Northern Minerals Limited (ASX: NTU) will begin its second phase drilling campaign at its Browns Range project next month, as part of its plan to build the WA operation into a significant world producer of dysprosium outside of China.

The company will invest a minimum of $5m in exploration at Browns Range in FY21, with plans for 8500m-10,000m of RC drilling over a six-week period in its second drilling phase.

The first drilling phase in late 2020 yielded promising assay results and results of both drilling phases will inform feasibility studies for a commercial-scale beneficiation plant on-site.

Northern Minerals chief executive Mark Tory says the company is committed to unlocking the mineral potential at Browns Range through ongoing, targeted exploration campaigns.

“With the wet seasons in the Kimberley now passed, we have had a team on the ground remediating access roads and working on drill pads in advance of the second phase of drilling,” he said.

“The results from the first phase campaign in 2020 provided a greater level of confidence in our geological modelling, which informs this significant campaign due to start next month.

“Along with our program of R&D test work through the Browns Range pilot plant in 2021, our exploration results will also feed into the current feasibility study on the development of a commercial scale beneficiation plant on site.”

The Browns Range project is 100% owned by Northern Minerals, one of few producers of heavy rare earth element dysprosium outside China.

Northern Minerals commenced production of heavy rare earth carbonate in late 2018 at Browns Range as part of a three-year pilot assessment but the operation was placed into care and maintenance in March 2020 due to the impact COVID-19 and partially restarted in August 2020.

China supplies more than 85% of the world’s rare earths, with former US President Donald Trump signing an Executive Order declaring a critical minerals supply emergency in September 2020.

The Australian Government also recognises the priority of securing a rare earths supply chain outside of China through the creation of the Critical Minerals Facilitation Office in January 2020 to grow the nation’s critical minerals sector.