Saturday 24th October 2020

Resource Clips


Posts tagged ‘australia’

Zinc8 Energy Solutions sees JV opportunities in Australia

October 19th, 2020

by Greg Klein | October 19, 2020

Zinc8 Energy Solutions sees JV opportunities in Australia

A 100kW solar installation by SmartConsult in Queensland.

 

A Canadian company providing long-term energy storage has extended its reach from New York to India, and now Down Under. An agreement in principle calls for Zinc8 Energy Solutions CSE:ZAIR to explore joint venture possibilities with Australian energy management firm Wyer Company Pty Ltd (trading as SmartConsult).

We are very excited to collaborate with Zinc8 in Australia. We have been looking for a battery solution that does not have the inherent issues that surround existing battery types with uncertain cycle life and limited longevity. The Zinc8 solution will be ideal for our large-scale industrial customers.—Luke Hardy,
SmartConsult CEO

Vancouver-based Zinc8 has developed a modular energy storage system to deliver electricity ranging from 20kW to 50MW with storage capacity extending to eight or more hours. The proprietary system stores electricity in zinc particles, avoiding the expensive battery minerals lithium, vanadium and cobalt.

SmartConsult is an energy management and analytical consultancy that has installed over 8.5 MW of solar capacity across 128 projects. The firm has also consulted on hundreds of other projects.

Some Australian possibilities for Zinc8’s system include aquatic centres, remote mines, microgrids and utilities.

Zinc8’s news follows two significant announcements from last month. An agreement in principle with Vijai Electricals has the two companies considering JV opportunities in India. Zinc8 also won an award in the New York City Department of Buildings Carbon Neutrality Innovation Challenge, a distinction that could lead to inclusion in the 2020 NYC Building Code. Zinc8 was the only energy storage system selected.

The company had already established a New York state presence last January, when the New York Power Authority chose the zinc-air system out of more than 60 competitors for a commercial or industrial demonstration facility. Under a March agreement with Digital Energy Corp, Zinc8 will install a 100 kW/1.5 MWh zinc-air storage system at a Brooklyn combined heat and power plant.

Last month Zinc8 closed a $1.4-million private placement.

Read Keeping the Lights On, an op-ed by Zinc8 CEO Ron MacDonald.

Watch an online presentation by Zinc8 Energy Solutions.

Canada, Australia and U.S. launch the Critical Minerals Mapping Initiative

October 16th, 2020

by Greg Klein | October 16, 2020

Increasing concern about the need for non-Chinese supply chains has generated much talk but fewer tangible efforts. Recent news, however, outlines plans formulated by two of the world’s major mining countries along with the world’s largest economy. Canada, Australia and the U.S. intend to work together on the Critical Minerals Mapping Initiative. Following bi-national MOUs that the U.S. signed with each of the others, the CMMI intends to have the trans-national trio pool its knowledge, co-operate on research and provide publicly available info.

Canada, Australia and U.S. announce the Critical Minerals Mapping Initiative

The collaboration calls for the three countries to:

  • share data

  • unify critical minerals analyses

  • build on existing datasets

  • identify gaps in knowledge

  • learn more about critical minerals in different deposit types

  • enhance working relationships

The most tangible new work announced so far might be that of the U.S. Last month agencies led by the U.S. Geological Survey launched the Earth Mapping Resources Initiative, a 21-state project with US$7.97 million to spend this year. Programs of mapping, geochemistry and lidar, along with airborne magnetics and radiometrics, will search the country for new sources of critical minerals. Earth MRI results will be added to already extensive subsurface data compiled by the Geological Survey of Canada and Geoscience Australia.

The three countries’ joint efforts currently include “development of a global database of critical mineral ore deposit samples, critical mineral systems classification and definition of key geologic criteria for basin-hosted deposits,” the USGS reported on October 16.

Machine learning will be applied to the three countries’ expertise in economic geology, data science, geochemistry and geophysics. A global digital database will make all CMMI info public.

Last month the European Commission announced collaborative efforts that would include Canada to develop sources and supply chains for critical raw materials.

Read more about the Critical Minerals Mapping Initiative here and here.

Read more about U.S. efforts to secure critical minerals and supply chains.

Crisis: More studies needed

October 1st, 2020

The U.S. responds to a critical minerals “emergency” with additional reports

by Greg Klein | October 1, 2020

A national emergency normally calls for action. But although the U.S. faces “an unusual and extraordinary threat”—not referring to insurrectionary riots but foreign dependency on critical minerals—the country intends to respond with more studies and reports. Such was the gist of President Donald Trump’s September 30 executive order.

Yet he made his awareness of the problem manifest. Referring to 35 critical minerals the U.S. deems essential for uses including national security, economic well-being, electronics, transportation and infrastructure, Trump cited U.S. Geological Survey data showing his country imports over half its supply of 31 of the 35 minerals. For 14 of the minerals, the U.S. depends completely on foreign sources.

The U.S. responds to a critical minerals “emergency” with more reports

U.S. President Trump arrives in Pennsylvania days ahead of
his declaration of a national emergency on critical minerals
and call for a rejuvenated mining industry.
(Photo: White House/Tia Dufour)

That leaves the country vulnerable “to adverse foreign government action, natural disaster or other supply disruptions. Our national security, foreign policy and economy require a consistent supply of each of these minerals.”

Standing out as the greatest foreign supplier and greatest foreign threat is China. Rare earths provide a stark example. While the U.S. led global production back in the 1980s, China now provides 80% of American supply directly and, indirectly through other countries, some of the remainder too. Since the 2010 Senkaku incident, China’s machinations have included withholding RE exports, then flooding the market to ruin potential non-Chinese suppliers, and forcing RE-dependent manufacturers to relocate to the Middle Kingdom.

