Tuesday 22nd September 2020

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Posts tagged ‘china’

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.

Global top 40 miners stand up to pandemic but face further challenges, says PwC

July 24th, 2020

by Greg Klein | July 24, 2020

For all the tribulations facing mining, the industry has been faring well compared to others. That’s the verdict of the recent PwC report Mine 2020: Resilient and Resourceful. But the publication warns that caution, adaptation and innovation must continue to safeguard the future.

Global top 40 miners stand up to pandemic but face further challenges, says PwC

If the top 40’s performance reflects the wider industry,
mining will prevail over the pandemic, this report maintains.
(Photo: PwC)

The survey looks at the world’s top 40 listed miners by market cap as of December 31. For the third year in a row, six Canadian companies made the list.

The IMF predicts global economic contraction of 3% this year, only the third comparable event since 1944. Yet PwC maintains that mining’s top 40 “are in an excellent position to weather the storm.”

Although the companies’ 2019 EBITDA performance remained flat at US$168 billion, PwC foresees a 6% decline this year, with capital spending falling at least 20% due to reduced revenue as well as pandemic-related staffing and mobilization difficulties.

Still, the decline will be temporary as past performance puts the top 40 “in a strong financial position as they enter one of the more uncertain economic periods in living memory. Liquidity is improved, and solvency is consistent.”

The pandemic’s effect on commodity prices ranges from double-digit drops for copper, nickel and zinc, to record prices for gold. Iron ore has remained relatively steady and looks promising due to early recovery in China and strong GDP growth predicted for that country and India in coming years.

In a recommendation that itself presents challenges, however, PwC suggests miners seek greater diversification of customers to wean themselves off of the two Asian giants.

Mining companies may think they’re an unlikely target for cyberattacks, but as reliance on autonomous and digital technology grows, so too does the cybersecurity risk. And the consequences can be a matter of life or death.—PwC Mine 2020

As for gold’s steep ascent, “don’t expect this to continue.” With 2020 yellow metal M&A down 33% from the same period last year, “gold miners appear to have learnt their mistakes from the early 2010s and are avoiding the pitfalls of pursuing large cash and debt-backed deals in a rising price environment. We expect gold deals to be less frequent and smaller this year and next, with more transactions on a scrip-for-scrip basis.”

Under the circumstances smaller, local property acquisitions might prove more attractive to the top miners. Locally available resources, along with globally diverse deposits, would help strengthen critical supply chains too. Pointing to fragile links further weakened by COVID-19, PwC also called for improved inventory management. The measures “would not only de-risk mining companies against a similarly disruptive event but also help develop and build resilience in local communities,” the report states. “Many are already doing it; Anglo American, Nornickel and BHP among others, have announced initiatives to increase support for their domestic suppliers as a result of the pandemic.”

PwC also emphasized the need to strengthen cybersecurity, and to address environmental, social and governance accountability, calling for a global ESG standard.

For the third year running, six Canadian companies made the top 40 list with the present group including Barrick Gold TSX:ABX, Agnico Eagle Mines Group TSX:AEM, Teck Resources TSX:TECK.A/TSX:TECK.B, Kirkland Lake Gold TSX:KL, First Quantum Minerals TSX:FM and Kinross Gold TSX:K. Newcomer Kinross kept Canada’s half-dozen steady following the takeover of Goldcorp by Denver-headquartered Newmont TSX:NGT. Among companies poised to join next year is Vancouver-headquartered Pan American Silver TSX:PAAS.

Read the PwC report.

The U.S. Nuclear Fuel Working Group warns of Chinese and Russian supremacy in domestic and exported nuclear energy capacity

July 7th, 2020

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A critical first for the U.S.

June 26th, 2020

Ares Strategic Mining has near-term plans for the country’s only fluorspar operation

by Greg Klein | June 26, 2020

The way James Walker tells it, Utah’s Lost Sheep fluorspar mine was down to a part-time operation for just two men. Having seen better days between 1948 and 2007, operations dwindled to the point that “a couple of old guys were just driving a loader straight into the face of the fluorspar and putting that into bags. The grade was so rich that was all they had to do. So they just did that a couple of days a week and then they’d go off and fish most of the time.”

