Australia's northern infrastructure fund backs mineral sands project

MELBOURNE, Sept 19 (Reuters) – Australian mineral sands developer Sheffield Resources said on Wednesday it will receive a $69 million loan from Australia's northern infrastructure fund to help develop its Thunderbird project.

The funds will be used to build storage, accommodation and power facilities, Sheffield said in a stock exchange release, adding that it would no longer require a $25 million facility from Taurus Mining Finance Fund.

The loan is the third by the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF), which has $3.6 billion to lend before mid-2021 to help develop Australia's sparsely populated, yet resource-rich northern regions.

The loan will provide a pathway for Sheffield to own its asset infrastructure at the mine in northwest Western Australia as well as allow for lower operating costs, the company said.

The Thunderbird project will primarily produce zircon, which is used in fibre optics, refractory coatings and dental products and is on a list of strategic critical minerals that the United States is looking to source from outside China.

Sheffield, which is targeting initial production in 2020, has already signed binding offtake deals with Chinese and Spanish customers.

Shares in Sheffield added 3.3 percent to A$1.08 by 0245 GMT

($1 = 1.3839 Australian dollars)

(By Melanie Burton; Editing by Richard Pullin)