Among the critical 35, Trump also emphasized barite (more than 75% of U.S. supply is imported, over half the total from China), gallium (95% of global supply comes from China) and graphite (100% of U.S. supply is imported; China provides over 60% of global supply and almost all high-purity flake graphite).

What Trump actually ordered, however, are further studies and reports—lots of them. Often with overlapping areas of concern and some with recurring updates, federal studies will consider ways to encourage domestic extraction and processing, as well as expand and protect domestic supply chains. Some strategies include import restrictions against China and other countries, and loan guarantees to companies linked to a supply chain.

Our nation’s undue reliance on critical minerals, in processed or unprocessed form, from foreign adversaries constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat, which has its source in substantial part outside the United States, to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States. I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.—U.S. President Donald Trump

Trump’s concern dates at least to December 2017 with an executive order calling for a “federal strategy to ensure secure and reliable supplies of critical minerals.” The order followed closely on a 900-page USGS report that was the country’s first comprehensive update since 1973.

The 35 list followed in 2018. Later that year the U.S. Department of Defense presented its own report to Trump. In 2019 alone he signed five “presidential determinations finding that domestic production of rare earth elements and materials is essential to the national defence.”

Some more tangible developments this year included undisclosed amounts funded by the U.S. Department of Defense to study the feasibility of two potential rare earths separation facilities, one by California RE miner MP Minerals, and the other by Australian RE miner Lynas Corp with its American JV partner Blue Line Corp, to be located in Texas.

Last month Washington awarded $7.97 million in 2020 funding to the Earth Mapping Resource Initiative for critical geoscientific studies in 21 states.

As one of the 35 essentials, uranium rates strategies of its own. It fuels about 20% of American electricity, not including U.S. Navy nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. But the country relies on imports for about 90% of supply. Backed by Trump’s 2021 budget, the U.S. Department of Energy formed a working group to encourage domestic uranium mining, support nuclear fuel cycle capabilities and establish emergency uranium reserves.

Another energy-related presidential order aims to safeguard vital infrastructure including electricity substations and water treatment facilities from foreign control.

Some positive steps notwithstanding, China’s dominance remains unchallenged. Trump’s latest round of studies, under the guise of a national emergency, might have more to do with courting job-hungry voters. “In many cases, the aggressive economic practices of certain non-market foreign producers of critical minerals have destroyed vital mining and manufacturing jobs in the United States,” he said.

Over the last several decades, our nation’s mining industry has suffered due to political inaction, a broken permitting process and predatory foreign competition from China.—A White House statement

Yet other mining issues question his ability to support the sector. This is the president who failed to protect the Appalachian coal industry despite 2016 assurances. Alaska’s Pebble saga presents a giant copper-gold-molybdenum deposit backed by Trump but mired in regulatory battles. Just recently scandal joined the imbroglio as now-resigned Pebble Limited Partnership CEO Tom Collier was recorded talking up his company’s relationship with U.S. politicians and officials.

The November election outcome adds more uncertainty to Trump’s stated goals. But bipartisan concern over foreign dependency has emerged in the U.S. House of Representatives. In July both parties came together to form a Critical Minerals Caucus to encourage domestic production. In September a bipartisan bill tabled in the House called for tax incentives for mining, reclaiming and recycling critical minerals.

Of course the U.S. hardly stands alone. This week the EU created the European Raw Materials Alliance to “identify barriers, opportunities and investment cases to build capacity at all stages of the raw materials value chain, from mining to waste recovery. In a first phase, the alliance focuses on the most pressing need, which is to increase EU resilience in the rare earths and permanent magnets value chains, as these are vital to most EU industrial ecosystems.”

The alliance follows a critical raw materials action plan announced earlier last month. But participants need not be European. “Pilot partnerships with Canada, interested countries in Africa and the EU’s neighbourhood will start as of 2021,” the EU stated.

Another transnational proposal would bring the U.S. and Canada together. The two countries announced their Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration in January and, without specifying anything tangible, reaffirmed their intentions in June.

October 16, 2020, update: Canada, Australia and U.S. announce the Critical Minerals Mapping Initiative.

Now all we need are mines

August 28th, 2020

The Saskatchewan Research Council plans commercial rare earths separation in 2022

by Greg Klein | August 28, 2020

Saskatchewan to offer commercial rare earths separation in 2022

This nondescript building will host a $31-million commercial REE facility in two years.
(Image: Saskatchewan Research Council)

 

Given China’s near-monopoly of these critical elements, the news from Saskatchewan is enormous—a commercial-scale rare earths separation facility up and running in two years. But the development is hardly sudden. The operator already boasts longstanding experience and world-leading expertise with the almost arcane endeavour. Moreover the August 27 announcement just confirms one of the ambitious mining-related goals in the province’s growth plan released last November.

Work begins this fall in Saskatoon on a $31-million processing and separating plant funded by the province. Canada’s only such facility, it constitutes a major step towards expanding REE supply chains independent of China. Operating the Saskatoon plant will be the Saskatchewan Research Council, a Crown corporation with 75 years of experience in mining-related research and technology, over 290 staff, $91 million in annual revenue and about 1,500 clients in 27 countries.

Saskatchewan to offer commercial rare earths separation in 2022

SRC assets include the world’s largest potash, uranium and diamonds labs, and its research extends to the oil and gas sector as well as to environmental studies.

The SRC has already been separating rare earths at the bench and pilot scale level. Its REE team currently employs 10 full-time-equivalent positions. The plan calls for staffing to reach 24 highly qualified FTEs in the facility, along with at least 10 more in R&D.

