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Reward Minerals (ASX:RWD): Interview with CEO Lorry Hughes

April 27, 2023

Reward Minerals, RWD


Reward Minerals (ASX:RWD)

We talked to Reward Minerals CEO Lorry Hughes about the progress his company has made with its new processing technology for the recovery of potassium sulphate (SOP) from seawater and other high-sulphate brines.

We also talked about the potential of the technology to markedly improve the economics of its proposed Kumpupintil Potash Mine in WA.

Full transcription below.

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Stuart: Hello and welcome to Stocks Down Under. My name is Stuart Roberts, and I’m one of the co-founders of our service. And joining me today on Monday the 24th of April, 2023 from Perth is Mr. Lorry Hughes, who’s the CEO of Reward Minerals, ASX-RWD. Lorry, good morning.

Lorry: Good morning, Stuart. How are you?

Stuart: I’m very well. I’m pretty excited having looked over some of the things that Reward Minerals has achieved in recent days. Back in the day, you discovered and started work on a potash project called Kumpupintil. Now we’re gonna call that KP for short for the rest of this interview, but did I pronounce it correctly?

Lorry: Yes, that’s pretty good. Better than I can do sometimes.

Stuart: Kumpupintil is roughly over where the WA and NT borders meet, if I recall.

Lorry: Yeah. So an easier solution is it’s about 400 kilometers east of Newborough in Western Australia.

Stuart: All right. That’s a long way from the middle of nowhere basically. And that was a problem because obviously, potash projects can be remote but not that remote. You with Dr. Michael Ruane, one of your co-directors, came up with an interesting solution. You’ve developed a better processing technology or flow sheet for the kind of brine you would get at Kumpupintil, KP. And you’ve now getting some pretty good data at the bench scale in terms of how much potash you could, or sulphate of potash you can produce. Talk to us about that technology and where you’ve got it to.

Lorry: Yeah, sure. So the KP project as you rightly said, is fair way away from export ports around Australia, and so there was a real need to improve the project economics because I think it was 33% of the operating cost estimates for KP was taken up in transport. So that’s a huge amount when you’re talking about a $300-$400 million project. So we went back to the lab. We got some smart cookies, Dr. Michael Ruane and Warren Hinchliffe, the lab team, and they were very, very successful in coming up with a brand new process. Now we call it the reward process. We have a Australian and international patent application in right now and we have some updates using the most recent data which we announced in early April. And this recent data was the most advanced test work we’ve done where we actually produced some of the highest purity sulphate of potash that we’ve seen in the market. And this material, it’s 99.4% pure, that would easily make the highest quality export SOP in the world. So we’re quite happy with that.

Stuart: Yeah. A lot of companies are developing SOP projects now to meet what is expected to be some pretty strong demand in the years ahead. What’s interesting to me is that your process can work on any feed stock. You’re confidently saying you could take the bitterns from some of those salt projects up in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, and you could extract some decent SOP out of that starting material.

Lorry: That’s exactly right. So, it’s really, it’s not all brines but it is all high sulphate brines which includes seawater and includes the KP project and a bunch of others. So, that’s exactly right. We believe there’s a huge opportunity to grab those waste bitterns, as you rightly say, is the material they throw away from the solar salt operations after they have produced their salt. It just goes to waste. We are looking at how can we enter deals where we can get access to that waste material, and run it through our process, obviously build our own plant and away we go and we’ve got a viable business for the foreseeable future. The beauty about operating with these type of brines such as seawater is they’re inexhaustible.

Stuart: Right. It’s fair to say they’re not just in Western Australia, there’s a whole lot of other places around the world that produce salt from seawater where those bitterns are lying in ponds just waiting to be utilized.

Lorry: Exactly. There are many. We’ve been looking at whether we, do we go over to Mexico? Do we go and have a chat with those guys? They’re large producers. We are already working in the Middle East. I’ve made two trips there in the last three months and looking to take another one soon now that Ramadan’s finished. We are working with a number of companies around the regions. We’re particularly targeting the warmest, windiest locations around the world, and that is because we do need the solar evaporation and we’re just able to capture or use so much energy from the sun and the wind to do most of the work for us.

Stuart: Right. Is there a potential then to go back to KP and use the learnings from this flow sheet that you’ve developed to then [inaudible 00:05:23.137]?

