Some potential near-term graphite miners find time to revise their plans
by Greg Klein
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If the graphite game can be called a race to production, some companies seem to prefer the sure and steady progress of the tortoise. The hare’s dazzling example might have been discouraged by this year’s graphite price slump, down 20% according to Industrial Minerals. Even so, the authoritative journal anticipates a recovery next year, although not as strong as 2011. Those conditions might have inspired some front-running companies to revise their previous plans.
One of them is Focus Graphite TSXV:FMS. On November 7 the company released an updated preliminary economic assessment, replacing the previous PEA released in October 2012 for its Lac Knife project in northeastern Quebec. Thanks to streamlined metallurgy, the new study reports improved economics—the pre-tax internal rate of return increases to 36.4%, compared to 32% in 2012, and the pre-tax net present value to $317 million, compared to $246 million last time around.
Interestingly, the 2012 report omitted after-tax numbers. But the current figures show a post-tax IRR of 28.6% and NPV of $185 million, using an 8% discount rate. Using a 10% discount rate, as was done in 2012, the NPV shows $250.1 million pre-tax and $143.3 million post-tax.
Both studies relied on the January 2012 resource estimate to calculate a 20-year mine life for an open pit unearthing 300,000 tonnes per annum for a lifetime total of six million tonnes averaging 15.66% graphitic carbon (Cgr). But higher-grade concentrates shown by more recent pilot plant tests now cut operating costs.
No longer relying on a third party “and the associated $27.6 million in working capital requirements” to purify some of the concentrate, Focus says an optimized flotation and polishing circuit can produce concentrate of 98% total carbon for all flake sizes above 200 mesh. As a result, the company maintains, even the smaller flake product will see improved economics.
In a statement accompanying the announcement, Focus CEO Gary Economo said the company has started a feasibility study which “moves us closer to financing, securing off-take agreements, permitting and construction.”
Another potential near-term producer reconsidering its plans is Northern Graphite TSXV:NGC. The company first filed a feasibility study for its southeastern Ontario Bissett Creek project in August 2012. An update followed in September 2013. Then, on October 23, Northern announced a PEA that considers doubling mill throughput after three years of operation.
The plan would knock six years off the previous 28-year mine life but increase average annual production to 33,183 tonnes of concentrate, from 20,800 calculated in September. That would result in a 22% after-tax IRR (compared to 17.3% in September) and a $150-million after-tax NPV (compared to $89.3 million), using an 8% discount rate.
The new scenario would help meet expected growth in demand, the company stated. CEO Gregory Bowes sees an advantage for Bissett Creek in a graphite supply chain that he describes as “heavily dependent on China and … characterized by many inefficient producers with poor environmental and labour practices and inconsistent product quality, delivery and reliability.”
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