“SRC is a leader in the development of REE extraction and processing technologies and has worked closely with individual mining companies in Saskatchewan, Canada and globally on the concentration of REE ore for over a decade now,” points out president/CEO Mike Crabtree. “We employ world-leading experts on REEs who literally wrote the book on REE processing.”

That book—Separation Hydrometallurgy of Rare Earth Elements—was written by Jack Zhang, Baodong Zhao and Bryan Schreiner, SRC scientists of international stature.

The SRC anticipates ore or crushed sand will arrive by truck or rail from producers in Canada and the U.S., as well as potential overseas clients. Location of the tailings facility has yet to be determined.

One obvious caveat, however, is the current lack of North American primary producers. The sole exception is California’s Mountain Pass mining and processing operation. Although operator MP Materials has professed its commitment to an American supply chain, the company has been exporting its entire output to China.

Saskatchewan to offer commercial rare earths separation in 2022

New separation capabilities bring considerable advantages
to rare earths projects in Canada and elsewhere.
(Photo: Saskatchewan Research Council)

Demonstrating a non-Chinese commitment, however, is Australia’s Lynas Corp. The company operates a refining and separation facility in Malaysia to process rare earths ore from its Mount Weld mine in Western Australia. Lynas plans to open a WA cracking and leaching plant by 2023 to quell Malaysian concerns about low-level radioactive material shipped to the country. In the U.S., meanwhile, the company and its American JV partner Blue Line signed a contract last month with the Department of Defense, which would fund studies for a proposed American plant to separate heavy rare earths from Mount Weld.

But the SRC plant opens doors for potential North American sources, which last year totalled measured and indicated resources of 2.7 million tons in the U.S. and over 15 million tons in Canada, according to U.S. Geological Survey data.

Fitting for the world’s second-largest uranium-producing jurisdiction, Saskatchewan will process rare earths from uranium raffinate as well as from bastnasite and monazite, the most common mineralogical sources of rare earths.

But the Chinese challenge remains formidable. Chinese domestic mining accounted for nearly 63% of last year’s global production, a drop from 70% in 2018 but a number that doesn’t include Chinese control over foreign sources. Moreover the country’s dominance of separation facilities and expertise extends its control to an estimated 70% to 95% of various points along the supply chain.

SRC is a leader in the development of REE extraction and processing technologies and has worked closely with individual mining companies in Saskatchewan, Canada and globally on the concentration of REE ore for over a decade now. We employ world-leading experts on REEs who literally wrote the book on REE processing.—Mike Crabtree,
president/CEO,
Saskatchewan Research Council

Trade and other geopolitical tensions have brought fears—backed by implied threats—that the country will “weaponize” its rare earths dominance, repeating the 2010 machinations that staggered non-Chinese manufacturing industries.

The elements are vital to clean energy, electronics, transportation, defence, medical equipment and other necessities. American concern about rare earths and other critical minerals has triggered a number of initiatives including the Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration with Canada announced in January and reaffirmed in June.

But encouraging as the Saskatchewan initiative is, it hardly constitutes a slingshot to the Chinese Goliath. That country’s advantages include seemingly bottomless government subsidies, free use of black market or conflict material, and the backing of a savvy totalitarian government, according to Clint Cox. Speaking in Vancouver last January, the analyst and rare earths specialist with The Anchor House warned that Chinese dominance can’t be underestimated.

Nevertheless, the Saskatoon facility can only encourage junior mining activity. “The juniors are definitely the place where the last crop of potential mines came from, and it looks like they might be the next out there,” Cox told his January audience. “There’s some out there today.”

Among other goals, the Saskatchewan Growth Plan calls for studies into extracting lithium from the province’s brines as well as from oil and gas wastewater. The plan also considers adding nuclear energy to the province’s electrical mix from small modular reactors. Earlier this month Alberta joined Saskatchewan, Ontario and New Brunswick in a memorandum of understanding to co-operate on SMR studies.

Read more about the Saskatchewan Research Council.

What is ammonium nitrate, the chemical that exploded in Beirut?

August 6th, 2020

by Gabriel da SilvaUniversity of Melbourne | posted with permission of The Conversation

The Lebanese capital Beirut was rocked on Tuesday evening local time by an explosion that has killed at least 78 people and injured thousands more.

The country’s prime minister Hassan Diab said the blast was caused by around 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored near the city’s cargo port. Video footage appears to show a fire burning nearby before the blast.

 

 

Ammonium nitrate has the chemical formula NHNO. Produced as small porous pellets, or “prills,” it’s one of the world’s most widely used fertilizers.

It is also the main component in many types of mining explosives, where it’s mixed with fuel oil and detonated by an explosive charge.

For an industrial ammonium nitrate disaster to occur, a lot needs to go wrong. Tragically, this seems to have been the case in Beirut.

What could have caused the explosion?

Ammonium nitrate does not burn on its own.

Instead, it acts as a source of oxygen that can accelerate the combustion (burning) of other materials.

For combustion to occur, oxygen must be present. Ammonium nitrate prills provide a much more concentrated supply of oxygen than the air around us. This is why it is effective in mining explosives, where it’s mixed with oil and other fuels.

At high-enough temperatures, however, ammonium nitrate can violently decompose on its own. This process creates gases including nitrogen oxides and water vapour. It is this rapid release of gases that causes an explosion.

Ammonium nitrate decomposition can be set off if an explosion occurs where it’s stored, if there is an intense fire nearby. The latter is what happened in the 2015 Tianjin explosion, which killed 173 people after flammable chemicals and ammonium nitrate were stored together at a chemicals factory in eastern China.

