Wednesday 22nd November 2017

Resource Clips


Green energy in Utah

Darryl Jones sees distinctive advantages to Voltaic Minerals’ lithium brine project

by Isabel Belger

Isabel Belger

Isabel Belger

Isabel: I would like to introduce the president and CEO of Voltaic Minerals [TSXV:VLT], Darryl Jones. Hello Darryl, it is a pleasure to talk to you again. How are you?

Darryl: I am good, thanks for asking and having me.

Isabel: To get started, could you tell us a bit about your background?

Darryl: I started in investor relations, working for a multitude of junior mining companies. From there I worked my way in with my father, who was a stockbroker. He was in the business for about 28 years. I worked with him for five or six years at Raymond James and moved from there to PI. I was a broker for 12 years. I then moved on to work with an ex-client where I joined the board of Strikepoint Gold [TSXV:SKP] and from there I made my way to Zimtu Capital [TSXV:ZC]. And here we are, almost two years later.

Isabel: Your company is lithium-focused, but not hard rock deposits and not like the classic salars in South America. Where is your project? And what makes it special?

Darryl: We are in Utah roughly 20 kilometres west of a town called Moab. It is a brine project but it is a non-conventional brine. The Green Energy brine project is hosted in what are called clastic units of the Paradox Basin. It is about 6,000 feet [1,830 metres] deep in an old layered bed-type formation. Effectively it is a buried salar, like the South American salars, except much deeper and under immense pressure and very saturated from what we understand. I guess the three things that make it very interesting are that it is super-saturated with a full spectrum of minerals, it is under immense pressure which is phenomenal because we believe it should just flow out of the ground, and being subjected to tremendous pressure leads to a higher temperature as well. Temperature, pressure and saturation are all key factors for a brine project of this nature.

Isabel: What are your highlights on the project so far?

Darryl Jones sees distinctive advantages to Voltaic Minerals’ lithium brine project

Darryl: It is a historic project, where most of the work was done through oil and gas exploration in the ’60s, ’70s, all the way up to current date. We have been compiling existing well logs, existing data and working with some private well owners and oil and gas groups to get a better understanding of the zone we are working in. We have seen multiple wells out of this formation show significant brine flow. We understand that this horizon has the capability to be a very large resource. From that we expect to test it through an existing well. We are working towards our 5,000-gallon sample which will give us a very strong indication of size, I guess you could say, of the potential resource.

Isabel: When will you know that?

Darryl: We are working with a well owner right now to try to get access as soon as possible. We have got two paths going. We have got the project that we really want to get into, then we are also working on developing a process that will help us unlock the super-saturated brine. The closer we get to strong data that gives us the ability to say unlock the brine will push us to that decision to execute to get into the system. We are hoping this year.

Isabel: What are the plans for the rest of the year?

Darryl: In the next couple of weeks, we will have an agreement in place to re-enter that well and alongside that in the next couple of weeks we are hoping to have some really strong process results to show that we can economically extract what we need from it.

Isabel: Do you have already an idea when you could be producing lithium?

We have always had an aggressive timeline. We believe if we have access to this brine, we could then be six to nine months away from producing some small-scale samples, [provided] that we would have the process that can extract lithium from it.—Darryl Jones

Darryl: We have always had an aggressive timeline. We believe if we have access to this brine, we could then be six to nine months away from producing some small-scale samples, [provided] that we would have the process that can extract lithium from it. First, we want to get this initial set of results back in order to really direct the way we want to go with the sampling. In my opinion, we now have all the pieces in place to support our development timeline, once we get some initial feedback on the process and have access to the brine. That nine-months horizon is real.

Isabel: What makes it so difficult to access those wells?

Darryl: Most of the wellheads are either plugged and abandoned or they are owned and operating for oil and gas operations.

Isabel: Oh, so they are still producing oil and gas there?

Darryl: Yes, there is still a lot of oil production in Utah. Accessing a plugged and abandoned well is difficult on the environmental side. It is basically like drilling your own new well, which can be costly and you don’t know what you are going to get when you are re-entering an existing abandoned well. The other avenue would be re-entering a producing well, which is difficult because you might have to tell the oil and gas company to shut their production so that you can test for lithium. It is a matter of building relationships and being able to go down there to show what the potential value could be. I think we have done that. We have the right team and the right people in place so that we could have that within the next week.

Isabel: Talking about cost effectiveness—the price of lithium has been increasing over the past few years, right now about $9,000 per metric tonne. Do you have any idea presently for what price you will be able to produce lithium?

Darryl: From the start our goal was to work always towards a lowest production cost as possible. Most of the major lithium producers in South America are between $3,000 and $4,000 a ton, which is a great number. We are hoping to match those production costs. We enjoy some great efficiencies operating in Utah, which has very good infrastructure.

So that is where we would like to be, anywhere between $3,000 to $5,000 a ton. I think that will make us a very competitive player in the lithium space.

Isabel: What do you think is and will be the key to this new, ongoing demand for lithium for a junior exploration company like Voltaic Minerals?

Grade is usually one of the first things that people will look at. Something that is also important is the speed to market. The faster you can get to market, the more attention you are going to have. —Darryl Jones

Darryl: You want to have a project that has first and foremost the right grade. Grade is usually one of the first things that people will look at. Something that is also important is the speed to market. The faster you can get to market, the more attention you are going to have. In our opinion no one has broken anything open in North America. We believe the window is still open there for somebody to come up with a profitable solution. I think that is going to be the biggest thing. Anyone that comes to market quickly will have a lot of eyes on them and garner lots of attention.

Isabel: You are right and there is almost no lithium being produced in the U.S. right now.

Darryl: No there isn’t!

Isabel: You may have heard about the big Volkswagen diesel scandal. There is a huge discussion going on about the future of diesel technology, and that switching to electric cars is the solution for all our climate problems. But we tend to forget that many lithium projects would have an adverse impact to our planet as well.

In that respect, isn’t your project, with brine situated at a considerable depth and which comes to the surface under its own pressure, the best-case scenario?

Darryl: Yes, environmentally speaking it is great. We are searching for a straight brine zone, which would give us the opportunity to just effectively strip the lithium out, not change anything else associated with the water, not having any hydrocarbons and effectively put the water back into the ground. That would be the ultimate scenario. We feel we could be a very green company or have a green process which doesn’t hurt anything and greatly benefits this revolutionary battery market.

Isabel: How much of Voltaic Minerals does the management hold?

Darryl: About 15%.

Isabel: How much cash do you have right now?

Darryl: About $500,000.

Isabel: It was a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you for the insights.

Darryl: The same. Good talking to you Isabel. Thank you.

 

Darryl Jones sees distinctive advantages to Voltaic Minerals’ lithium brine project

Darryl Jones, president/CEO
of Voltaic Minerals

Bio

Mr. Jones was an investment adviser with PI Financial Corp Canada and Raymond James Ltd Canada and has 15-plus years of capital market experience and an established financial network. He was responsible for raising significant risk capital for growth companies in all sectors, with a particular focus on natural resources. He also serves as director of Strikepoint Gold Corp.

Fun facts

My hobbies: Snowboarding, playing hockey, golf, spending time with my two-year-old daughter
My favourite tradeshow: Mines and Money shows, PDAC
My favourite commodity: Lithium and gold
With this person I would like to have dinner: Timothy Ferriss
If I could have a superpower, it would be: Reading people’s minds
My role model: My father

Read more about Voltaic Minerals.


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