Prima Fluorspar advances a critical mineral in a safe jurisdiction
by Greg Klein
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Is this any time to join the TSX Venture? According to Prima Fluorspar Corp TSXV:PF president/CEO Robert Bick, his company’s April 19 trading debut comes at exactly the right time. He maintains Prima has a necessary commodity for a niche market, a big, high-grade, near-surface historic resource, a strong team with past success and the likelihood of future interest from some very big players.
For all that, fluorspar’s hardly well-known. Yet it’s all around us. The lower-priced metallurgical grade finds its way into iron, steel, aluminum and cement. As for the pricier acid grade, modern refrigeration wouldn’t exist without it. Most new medicines rely on its derivatives. An EU-designated critical mineral, fluorspar plays a crucial role in producing a wide range of products we’d rather not live without. As emerging countries improve their living standards, those societies will find fluorspar products increasingly important.
That probably explains China’s export restrictions. It’s both the fluorspar world’s largest producer and largest consumer, in the latter role mostly as a manufacturer of goods for export. Last year the country produced 61% of global supply, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, a slight decrease from the previous year. Mexico produced another 17.5% in 2012, with third-place Mongolia offering a mere 6%, demonstrating the enormous imbalance in world production.
Prices, meanwhile, have climbed 225% between 2005 and 2012.
Despite China’s overwhelming share of production, the country’s expected to become a net importer within five years. As Simon Moores of the authoritative journal Industrial Minerals has explained, country risk was a major factor in fluorspar’s designation as a critical mineral.
Located in a friendly jurisdiction, Prima’s Liard fluorspar project looks all the more appealing. The northern British Columbia property holds 22,500 hectares along the Alaska Highway in a region that is, by B.C. standards, not particularly rugged. And there’s certainly fluorspar in them there hills.
Chemical companies absolutely need what we do and there have been companies in Europe in the past, for example Bayer, who actually did their own fluorspar mining. But chemical companies have no idea what exploration is all about.—Robert Bick, president/CEO
of Prima Fluorspar
Some 3.2 million tonnes grading 32% calcium fluoride (CaF2, also known as fluorite), according to an historic, non-43-101 resource. That’s a big, high-grade—albeit non-compliant—asset that the Prima team plan to prove up and expand. “With fluorspar projects, it’s very difficult to get such high-grade deposits,” says geologist Neil McCallum of Dahrouge Geological Consulting. “And most of the high-grade deposits out there are vein-type deposits where you might only have widths of one or two metres. So we’ve got pretty wide mineralization. What we tested was exposed on surface.”
The 61 historic holes found 20 showings, seven of them major, along a 30-kilometre strike potential. Prima’s preliminary work last fall tested two showings to find channel samples of 23.76% CaF2 over 19.55 metres and 23.49% over 74.55 metres. By spring or early summer McCallum plans to be back with a field crew doing geophysics and setting up a base camp prior to this year’s drill campaign of up to 100 holes and 10,000 metres.
“We’ll mostly do confirmation holes until we get the geophysical results. Then we’ll focus on building resources. What we’re aiming for is something that could be mined cheaply. Having something at surface that’s open-pittable will be important,” McCallum explains.
“With rare earths and a lot of the specialty metals, a project sinks or floats on the right metallurgy,” he adds. “But with most fluorspar deposits, it’s a fairly simple process.” Historic metallurgical tests brought results over 97% CaF2, the threshold for the more expensive, more highly demanded acid grade fluorspar, known as acidspar. More recent improvements in metallurgical science suggest even better results to come, McCallum points out.
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