(Read more: Explainer: how dangerous is the sodium cyanide found at Tianjin explosion site?)

What is ammonium nitrate, the chemical that exploded in Beirut?

The death count continues to grow in the explosion’s aftermath.
(Photo: Hiba Al Kallas/Shutterstock.com)

While we don’t know for sure what caused the explosion in Beirut, footage of the incident indicates it may have been set off by a fire visible in a section of the city’s port area before the explosion happened.

It’s relatively difficult for a fire to trigger an ammonium nitrate explosion. The fire would need to be sustained and confined within the same area as the ammonium nitrate prills.

Also the prills themselves are not fuel for the fire, so they would need to be contaminated with, or packaged in, some other combustible material.

Residents’ health at risk

In Beirut, it has been reported 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate were stored in a warehouse for six years without proper safety controls.

This will almost certainly have contributed to the tragic circumstances that resulted in a commonplace industrial fire causing such a devastating explosion.

An ammonium nitrate explosion produces massive amounts of nitrogen oxides. Nitrogen dioxide (NO) is a red, bad-smelling gas. Images from Beirut reveal a distinct reddish colour to the plume of gases from the blast.

Nitrogen oxides are commonly present in urban air pollution, and can irritate the respiratory system. Elevated levels of these pollutants are particularly concerning for people with respiratory conditions.

The fumes in Beirut will present a health risk until they naturally dissipate, which could take several days depending on the local weather.

An important reminder

Australia produces and imports large amounts of ammonium nitrate, mostly for use in mining. It is made by combining ammonia gas with liquid nitric acid, which itself is made from ammonia.

Ammonium nitrate is classified as dangerous goods and all aspects of its use are tightly regulated. For decades, Australia has produced, stored and used ammonium nitrate without a major incident.

The explosion in Beirut shows us just how important these regulations are.
The Conversation


Gabriel da Silva, Senior Lecturer in Chemical Engineering, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

Robust or bust

May 7th, 2020

Will supply chain challenges culminate in a long-overdue crisis?

by Greg Klein | May 7, 2020

It might take premature complacency or enormously good fortune to look back and laugh at the Early 2020 Toilet Paper Panic. But from today’s viewpoint, bumwad might be the least of our worries. There won’t be much need for the stuff without enough food to sustain life. Or water. Medicine, heat and electricity come in handy too.

Sparsely stocked supermarket shelves have been blamed on hoarders who thwart the industry’s just-in-time system, a process credited with “robust” reliability when not challenged by irrational buying sprees. Consumer concern, on the other hand, might be understandable given the credibility of official positions such as Ottawa’s facemask flip-flop and initial arguments that closing borders would actually worsen the pandemic.

Will supply chain challenges culminate in a long-overdue crisis?

A North Vancouver supermarket seen in mid-March. While
stockpiling has abated, supply lines show signs of stress.
(Photo: Steeve Raye/Shutterstock.com)

Meanwhile Canadian farmers worry about the supply of foreign labour needed to harvest crops, dairy farmers dump milk for lack of short-distance transport and deadly coronavirus outbreaks force widespread closures of meat and poultry plants across Canada and the U.S.

Highlighting the latter problem were full-page ads in American newspapers from meat-packing giant Tyson Foods. “The food supply chain is breaking,” the company warned in late April. “Millions of animals—chickens, pigs and cattle—will be depopulated because of the closure of our processing facilities.”

Within days the U.S. invoked the Defense Production Act, ordering meat plants to stay open despite fears of additional outbreaks. 

Just a few other pandemic-related food challenges in Canada include outbreaks at retail grocers, a shortage of packaging for a popular brand of flour and an Ontario supermarket warning customers to throw away bread in case it was tainted by an infected bakery worker.

Infrastructure supplying necessities like energy, fuel, water and communications faces pandemic-related challenges of its own, including availability of labour and expertise.

Supply chain complexity has been scrutinized in The Elements of Power: Gadgets, Guns, and the Struggle for a Sustainable Future in the Rare Metal Age. One example from author David S. Abraham was the electric toothbrush, a utensil comprising something like 35 metals that are sourced, refined and used in manufacturing over six continents.

Dissecting a 2017 smartphone, the U.S. Geological Survey found 14 necessary but mostly obscure elements. As a source country, China led the world with nine mineral commodities essential to mobile devices, and that list included rare earths in a single category.

In a recent series of COVID-19 reports on the lithium-ion necessities graphite, cobalt, lithium and nickel, Benchmark Mineral Intelligence stated: “From the raw material foundations of the supply chain in the DRC, Australia, Chile and beyond, through to the battery cell production in China, Japan and Korea, it is likely that the cells used by the Teslas of the world have touched every continent (sometimes multiple times over) before they reach the Model 3 that is driven (or drives itself) off the showroom floor.”

Will supply chain challenges culminate in a long-overdue crisis?

Consumers might not realize the complex
international networks behind staple items.

Or consider something more prosaic—canned tuna.

That favourite of food hoarders might be caught in the mid-Pacific, processed and canned in Thailand following extraction of bauxite (considered a critical mineral in the U.S.) in Australia, China, Guinea or elsewhere, with ore shipped for smelting to places where electricity’s cheap (China accounted for over 56% of global aluminum production last year). Then the aluminum moves on to can manufacturers, and transportation has to be provided between each point and onward to warehouses, retailers and consumers. Additional supply chains provide additional manufactured parts, infrastructure, energy and labour to make each of those processes work.

Still another supply chain produces the can opener.

Daily briefings by Canada’s federal and provincial health czars express hope that this country might “flatten the curve,” a still-unattained goal that would hardly end the pandemic when and if it’s achieved. Meanwhile the virus gains momentum in poorer, more populous and more vulnerable parts of the world and threatens a second, more deadly wave coinciding with flu season.

