In June 2019, Iluka Resources (Iluka) officially opened their mineral sands mine located 150 km north of Perth at Cataby in Western Australia. Cataby will produce an average of approximately 370ktpa of chloride ilmenite and an average of approximately 50ktpa premium grade zircon and approximately 30ktpa rutile. These materials are processed and shipped out for use in the manufacture of pigment for house and car paints, clothing, sunscreen, toothpaste and other consumer goods.
The Cataby project was initiated to bring a long identified mineral sands deposit into production. Previously, the deposit had not been able to be economically developed and faced challenging conditions with its variables in grade and mineralogy. However, with the adoption of a novel mining method which offered dramatically reduced cost over conventional approaches, Iluka was able to bring the deposit back into consideration, advancing it into production.
Stronger Together for Success
Since 2013, WSP has worked closely with Iluka Resources (Iluka) on the Cataby Mineral Sands Project following their pre-feasibility study through to delivery. For the Cataby project, leaders from both Iluka and WSP agreed on an integrated project team approach to reduce the team size, improve communication and flexibility, facilitate buy-in by the project members, and effectively capture and hold project knowledge to ultimately reduce cost.
The mineral sands industry is unique with its specialist approaches and requirements, which means the client plays an important role when it comes to complex, large-scale projects. For WSP, it was critical to ensure Iluka’s specialist knowledge was captured and shared for the duration of the Cataby project.
The integrated team operated with a high degree of trust and openness, creating a powerful platform to allow a consistent transfer of sometimes subtle, but key detailed information to achieve the required project outcomes. It also enabled Iluka to retain active control over project direction which was mutually beneficial.
Achieving Project Approval
Entrusted by the client, the Cataby core team was retained through 2015 to 2016 to undertake value adding and de-risking activities, enhancing the project position to a near readiness state pending final approval. In 2016, because of improving market sentiments, Iluka increased the project activity by having WSP undertake the detail engineering design for the project in anticipation of full execute approval.
In December 2017, the Iluka Board granted full execute approval and project funding for AUD275m, with a stretch schedule for mineral commissioning in 2019. With cost-effective reuse of the plant through fit-for-purpose engineering, we were able to complete an economic project on time and within budget.
Capital Intensity and Delivery
The Cataby Project was predicated on minimising the capital expenditure to maximise the potential return for Iluka from the long discovered deposit. The project took the first step to minimising capital by employing a new mining methodology that was significantly more cost-effective than the conventional approaches previously investigated.
The next step was to further reduce capital by utilising suitable surplus equipment from Iluka’s other operations. This approach, while not the easiest, was successful in reducing capital estimated at more than AUD100m or nearly 40 per cent over the alternative of a totally new installation.
At Cataby, our teams delivered a relocated and refurbished wet concentrator plant, new secondary concentrator plant, two reconfigured surface screening plants, two new custom designed in-pit mining units, two new accommodation villages, new power supply connections, new offices, workshops, warehouses, water supply, upgrades to the Brand Highway and secondary roads, site civils including internal roads, mining pit preparation and stockpile creation.
Additionally at North Capel, we created a new mag rejects circuit, upgrades to the existing Mineral Separation Plant and a new road unloading system to handle the new upsized trucks. The project extended to Narngulu (Geraldton), where a new Barite Floatation Circuit and enhancements and expansion of the unloading and stockpile areas was also delivered.
The Iluka Cataby mineral sands mine is planned to produce approximately 5.4M tonnes of heavy mineral concentrate over an expected mine life of nine years, with a likely extension of four years with similar production. Our unified approach and delivery style served as the cornerstone to the project performance and outcomes throughout the dynamic and extended five-year project timeframe.