Mkango Resources has secured Environmental Social Health Impact Assesment (ESHIA) approval for its Songwe Hill Rare Earths Project in the Phalombe district of Malawi.

The ESHIA approval, which has been issued by the Malawi Environmental Protection Agency (MEPA), is said to mark a ‘significant milestone’ towards the firm receiving Mining Development Agreement (MDA) clearance.

This will help the company secure a mining licence for the development of the first commercial rare earth mining and processing operation in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Mkango president Alexander Lemon said: “The approval of the ESHIA for the Songwe Hill Rare Earths project is a major achievement for Mkango and Malawi’s first rare earth mining project.

“We would like to thank the Malawian Government for their ongoing cooperation and support and the Malawi Environmental Protection Agency for their advice and support during the ESHIA engagement, review and approval process. We look forward to the Mining Licence and MDA being approved in the coming weeks.”

According to the results of a definitive feasibility study (DFS), the mine is expected to have an operational life of 18 years. It will require $277.4m in initial capital expenditure.

The project will include a mill, tailings storage facility, flotation and hydrometallurgy plants, and associated infrastructure.

Mkango expects to start mining at the rare earths project by February 2025.

For the first five years of full production, the mine is expected to have an average of 5,954 tons a year of total rare earth oxides (TREO).