And if one crisis can trigger another, social order might also be at risk. Canada’s pre-virus blockades demonstrated this country’s powerlessness against a force not of nature but of self-indulgence. Even a cohesive, competent society would have trouble surviving a general infrastructure collapse, a scenario dramatized in William R. Forstchen’s novel One Second After. When transportation, communications, infrastructure and the financial system break down, so do a lot of people. Dangerous enough as individuals, they can form mobs, gangs and cartels.

How seriously Washington considers apocalyptic scenarios isn’t known. But prior to the pandemic, the U.S. had already been taking measures to reduce its dependency on China and other risky sources for critical minerals. Now, Reuters reports, COVID-19 has broadened American concerns to include other supply chains and inspired plans for an Economic Prosperity Network with allied countries. Questions remain about the extent that the West can achieve self-sufficiency and, in the U.S., whether another administration might undo the current president’s efforts.

Certainly globalist confidence persists. The Conference Board of Canada, for example, expects a slow return of supply chain operations to pre-pandemic levels but a renewed international order just the same. “Global co-operation is needed not only to tackle the health crisis, but also to restore trust in global supply chains and maintain the benefits that the growth in global trade has brought over the last two decades.”

Will supply chain challenges culminate in a long-overdue crisis?

New cars leave the manufacturing hub and disease
epicentre of Wuhan prior to the pandemic.
(Photo: humphery/Shutterstock.com)

One early COVID-19 casualty, the multi-continent diamond supply chain, already shows signs of gradual recovery according to Rapaport News. Despite mine suspensions, “there is more than enough rough and polished in the pipeline to satisfy demand as trading centres start to reopen. Belgium and Israel have eased lockdown restrictions, while India has allowed select manufacturing in Surat and special shipments to Hong Kong.”

Also struggling back to its feet is global automotive manufacturing. Writing in Metal Bulletin, Andrea Hotter outlines how the disease epicentre of Wuhan plays a vital role in making cars and supplying components to other factory centres. “If ever there was a masterclass in the need to disaster-proof a supply chain, then the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a harsh reminder to the automotive sector that it’s failing.”

So regardless of whether apocalyptic fears are overblown, there are lessons to be learned. As Benchmark points out, COVID-19 has disrupted “almost every global supply chain to such a profound extent that mechanisms for material sourcing, trade and distribution will likely never be the same again.”

In the meantime, a spare can opener or two might be prudent. Or maybe several, in case they become more valuable than bullion.

Crisis response

April 3rd, 2020

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains under the pandemic

by Greg Klein | April 3, 2020

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains

 

Idled explorers: Can you help?

“Essential supplies and personnel are needed to create and operate temporary facilities for testing, triage, housing and isolation areas for vulnerable populations,” states the Association for Mineral Exploration. “As mineral explorers, we have access to the supplies needed and are in a unique position to help.”

AME calls on the industry to contribute excess capacity of the following:

  • Insulated structures (both hard and soft wall)

  • Camp gear such as furniture, lighting and kitchen appliances

  • Medical equipment

  • Camp support personnel such as caterers, housekeepers, janitors, etc.

  • Available medical staff including such qualifications as OFA3s, paramedics, RNs, etc.

  • Other supplies or skills

If you can help, please fill out this form and AME will be in touch. 

For further information contact Savannah Nadeau.

Preparing for a wider emergency

Given the danger of one crisis triggering others, essential infrastructure remains at risk. One plan to safeguard Ontario’s electricity service would require Toronto workers to bunk down in employer-supplied accommodation under lockdown conditions better known to isolated locations.

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains

Quarantines might require essential
services to provide job-site bed and board.
(Photo: Independent Electricity System Operator)

It hasn’t happened yet, but the province’s Independent Electricity System Operator stands ready for the possibility, according to a Canadian Press story published by the Globe and Mail. A not-for-profit agency established by the province, the IESO co-ordinates Ontario electricity supply to meet demand.

About 90% of its staff now work at home but another 48 employees must still come into work, CEO Peter Gregg said. Eight six-person teams now undergo 12-hour shifts in two Toronto-area control rooms.

“Should it become necessary, he said, bed, food and other on-site arrangements have been made to allow the operators to stay at their workplaces as a similar agency in New York has done,” CP reported.

Similar plans may well be underway not only for essential infrastructure but also for essential production, processing, manufacturing, communications, transportation and trade. One sign of the times to come could be locked-down camps in supermarket parking lots for our under-appreciated retail-sector heroes.

Meanwhile, retaining and protecting care-home staff already constitute a crisis within a crisis.

Australia guards against predatory foreign takeovers

With China prominently in mind, Australia has taken extra measures to protect companies and projects shattered by the COVID-19 economy. Canberra has temporarily granted its Foreign Investment Review Board extra powers to guard distressed companies and assets against acquisitions by opportunistic foreigners. Although previous foreign acquisitions came under review only when the price passed certain thresholds, now all such transactions get FIRB scrutiny.

The changes follow concerns raised by MPs on Australia’s intelligence and security committee. The Sydney Morning Herald quoted committee chairperson Andrew Hastie warning of “foreign state-owned enterprises working contrary to our national interest. More than ever, we need to protect ourselves from geo-strategic moves masquerading as legitimate business.”

Committee member Tim Wilson added, “We can’t allow foreign state-owned enterprises and their business fronts to use COVID-19’s economic carnage as a gateway to swoop distressed businesses and assets.”

Among protected assets are exploration and mining projects, utilities, infrastructure and an interest of 20% or more in a company or business.

