North Onslow Solar Salt Project, Western Australia

  • Strategic land position of ~425km2 with ideal climatic conditions and access to infrastructure
  • Adjacent to existing successful solar salt project south of Onslow
  • Sustainable, natural process able to produce salt via evaporation of seawater using solar and wind energy
  • Stable global market for versatile product with multiple end uses
  • Strong established industry in Western Australia with 14Mtpa production capacity
  • Low capital requirement expected to get to Final Investment Decision

Project Location

About the Project

The NOSSP is comprised of 425km2 of contiguous exploration licences (including one pending application), north of Onslow, that have been selected based on the ideal parameters required for a successful solar salt project.

Climatic conditions in the region of Onslow give rise to amongst the highest evaporation rates in Australia with very high solar exposure and low rainfall.

Onslow also has significant existing support infrastructure in addition to being close tomarkets due to its location on the north west coast of Western Australia.

The NOSSP is adjacent to an existing solar salt project that has been successfully operated by Mitsui and Co for 20 years with a production capacity of 2.7 million tonnes and also BCI Minerals Limited’s Mardie Salt & Potash Project, a potential Tier 1 project located on the West Pilbara coast in the centre of Australia’s key salt production region.

The NOSSP is the subject of a scoping study that is currently being updated, with results expected in the 3rd Quarter of 2021. There is a clear pathway for the environmental and planning approvals required for the project due to the
regional precedents, and work associated with these approvals is underway.

Scoping Study

Further studies are underway to optimise the operational, environmental and economic feasibility of establishing a solar salt operation as a foundation asset underpinning a long-term regional strategy.

Key activities include:

  • A light detection and ranging (LiDAR) survey has been commissioned to capture detailed topographic
    data of the area to enable future planning and design of logistics and operations
  • Optimised evaporation pond layout to be developed based on LiDAR results
  • Evaluation of the use of membrane technology to produce concentrated brine and fresh water
    – Potential to reduce pond area or increase production capacity
  • Investigation into automation of product harvesting, washing and stockpiling

The NOSSP is the subject of a scoping study that is currently being updated, with results expected in the 3rd Quarter of 2021. The scoping study provides an evaluation of the operational, environmental and economic feasibility of establishing a solar salt operation within the North Onslow project area, located near the town of Onslow in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

A LiDAR survey has been commissioned and is expected to commence imminently. This survey will assist with studies associated with pond layout and optimisation, near shore bathymetry for jetty location as well as
associated environmental considerations.

Reverse osmosis membranes are commonly used in the desalination process to produce fresh water from seawater globally. Little investigation has been done to date on dual purposing this known technology to optimise production for a solar salt project, despite there being obvious synergies.

The updated scoping study will explore the economic and technical viability of incorporating membranes, or potentially other water separation technologies, to create a more concentrated brine from seawater along with an associated fresh water product stream. A more concentrated brine would decrease the time required to produce the same amount of salt using an otherwise unenhanced seawater source. This should result in increased production potential over the same proposed area or the opportunity to reduce the footprint of the project whilst maintaining the same level of production. The fresh water product stream may be utilised for supply to the nearby town of Onslow or to assist with other production processes.

Additional optimisations are also being explored, including the automation of product harvesting, haulage, washing and stockpiling operations and utilising the marine loading infrastructure to handle third party mineral products.

Specifically, there are a number of infrastructure and logistics constrained iron ore projects in the West Pilbara area which require a dedicated bulk commodity export solution. It is envisaged that latent capacity in the marine loading infrastructure for the NOSSP could be used for this purpose and also be located in an area which could support a significantly higher export capacity should that be required.

Renewable Focus

The base salt project at the NOSSP is envisaged as a sustainable operation that utilises renewable energy to produce industrial grade salt, via evaporation of seawater using wind and solar energy. Initial analysis suggests that there is significant potential to improve the already environmentally friendly nature of the project, and concurrently enhance project economics – FIN would ultimately like the NOSSP to aim to achieve a zero carbon foot print. Several initiatives to further explore and quantify this potential are being included in the current
scoping study work, including:

  • Investigating incorporating bitterns processing to produce sulphate of potash (“SOP”) as an additional
    potential product stream
  • Determining the renewable energy potential of the 425km2
    land position, given the abundant wind and solar energy in the region with the goal of achieving a zero carbon foot print for the NOSSP
  • Investigating potential uses for the freshwater stream byproduct associated with salt/fresh water separation which produces a more concentrated brine, including supply to the town of Onslow and / or
    to look at its potential for use in other production processes
  • Examine other possible downstream products, such as hydrogen, ammonia and methanol

Potential Renewable Production Streams

Initial investigation suggests that the project economics for the NOSSP may be substantially enhanced via the addition of complementary product streams that take advantage of the by-products from the base evaporative salt project as well as more fully utilising the abundant renewable energy potential of the project area. Analysis on the potential to power the approximate 5MW requirements of the project using electricity from solar and/or wind energy is also being investigated with the goal of ensuring the project has a zero-carbon footprint.

Once evaporation of the seawater has occurred and salt has been harvested, a mineral rich solution known as bitterns remains. Bitterns are often disposed back into the ocean, where it was originally sourced. Whilst this is common practice and there are regional precedents with decades of environmental impact studies, FIN is proposing to process the bitterns produced from the NOSSP to reduce any potential environmental impacts from disposal into the ocean and concurrently create a valuable product that will enhance the economics of the project.

The main production stream from processing of the Kainite Type Mixed Salt (KTMS) from the bitterns would be SOP, which is a well known and established fertiliser that is in high demand globally. Due to the nature of requirements for efficient solar salt projects, namely solar irradiation and wind consistency combined with low rainfall and humidity, the NOSSP is located in an area that has been highlighted by several scientific bodies for its renewable energy potential.

The scoping study will also evaluate the approximate quantum of this potential, considering the large land position that is not required for salt production (although wind farms and solar salt ponds are co-located in several regions elsewhere). It is already clear that the quantum will far exceed the modest 5MW power requirement of the project (mainly pumps) and further investigation will be made into uses for this excess potential. Given that the use of membrane technology will also produce a freshwater stream, this may be utilised for supply to the nearby town of Onslow or to assist with other production processes. One of those potential processes is the production of
hydrogen via electrolysis.

The NOSSP is strategically located adjacent to the Dampier to Bunbury Natural Gas Pipeline, existing gas export infrastructure at the Ashburton Port and the Ashburton North Strategic Industrial Area (ANSIA). This provides the opportunity to consider blending, export and downstream applications for green hydrogen production from the project area.

The potential to improve the green credentials of the base solar salt project, which is already an environmentally friendly and sustainable process based on wind and solar energy, is a compelling opportunity. This is particularly
true in the context that each of the potential improvements, from an environmental standpoint, also offers the possibility to increase the value of the project for the benefit of shareholders.