Lorry: Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s what it’s for. So as part of, we’ve got a engineering scoping study going on right now that’ll be completed within a few months’ time. It’s well and truly underway now with our new data. We believe that the market has been hanging out for this. For the first time we’ll wrap some real operating costs and a capital cost estimates for the market to see, and also run some modeling on how the process improves the KP project economics.

Stuart: Right. Now, obviously KP and the whole process has taken up a lot of your energy. In the meantime, you’ve got a project with some friends at FMG where they’ve had some recent good exploration hits at a place called Mackay Range. Tell us about that project.

Lorry: Yeah. So the Mackay Range sits, the project actually sits in the northern portion of our KP project. So, it’s a joint effort. So, we have a deal with FMG, Fortescue Metals Group where they can spend $2 million over 4 years and they earn 90%. So, we’re very close to doing that. They’ve just completed and we announced today their first drill intercepts from their very first project. So we are very happy. I think that the headline result was 0.5% copper that was the highest grade. [crosstalk 00:07:00.123] But you must remember that these are the first drill holes. There was only seven done. Four outta seven intersected anomalous copper, and each of these holes was spaced 1 kilometers to 2 kilometers apart. So it’s very broad scale, very first pass, and really, we’re over the moon. We’re trying to not overkill the lily here. We’re quite over the moon that they’ve actually just hit copper on their first drill program.

Stuart: What’s the geological setting for this discovery if indeed it is a discovery?

Lorry: In general terms, I’m looking for sediment hosted copper mineralization, and with that would normally come gold properly. Bit of early days. Right now, all we’ve done is put out the, essentially the raw results with not too much technical jargon to go along with it right now. Because right now FMG finalizing their forward plans, and once we know that, we’ll inform the market.

Stuart: Okay. So, a couple of things to be excited about. We’ve got some technology that’s, which is actually patent pending. We’ve got the potential to go back to KP and find some substantially improved economics based on this engineering work you’re doing right now and you’ll be in a position to talk about. And, it’s fair to say that the folks at FMG will be keen to go back and do some infill drilling to find out what they’ve actually stumbled across at Mackay Range. So, you’ve got a lot to be happy about right now I would say, Lorry.

Lorry: That’s right. Yeah. So, fingers crossed again. The other point I might add to that is that, well, obviously we’ve got the KP project. We are also talking at length to a number of parties around the world about can we get our technology into their projects in a joint venture arrangement, so watch this space. We are very hopeful we’ll be able to pull something off soon.

Stuart: Right. Now, for investors who’ve never met you, tell us a bit about your background Lorry. You and I first met when you were running an explorer called Yandal Resources. Tell us what led up to that and then the move to Reward.

Lorry: I’m a geologist. I’ve been in the industry for 30 years. Yandal Resources was the first company that I took from inception through to listing on the ASEC, so that was a busy four years. I decided to leave that relatively recently to pursue other interests, and let the team that we’ve put in place run Yandal. In terms of potash, I have been involved in the potash industry for quite a while since about 2010. Just before 2010 or so I was running what became Danakali Limited. Danakali, at my time there I was heavily involved in the discovery of one of the world’s best potash deposits, the Colluli deposit.

Stuart: A lot of people don’t realize this, Colluli was Greenfield’s discovery, and I’m talking to the men who led the team.

Lorry: That’s right. So that was a very exciting time. There was a lot of wealth created. You know, fast forward now to where we are now, it’s some 12-13 years later, I think now. But what we’ve seen in the market in recent months is the company has just sold their interest, their 50% interest in that project to a Chinese party for I think about 170-180 million. So not a bad effort in a pretty tough jurisdiction there. But I’m starting to learn about [crosstalk 00:10:54.675].

Stuart: Investors who don’t know, this is Eritrea in the Horn of Africa. Not the easiest place in the world to develop a mine, but a potential monster if Colluli can actually get off the ground.

Lorry: That’s right. I mean, despite of all the hot, all the things you’re reading in the newspaper or online about Eritrea, I’d be happy to go back there and look at new projects at some point, but yeah. So, we’ve got a fair bit of experience in SOP and I was very happy to come back and join the Reward Minerals.

Stuart: Right. Lorry Hughes, thanks for talking to Stocks Down Under and good luck with the next stage of the journey with Reward Minerals.

Lorry: It’s an absolute pleasure. Hopefully we can chat again soon.