Critical minerals become ever more critical

As Lynas Corp extended the suspension of its rare earths processing facility in line with Malaysian government pandemic orders, the company noted the importance of its products “in permanent magnets used in medical devices including ventilators, and in lanthanum products used in oil refineries for petroleum production.”

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains

The suspension of its Malaysian plant prompted
Lynas to emphasize REs’ criticality to virus treatment.
(Photo: Lynas Corp)

Originally set to expire on March 31, the government order currently stays in force until April 14. RE extraction continues at Lynas’ Mount Weld mine in Western Australia.

In late February Malaysia granted the company a three-year licence renewal for the processing facility, which had been threatened with closure due to controversy about its low-level radioactive tailings. Among conditions for the renewal are development of a permanent disposal facility for existing waste and putting a cracking and leaching plant in operation outside Malaysia by July 2023 to end the practice of transporting radioactive material to the country.

Committed to maintaining a non-Chinese supply chain, the company plans to locate the C&L plant in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia.

Sharing the disease, hoarding the treatment

A problem recognized in American defence procurement has hit health care—the need to build non-Chinese supply chains. Most of the world’s ventilators and about half the masks are manufactured in China, points out a recent column by Terry Glavin.

The West is learning, finally and the hard way, “that thriving liberal democracies cannot co-exist for long within a model of neo-liberal globalization that admits into its embrace such a tyrannical state-capitalist monstrosity as the People’s Republic of China.”

The U.S., for example, relies heavily on China for antibiotics, painkillers, surgical gowns, equipment that measures blood oxygen levels and magnetic resonance imaging scanners. China effectively banned medical equipment exports as soon as Wuhan went on lockdown, Glavin adds.

“It probably didn’t help that Ottawa sent 16,000 tonnes of gear to China back in February. That was a lot of gear—1,101 masks, 50,118 face shields, 36,425 medical coveralls, 200,000 pairs of gloves and so on—but a drop in Beijing’s bucket. A New York Times investigation last month found that China had imported 56 million respirators and masks, just in the first week of the Wuhan shutdown.

“It is not known how much of that cargo came from the massive bulk-buying campaign organized and carried out across Canada by affiliates of the United Front Work Department, the overseas propaganda and influence-peddling arm of the Chinese Communist Party.”

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains

Desperate need for health care supplies
pits country against country. (Photo: 3M)

Nor does the non-Chinese world display altruism. In response to the crisis, the EU and more than 50 countries have either banned or restricted exports of medical equipment, Glavin states.

By April 3 global health care products supplier 3M revealed that Washington asked the company to stop exporting U.S.-manufactured N95 respirators to Canada and Latin America. 3M noted “significant humanitarian implications” but also the possibility of trade retaliation. “If that were to occur, the net number of respirators being made available to the United States would actually decrease.”

The company did win China’s permission to import 10 million of its own Chinese-manufactured N95s into the U.S.

Meanwhile the Canadian government comes under increasing criticism for discouraging the public from wearing masks.

Chinese supply chains also jeopardized by Chinese disease

As the world’s main exporter of manufactured goods, China’s the main importer of raw materials, especially metals. But, as the world’s main exporter of disease, China managed to threaten its own supplies.

Reuters columnist Andy Home outlined lockdown-imposed cutbacks of copper, zinc and lead from Chile and Peru, and chrome from South Africa; reductions in cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo, in tin from already depleting Myanmar, and in nickel from the Philippines, the latter a hoped-for replacement after Indonesia banned unprocessed exports.

The longer the lockdowns, “the greater the potential for supply chain disruption,” Home comments. “As the biggest buyer of metallic raw materials, this is a ticking time-bomb for China’s metals producers.”

Miners’ providence unevenly distributed

Probably no other foreign shutdowns have affected as many Canadian miners and explorers as that of Mexico. Considered non-essential, their work will be suspended until April 30, with extensions more than likely. Mexico’s announcement must have sounded familiar to Pan American Silver TSX:PAAS, which had already pressed the pause button to comply with national quarantines in Peru, Argentina and Bolivia. That currently limits the company’s mining to Timmins, where production has been reduced by about 10% to 20% to allow physical distancing.

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains

Mauritania exempted Kinross Gold’s Tasiast mine
from domestic travel restrictions. (Photo: Kinross Gold)

One company more favourably located, so far, is Kinross Gold TSX:K. As of April 1, operations continued at its seven mines in Nevada, Alaska, Brazil, Mauritania, Russia and Ghana, while work went on at its four non-producing projects in Alaska, Mauritania, Russia and Chile.

Expanded shutdowns ordered by Ontario on April 3 include many construction and industrial projects but exempt mining. Earlier that day New Gold TSX:NGD announced Rainy River’s restart after a two-week suspension to allow self-isolation among employees. Many of the mine’s workers live locally and made short trips into Minnesota before the border closed.

Quebec border restrictions have hindered the Ontario operations of Kirkland Lake Gold TSX:KL, cutting off a source of employees and contractors. As a result the company reduced production at its Macassa mine and suspended work at its Holt complex, comprising three gold mines and a mill. Kirkland reduced operations at its Detour Lake mine effective March 23, after a worker showed COVID-19 symptoms and self-isolated on March 14. He tested positive on March 26. Production continues at the company’s Fosterville mine in Australia.

Some explorers have been idled by government restrictions, others by market conditions. Still, some companies have money and jurisdictions in which to spend it. Liberty Gold TSX:LGD, for example, resumed drilling its Black Pine gold project in Idaho on March 31.

Some jurisdictions, like B.C. and New Brunswick, have extended work requirement deadlines to help companies keep exploration claims active.

