-pgrade™ positions Marenica to offer attractive economic prospects to major surficial global uranium deposits, helping to provide fuel for a low-cost and low-carbon energy source for the future.

Uranium prices have been driven to current low levels, primarily as a result of the closure of nuclear plants in Japan, due to safety fears following the Fukushima disaster.  Future uranium prices are expected to rise significantly over a 3-5 year term for two reasons.  The first is that many existing and planned uranium mines are sub-economic at current market prices.  The second is that demand for uranium is set to rise dramatically as fleets of nuclear plants are commissioned in China, India and elsewhere to cope with the need for large amounts of secure, dependable and low carbon power. 

Marenica is prepared for the short and long term future with its U-pgrade™ process.  Marenica expects that its U-pgrade™ process can benefit

  1. Most surficial uranium mines in operation right now, by reducing operating costs and improving efficiencies, as well as allowing a lower cut-off grade to be applicable, thereby extending mine life and reducing mining costs.
  2. New projects stalled in the wake of current depressed uranium prices by decreasing the hurdle or “trigger” uranium prices required to proceed with development. 

Marenica is positioned to play a significant role in improving the future cost effectiveness of uranium production together with a reduction in the social and environmental impacts of such projects. 

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