Verdant Minerals is working towards the development of the Ammaroo project, which is 200 kilometres south-east of Tennant Creek and, importantly, only 95 kilometres from the Darwin-to-Adelaide railway.
The original development plan was for one million tonnes of phosphate rock – the “starting ingredient” for fertilisers – to be exported from Darwin Port to India and other Asian countries, where it would be manufactured into fertilisers.
But two private equity firms, Australia’s Washington H Soul Pattinson and London-based CD Capital, bought Verdant two years ago and have now unveiled a much grander strategy.
The new plan is to value-add to the phosphate minerals in the Territory by building an ammonium phosphate fertiliser manufacturing facility at the mine site.
The aim is to produce one million tonnes per year of ammonium phosphate fertilisers, which are used by farmers globally, and send them by rail from Ammaroo for sale into the Australian domestic market and also for export through Darwin Port.
Engineering and design work for the project is underway and amendments to the existing environmental approvals, to incorporate the additional manufacturing plants, will be sought from the Territory’s Environment Protection Authority during 2022.
About 1000 jobs will be created during the construction phase. About 250 people will be employed during operations.
The major components of the project are the mine, beneficiation and fertiliser manufacturing plants, and infrastructure, such as a steam turbine power plant, gas pipeline and rail link to join the Adelaide-to-Darwin railway.
Verdant managing director Chris Tziolis says” “Our aim is for most of the workforce to be Territorians, local people from the surrounding communities and regional towns, such as Tennant Creek, or flown in and out of the site from Darwin and Alice Springs.”
Ammaroo will have a mine life of at least 25 years, but it is likely to be much longer as less than 15 percent of the known phosphate resource would be used during this initial period.
Mr Tziolis sees a significant opportunity for global fertiliser industry players or investors to benefit from taking part in one of Australia’s most attractive industrial projects.
“The demand for fertilisers is increasing. The world’s population is growing, food preferences are changing as the number of middle-class people in the world increases, and there’s a need to produce more from less arable land.
“Australia is a significant market for these products and most of our demand is met by imports from China, the Middle East and Northern Africa.
“Australia is one of the few parts of the world where the majority of the ingredients exist in proximity. This is one industry where Australia has the opportunity to become more self-reliant and provide security of supply to our highly valuable agriculture and food production industries.”
Internally imposed restrictions on phosphate fertiliser exports by the Chinese Government and now trade sanctions on Russian products will likely sustain the high price for some time to come.
“This is the right time for the Ammaroo project,” says Mr Tziolis
Ammaroo, which spans five exploration leases over 2500 square kilometres, has more than one billion tonnes of phosphate rock, the largest Jorc compliant phosphate resource in Australia and one of the largest undeveloped phosphate resources in the world.
It was granted major project status by the Federal Government in late 2020 and major project status was renewed by the Territory Government in 2021, which means Verdant receives extra support from the Major Projects Facilitation Agencies, including a single-entry point for Commonwealth Government approvals, project support, and coordination with Territory approvals.
Mr Tziolis says: “The project will provide significant economic and employment opportunities for Northern Australia, the southern Barkly region and its local communities.
“The Ammaroo phosphate project could be a key plank in enabling the creation of a globally significant fertiliser manufacturing industry in the Northern Territory, servicing the increasing needs of both Asia and Australia’s agricultural industries and food security needs.
“Furthermore, while the production of ammonia as an input into the fertiliser production process will likely be a traditional gas-based process initially, the opportunity will emerge in time, as the technology and its efficiency evolve, costs reduce to be competitive and the market structure of global fertiliser industries adjust over the ensuring decade or two, to replace the gas-based production with ‘green’ ammonia produced from renewables.
“One advantage we have as this green transformation becomes a reality in time is that the renewable resource at Ammaroo, combined solar and wind, is world class.”
Federal Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt says: “The Ammaroo phosphate project has the potential to supply global markets with much-needed fertiliser, while supporting economic development in a remote part of the Northern Territory.”
“The project will be a major jobs creator, providing new opportunities in the Territory, particularly for nearby Indigenous communities.”