“China needs to be held responsible”

A few Canadian journalists are saying what we might never hear from our politicians. Here, for example, is Toronto Sun columnist Lorrie Goldstein:

“China needs to be held responsible. The problem is, because of its political power— and you see it in the World Health Organization announcements, in Canadian announcements—they’ve been praising what China did. There would have been a virus anyway. China made it worse. More people are dying, more people are being infected, and its dictators need to be held to account.”

Clint Cox: Formidable challenges face competitors of Chinese rare earths

January 20th, 2020

by Greg Klein | January 20, 2020

Depending which part of the supply chain’s under consideration, this one country produces anywhere from 70% to 95% of these critical minerals. China’s overwhelming rare earths dominance has long been obvious but trade tensions have once again highlighted the problem. Speaking at VRIC 2020 on January 19, Clint Cox outlined the hurdles Westerners face in the struggle to ensure security of supply.

Formidable challenges face competitors of Chinese rare earths

An analyst with The Anchor House who’s specialized in REs since 2006, Cox works with people throughout the supply chain including end users, government agencies, producers and junior explorers.

Last year China’s trade war threat to “weaponize” rare earths brought chills to Western end-users, who are all too familiar with the crisis of 2010. Prior to the Senkaku incident, prices had been trending downwards. Then came the monumental spike, shooting up costs of some elements 30 times.

“Our entire auto industry in North America almost shut down because of this,” Cox says. “A number of other industries almost shut down because of this.”

Naturally juniors found opportunity in crisis. Previously numbering about a dozen, ASX- and TSXV-listed rare earths explorers swelled their numbers beyond 450, a number grossly disproportionate to the availability of qualified geos. “They raised almost $6 billion in that time period,” Cox points out. “They ended up with one producing mine in Lynas Corporation and one mine in Molycorp, the Mountain Pass mine that went bankrupt.”

Mountain Pass in California has since re-opened—as a supplier to China. The world’s greatest source of rare earths deposits has, over the last two years, become a significant importer.

That’s a legacy of environmental neglect that includes an 11-square-kilometre tailings pond with about 100,000 to 150,000 tonnes of exposed radioactive muck, right next to a tributary of the Yellow River.

“China knows this,” he says. “They’re trying to fix it.”

As a result the government has been shutting down mines and looking for external sources. But on a global scale domestic production remains overwhelming.

As does the processing supply chain, led by six state-owned companies that have consolidated their operations. The Big Six benefits from China’s approach to capitalism.

They are all subsidized, every last one of them. They’re subsidized at the local level, the provincial level and the national level.—Clint Cox

“They are all subsidized, every last one of them,” Cox emphasizes. “They’re subsidized at the local level, the provincial level and the national level. This could be free power, this could be interest-free loans, it could be loans that never have to be paid back, and sometimes just flat-out cash payments. They are subsidized at every level.”

Companies in Bayan Obo, China’s most important rare earths-producing region, received about $395 million in government support over just one year. “That’s free money, that’s a subsidy, that’s tough to compete with. That’s way over what the United States is going to spend to try to solve this issue.”

A 20-year expansion plan for rare earths projects in the region finished well ahead of schedule, he notes.

Cox says China began 37 rare earths projects last year, promising some 48,000 tonnes of magnet production. “We only have a couple of hundred tonnes of magnet production in North America. And they spent close to, we gather, ten and twenty billion dollars on making rare earths facilities last year. And we’re excited about tens of millions, or maybe a hundred million dollars spent on some of the projects by the government this year.”

The country’s environmental legacy notwithstanding, China’s current handling of radioactivity presents another advantage. Freeing up the miners, the Chinese nuclear authority now takes responsibility for dealing appropriately with waste. Non-Chinese companies have to fend for themselves. Such challenges have been illustrated by Lynas, which faces opposition to the cracking and leaching plant in Malaysia that processes material from the company’s Mount Weld mine in Western Australia.

Another Chinese advantage: The Big Six launders material from the “unofficial or black market,” coming from unsanctioned, artisanal operations of dubious environmental and workplace standards. Some of it comes from inside China, while additional sources include Myanmar and other parts of southeast Asia, South America and elsewhere.

“So a lot of material flows through this black market. They legitimize it, because once it enters one of their supply chains, one of the Big Six, they can stamp an ‘official’ stamp on it and it becomes official material.”

He adds, “In general, Western countries can’t utilize the black market like China can. That is a huge edge. Some of the black market material can cost one-third of regular material.”

The juniors are definitely the place where the last crop of potential mines came from, and it looks like they might be the next out there. There’s some out there today.—Clint Cox

Supporting all this is a totalitarian regime. “That is tough to compete with.” Despite heightened Washington concern, the U.S. government agencies trying to address the problem remain uncoordinated. U.S. Congress currently has 18 bills concerning rare earths, Cox says.

Still, efforts persist to extract rare earths from sources such as mineral sands and coal. Then there are the juniors.

“The juniors are definitely the place where the last crop of potential mines came from, and it looks like they might be the next out there. There’s some out there today.”

But he has a warning for would-be miners who assume they’d receive a premium for non-Chinese supply. They won’t, he cautions. They’ll have to meet Chinese prices.

Other possibilities might not be predictable. “A dark horse can always come up. You never know what might happen in the rare earths industry. A new application, a new mine, a new processing technology, any of that can transform the industry.”

Read about the Canada-U.S. Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration.

