The Pilbara region of Western Australia is well known for its abundant exports of hematite-goethite deposits, which have been mined and exported since the 1960s. Magnetite has also been mined in Australia throughout this period, although historically of much lower production volumes (WA Iron Ore profile, 2016). Magnetite offers a source supply of material >66 per cent iron grade product, which is used as premium feed (predominantly pellets) to blast furnaces or specialised steel mills.
The Iron Bridge project area contains outcropping magnetite and hematite banded iron formation (BIF), which within the region was recognised as having potential to host economic mineralisation during the 1960s. Development within the project area, however, did not commence until Fortescue Metals Group acquired the tenements based on a 2004 agreement, formed a joint venture with interested groups and then initiated an assessment for magnetite (rather than hematite) mining potential. The combined deposits now have an identified large mineral resource inventory, with test work demonstrating they are able to produce a magnetite concentrate of greater than 66 per cent Fe over an extended mine life. This concentrate would be suitable for forming pellets or feed for direct reduced iron products.
The deposits form a singular orebody, approximately 12 km in length by 1 km in width and extending to depths beyond 600 m. The four main deposits are geographically separate and have subtle mineralogical differences, thought driven by the degree of deformation and alteration within each area.
Definition of the stratigraphy, structure and key mineralogy of the deposits has been carried out through several stages of exploration and project development. This has also included recent mining and processing of more than 1 Mt of feed material to an on-site processing facility. This demonstrated at a production scale that dry plus wet processing techniques can efficiently separate the magnetite from the gangue minerals to form a suitable (marketable) product.
Geometallurgical classification of the host stratigraphy has been carried out from analysing the high volume of quantitative data available for this deposit. This has allowed definition of mappable units within the fresh BIF to be used as a driver in mine scheduling, delivering optimal feed to the processing plant.
Construction of mine and processing facilities is expected to commence once all technical risks have been addressed, market conditions are deemed appropriate and approval is given by the joint venture partners.
Simpson, C, 2017. The Iron Bridge magnetite deposits, in Proceedings Iron Ore 2017, pp 287–294 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).