Mining major Anglo American is preparing to sell a 49% minority stake in the UK’s biggest mining project in North Yorkshire.

Anglo chief executive Duncan Wanblad told City analysts that the company is “moving at pace to find a partner” to share the costs of the $9bn Woodsmith polyhalite fertiliser mine project.

It is understood that Anglo has already begun to identify potential investors for the development, which it has so far poured $2.5bn into, before starting a formal sales process, the Times reports.

There is speculation that the company will target infrastructure investors and sovereign wealth funds for the sale and is also looking to find distribution companies to buy the fertiliser produced from the project.

Wanblad said it needed to be “the right partner at the right price for this particular asset”. It is understood that the company is looking for investors to buy in to the project by early 2025, with a 49% expected to be offered, although Anglo will maintain control.

The northern English county of Yorkshire is home to the world’s only mined source of polyhalite, a type of potash that is useful in the production of fertilisers because it contains potassium, magnesium, sulphur and calcium, four critical nutrients required by plants.

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In 2018, British fertiliser developer Sirius Minerals, which used to own and operate the mine, began work on a 23-mile-long tunnel to connect the site to a port in Teesside for transportation. At the time, costs for the tunnel were initially expected to reach $3.2bn, with operations slated to begin in 2022.

In 2020, after Sirius Minerals fell into financial crisis following failed investment rounds for the Woodside mine, Anglo rescued the project by acquiring the developer. It has since poured around $2.1bn into the tunnel, which is currently unfinished at 16 miles long. Estimates suggest that a further $4bn will be required to finish the tunnel, with operations now expected to begin in 2027.