Lynas CEO Amanda Lacaze comments on a six-month permit extension for its rare earths processing plant in Malaysia

September 30th, 2019

…Read more

Lower cost, higher grade

August 30th, 2019

Denison Mines considers the Athabasca Basin’s first ISR uranium operation

by Greg Klein

Less than 80 kilometres from the technological marvel of Cigar Lake, another uranium project could introduce an extraction method that’s less innovative but a regional novelty just the same. Denison Mines TSX:DML now has testing underway for in-situ recovery at the Wheeler River project’s Phoenix deposit. Should the studies succeed and the mine become a reality, this would be ISR’s first application in Canadian uranium mining.

Denison Mines considers the Athabasca Basin’s first ISR uranium operation

Denison Mines hopes to apply low-cost extraction
to high-grade resources. (Photo: Denison Mines)

ISR finds common use in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, the U.S., Australia and enough other countries to account for 48% of global uranium production in 2016, according to the World Nuclear Association. The lower-cost method has often been associated with lower-grade deposits that have geological conditions making the process viable. With a Phoenix probable reserve averaging 19.1%, Denison was able to consider other options. In fact the company originally planned to use Cigar Lake’s jet-boring technique.

But the experience of Cameco Corp TSX:CCO proved to be a cautionary tale. “Among 
the most technically challenging mining projects in the world” according to the company, Cigar Lake took nine years to build, with setbacks that included two serious floods. Finally opened in 2014, its jet-boring extraction makes the very high-grade operation “one of the technically most sophisticated mines in the world.”

Two years later, when Wheeler River reached PEA, Denison was still considering jet-boring for Phoenix. But capex, opex, length of construction and technical risks similar to Cigar Lake’s “catastrophic events” persuaded the company to pursue other options.

That Denison did, examining some 32 extraction techniques over two years before selecting ISR for Phoenix in the pre-feasibility study released last October. Wheeler’s Gryphon deposit, about three kilometres northwest, has more conventional underground mining proposed.

Both deposits are classified as Athabasca Basin unconformity-related. But Gryphon features basement-hosted mineralization while Phoenix mineralization is unconformity-hosted and also shows ISR potential.

Denison Mines considers the Athabasca Basin’s first ISR uranium operation

With its current drill program, Denison hopes to find
potential satellite ISR deposits. (Photo: Denison Mines)

Put simply, the process involves drilling wells into the deposit, injecting a liquid solution that leaches uranium from ore, then pumping the uranium-bearing liquid to a surface processing facility. No tailings or waste rock come to surface. The solution then gets recharged with fresh reagents for re-use in a closed system.

ISR, also known as ISL or in-situ leaching, can be used for copper and other minerals as well.

However Phoenix differs from many ISR projects by the permeability of the deposit’s sandstone walls, which will require freezing to contain the solution. Ground freezing involves pumping very cold brine into holes outside the deposit’s circumference to extract heat from the surrounding rock. Cigar Lake also uses underground freezing to contain the jet-boring process. One advantage of Phoenix over other ISR projects, however, is the relatively compact size of the high-grade deposit, about one kilometre by 50 metres.

Should geology, engineering, permitting and financing come together, Phoenix would take only about two and a half years to build, according to the PEA. With an estimated 11-year lifespan, production would average six million pounds U3O8 annually for nine of those years.

Hinting at satanic numerology, Gryphon would spend six years in construction and another six in operation, producing six million pounds a year. Processing would take place at the McClean Lake mill, now chewing through Cigar Lake ore. Denison holds 22.5% of the mill, along with Orano Canada (70%) and OURD Canada (7.5%).

As for Wheeler River ownership, Denison maintains a 90% stake, with JCU Canada holding the rest.

Denison Mines considers the Athabasca Basin’s first ISR uranium operation

With a deposit lying below Patterson Lake South,
Fission Uranium now has second thoughts
about open pit mining. (Photo: Fission Uranium)

Denison has further ISR tests now underway, part of the project’s feasibility studies. With work conducted by Petrotek Engineering Corp, the program has so far sunk two pump/injection wells and four observation wells along a 34-metre portion of the deposit’s strike. This week president/CEO David Cates described early results as encouraging, “with initial pump and injection tests confirming hydraulic connectivity between all of the test wells within the ore zone.”

The tests also suggest the basement rock beneath the unconformity would contain the solution, unlike the sandstone walls which would require freezing.

Three more test areas will be evaluated up to summer 2020 to compile a hydro-geological model to simulate ground water flow and other factors. The current campaign also includes environmental baseline studies and a 10-hole, 5,000-metre drill program searching for potential satellite ISR operations along the project’s K West trend.

While Wheeler River holds the largest undeveloped deposits in the eastern Basin, the Patterson corridor extending beyond the Basin’s southwestern rim claims fame for two even larger projects.

A pre-feas released by Fission Uranium TSX:FCU in May for Patterson Lake South’s Triple R deposit examined a hybrid open pit and underground mine, but the company was quick to reconsider. An alternative pre-feas began in July to evaluate an underground-only operation. The May pre-feas foresaw four years of construction, six years of open pit operation and two years of underground operation to produce 87.5 million pounds U3O8 over the eight-year span.

The company hopes its new pre-feas, expected in September, will find “further-improved economics, even lower capex and a reduced construction time.” Permitting might also have been a concern, however, for open pit mining on a uranium deposit currently underneath a lake. With the new report using the same resource estimate, Fission plans to compare both scenarios before moving on to feasibility.

Another basement-hosted deposit, NexGen Energy’s (TSX:NXE) Arrow deposit on the Rook 1 project reached pre-feas in December. The proposed underground mine would begin production during the second year of development, ultimately producing 228.4 million pounds U3O8 over a nine-year life, enough to give the company an estimated 21% of global output, just behind first-place Kazatomprom’s 22%, NexGen says.

The company plans full feasibility for Arrow in H1 next year.