Dubbo Zirconia Project - Project Profile

Client: Australian Zirconia Ltd
Industry: Metalliferous Mining
Status: Approved
Local Government Area: City of Dubbo, NSW

The Dubbo Zirconia Project (Plannig Approval SSD-5251) comprises a small scale open cut mine supplying ore containing rare metals and rare earth elements (REEs) to a processing plant near the village of Toongi, approximately 25km south of Dubbo.  

Approved on 29 May 2015 by the NSW Planning Assessment Commission (PAC), the following provides an overview of the activities to be undertaken at the site of the mining and processing operations (referred to as the DZP Site). 

  • Extraction of approximately 19.5Mt of ore at a maximum rate of 1Mt per year from a shallow open cut developed to a maximum depth of 32m.
  • Extraction of approximately 3.5Mt of waste rock and placement within a small waste rock emplacement.
  • Processing of the ore by crushing and grinding, sulphation, leaching, solvent extraction, precipitation and smelting.
  • Mixing and neutralising of solid residues produced by processing with crushed limestone and disposal within a Solid Residue Storage Facility. 
  • Pumping of water used in the processing operations, which cannot be recycled, to a Liquid Residue Storage Facility (LRSF).
  • Recovery and disposal of salt, which would accumulate within the LRSF, within a series of Salt Encapsulation Cells.

Chemical reagents and processing materials would be initially transported to the DZP Site via the public road network, with significant upgrades to Obley and Toongi Roads (between the Newell Highway and the DZP Site) to be completed. The use of the rail network, following the reconstruction and re-opening of the Dubbo to Toongi section ("the Toongi-Dubbo Rail Line") of the Dubbo-Molong Rail Line (a branch line of the Main Western Rail Line) has also been assessed and approved (subject to further feasibility and environmental assessment to be completed over the first three years of operation).   

Processing operations include the on-site manufacture of sulphuric acid which requires the combustion of natural gas as a heat source for the chemical reaction. SSD-5251 provides approval for the construction and operation of a pipeline to the DZP Site, within the rail corridor of the Merrygoen (Newcastle) and Toongi-Dubbo Rail Lines, from the Central West Pipeline maintained by the APA Group. 

Water will be obtained under licence from the Macquarie River and delivered to the DZP Site via a pipeline to be constructed within an easement negotiated with the relevant landowners. Australian Zirconia Ltd is currently testing and assessing groundwater supplies to the north of the DZP Site which may supplement or replace supply from the Macquarie River.

The timeline below provides an indication of the involvement of RWC in the assessment and determination process.

  • 28 November 2011: RWC supports Australian Zirconia Ltd (AZL) at a community information evening at Toongi Hall to notify the community of the recommencement of planning and environmental assessment of the Dubbo Zirconia Project.
  • December 2011 – June 2013: RWC coordinates specialist environmental assessments and undertakes consultation with government agencies as part of the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
  • September 2012: RWC completes a Preliminary Environmental Assessment and submits to the Department of Planning & Environment (DPE) requesting Director-General’s Requirements.
  • 28 June 2013: RWC submits an EIS for assessment of adequacy.
  • 24 July – 17 August 2013: Comments and requests for additional content or clarification received from government agencies.
  • 5 September 2013: RWC resubmits the EIS which is considered adequate for exhibition by DPE.
  • 18 September – 18 November 2013: EIS publically exhibited for review and comment by the general public, DPE and other government agencies. 
  • 15 November – 2 December 2013: Submissions received from 51 members of the public, nine special interest groups and 11 government agencies / authorities.
  • 20 December 2013: RWC prepares and lodges a Response to Submissions.
  • 15 January – 26 March 2014: Additional information provided to specific requests received from government agencies and authorities.
  • 17 January – 12 June 2014Additional information provided to specific requests received from the DPE.
  • 3 September – 4 November 2014: The DPE issues an assessment report to the PAC, with the commissioners undertaking inspections of the development site and ANSTO pilot plant facility. RWC prepares a response to the DPE assessment report.  A public hearing is convened and held in Dubbo on 4 November 2014.
  • 10 February 2015:The PAC issues an assessment report and recommendations to the DPE.
  • 15 February 2015: RWC compiles a response to the PAC assessment report and submits to the DPE.
  • 10 April – 30 April 2015: The DPE issues draft conditions of development consent for comment by AZL and government agencies.  RWC compiles a response requesting modification to a number of conditions.
  • 13 May 2015: DPE issues a final assessment report and draft development consent to the PAC for determination.
  • 29 May 2015: PAC makes minor modifications to conditions and issues development consent SSD-5251.

Once developed and operating, the Dubbo Zirconia Project will become a globally significant supplier of rare metals and rare earths. A short document describing the many fundamental uses and benefits of the proposed products of the Dubbo Zirconia Project can be downloaded here.  The defined resource could support the ongoing operation of the DZP for more than 80 years and provide extended economic benefits to the local communities of Toongi and Dubbo, the State of New South Wales and Australia.

Australian Zirconia Ltd continues to refine and improve the processing circuit of the Dubbo Zirconia Project, with new products, reduced consumption of reagents and reduced generation of waste the objective. This is likely to require modification to the layout and operation of the Dubbo Zirconia Project, with additional environmental assessment to be undertaken to support future modifications to SSD-5251.