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Diatreme Resources has been swamped with calls from further interested solar PV glass manufacturers since announcing plans last week for processing in Townsville, says chief executive officer Neil McIntyre.

The company has earmarked Townsville for a beneficiation plant for silica sand from its Galalar project on Cape York.

But it is also looking into the feasibility of working with potential partners to establish a glass manufacturing plant in the city to feed the solar panel market.

“Diatreme has been engaged with a number of potential processors and manufacturers in Asia to look at what their requirements are to site that sort of processing onshore here in Australia,” Mr McIntyre said.

“And then armed with those requirements, we’ve been looking around and focusing now on Townsville for that potential.”

After issuing a statement last week on these plans, Mr McIntyre said Diatreme  had received calls from more manufacturers saying: “Why didn’t you talk to us? Can we talk?”

“Sometimes these things gather momentum. I think uniquely we’ve now demonstrated the product can be used in these processes, and that’s simply not available on this part of the Australian coast anywhere,” he said.

“So, by creating the product itself, the manufacturing opportunities follow. This is one of those rare cases where that’s actually started, and we’ve been swamped with calls from a range of manufacturers and processors who want to have a talk and see if there’s room in there for them to participate.”

Mine production tipped in 2022

The company is targeting first production in 2022 from its Galalar project, located near Mitsubishi’s major Cape Flattery sand mine on Cape York.

A process on site will take the silica sand to a high-purity, low-iron product.

This involves removal of the heavy minerals through a spiral concentrator, followed by attrition to remove much of the sand grain coating and high-intensity magnetic removal for remnants of iron.

“(That) product is used as direct feed for the manufacturer of solar panels, the casing around solar panels,” Mr McIntyre said.

“About 70 per cent of every standard commercial solar panel is in fact the sheeting glass around it. And that glass is a very particular specification – low-iron silica is needed in the manufacturing process.”

A beneficiation plant in Townsville would take the silica sand product from about 100 ppm iron to 50 ppm or less in a ‘pickling’ process using heat and acid.

This would result in a high-purity product suitable for high-tech applications in electronics and the TFT (Thin Film Transistor) glass used in items such as smartphones.

The Galalar project is expected to generate around 110 full-time equivalent jobs, while a glass manufacturing plant could also spur job creation in Townsville.

“It’s early days but we are looking at a significant investment,” Mr McIntyre said.

The development comes at a time where silica is being hailed in some quarters as the ‘new lithium’ in terms of its energy transition applications and demand.

“Obviously the push into renewables continues unabated and indeed, with the recent change in the American government, the push for those renewables is only increasing, and we think appropriately so,” Mr McIntyre said.

“… It’s very evident, the increasing demand in silica and the application and uses of it are growing as well.”