by Greg Klein | September 13, 2016
A “spectacular” niobium assay has Commerce Resources TSXV:CCE enthused about an exploration target one kilometre from its Ashram rare earths deposit. A sampling program on the northern Quebec Eldor property strengthens the Miranna area’s niobium-tantalum-phosphate potential, with results up to 5.9% niobium pentoxide. But excited as the company is, work continues to focus on Ashram’s pre-feasibility studies.
“That’s the highest grade niobium sample I have ever seen on the planet,” says president Chris Grove. “I’ve never seen anything higher. This is spectacular.”
Of 64 samples, 40 assayed above 0.5% Nb2O5, with 16 surpassing 1%. The program also found significant grades of tantalum, phosphate and rare earth oxides. Two samples each graded above 1,000 ppm Ta2O5 and 1% Nb2O5, while several samples revealed more than 10% P2O5.
The samples also showed appreciable REE mineralization associated with the niobium, Commerce added.
The finding brings to mind the origin of Commerce, which was created around the Upper Fir project in southeastern British Columbia. The property’s Blue River tantalum-niobium deposit reached PEA in 2011 and a resource update in 2013.
Niobium’s price explosion in late 2006 sent Commerce looking for additional deposits, Grove says. That led the company to Eldor. But Ashram’s initial drill results switched the focus to rare earths.
And while Miranna now presents additional multi-commodity potential, work will continue to focus on Ashram’s pre-feas, Grove emphasizes.
The Miranna samples come from a glacial train of niobium-tantalum-phosphate mineralized boulders believed to be near their source. Some mineralized samples hold magnetite, suggesting a magnetic signature to the source. The company says a magnetic high immediately south, which appears to coincide with the train’s apex, could mark the bedrock source.
Previous mineralogical work indicates that Miranna’s niobium and tantalum mineralization is hosted by pyrochlore, the world’s dominant mineral source of niobium, Commerce stated. The pyrochlore’s coarse grains would also benefit recovery.
Meanwhile work continues at Ashram, where a near-surface program of 14 holes totalling 1,600 metres began last month. Metallurgical studies at a mini-pilot plant have simplified the project’s flowsheet. Busy on a number of fronts, a company priority remains producing samples to send to potential JV or offtake partners, who might then take part in the pre-feas.
“It would make sense to have a potential partner offer input on what our production scenario would be,” Grove points out. “We have a huge deposit and we can go bigger, go smaller or stay the same. So advice from a potential partner does make sense before we actually complete the pre-feas.”
Using a 1.25% cutoff, Ashram’s 2012 resource shows 1.59 million tonnes averaging 1.77% total rare earth oxides measured, 27.67 million tonnes averaging 1.9% indicated and 219.8 million tonnes averaging 1.88% inferred. The near-surface deposit remains open to the north and south, and at depth.
Ashram hosts REEs largely in monazite and to a lesser extent bastnasite and xenotime, minerals that dominate commercial extraction. Ashram’s distribution shows enrichment in the critical and magnet feed elements neodymium, praseodymium, europium, terbium, dysprosium and yttrium.