Ares Strategic Mining has near-term plans for the country’s only fluorspar operation

VP of exploration Raul Sanabria at
one of the project’s fluorspar showings.

Sounds idyllic, but the president/CEO of Ares Strategic Mining TSXV:ARS saw far greater potential. Walker was looking for a project “that was close to cash-flow and didn’t need a huge investment like $20 million to boost production,” he relates. “We looked over a couple of hundred projects and this one came up. It had been overlooked because the mineral itself wasn’t very well known. It was the only mine in all of America that was permitted and producing fluorspar.”

A year of effort consummated in February with Ares’ 100% acquisition which, along with additionally staked claims, delivered a 586-hectare potentially near-term producer that would comprise an American mining monopoly.

That’s based on a bold plan to move forward without the usual 43-101 de-risking stages. Walker attributes his confidence partly to the project and partly to the market.

As he said, fluorspar isn’t well known. But it’s highly coveted nonetheless. Also known as fluorite and more technically referred to as calcium fluoride (CaF2), it’s considered a critical mineral by the U.S. and EU.

Acidspar, the higher-priced fluorspar grading over 97% CaF2, is used to create hydrofluoric acid for refrigerants, pharmaceuticals and electronics, among other applications, and is also used in lithium-ion batteries and aluminum production. Lower-priced metspar, grading under 97%, goes into steel and cement production.

China produced over 57% of world fluorspar supply last year, according to U.S. Geological Survey data, followed by Mexico at 17%. With no significant production of its own, the U.S. has been importing about 66% of supply from Mexico, 13% from Vietnam, 8% from South Africa and 6% from China. Several of the world’s mines have been operating at or near full capacity, the USGS added. Roskill considers China likely to become a net fluorspar importer.

Ares Strategic Mining has near-term plans for the country’s only fluorspar operation

Assays are pending from last spring’s
delineation and exploration drill campaigns.

Ares’ work so far has Walker enthusiastic.

Although assays are still to come, last spring the company sunk 12 holes totalling 900 metres to delineate the old guys’ target area. Another five-hole, 300-metre exploration program revealed visible fluorspar in three holes. Metallurgical tests, meanwhile, upgraded Lost Sheep material beyond 97% CaF2, into the higher-priced acidspar level. That highlights the potential for bulk mining instead of selective extraction, Walker says.

He foresees possible production by October or even September with an initial 15- to 20-person operation. The mine plan calls for an adit to intersect a fluorspar-bearing pipe which would be drilled and blasted from the bottom. An underground loader or conveyor belt would move material to a truck which would carry it to the company’s own crushing, grinding, flotation and bagging facility.

“We also have a stockpile of discarded low-grade just sitting there. The other guys couldn’t sell it, they didn’t have a refining process.”

An impressive vote of confidence quickly came from the Mujim Group, a multinational fluorspar mining and distribution company. Soon after Ares announced the Lost Sheep acquisition, Mujim engineers visited the property. A strategic partnership resulted, with the group buying a 9% stake in Ares. Mujim managing director Bob Li joined Ares’ board earlier this month, bringing with him experience running fluorspar mines in Thailand and Laos, along with fluorspar trading companies in India, China and the Emirates. He’ll advise Ares on topics ranging from equipment selection and mining methods to processing techniques.

Walker himself is an engineer, not a common background for a junior mining CEO but especially suitable for a near-term producer. He’s worked on design projects for nuclear reactors, submarines, chemical plants, factories, infrastructure and automotive machinery, as well as mine processing facilities.

In charge of the Lost Sheep mine plan is Keith Minty, a mining engineer with 26 years of project development and operation experience over three continents. “He’s helped put nine mines into production that are way bigger than ours,” enthuses Walker.

Ares Strategic Mining has near-term plans for the country’s only fluorspar operation

CEO James Walker foresees operations
by September or October.

VP of exploration Raul Sanabria’s 20-year background includes five years with the Minersa Group, an industrial minerals company that’s Europe’s largest fluorspar producer. Denise Nunes brings over 20 years of experience as a process engineer and metallurgist to manage Ares’ bench testing and design a processing facility.

“We’re quite well-connected in the mining world so we have access to the best personnel for this project,” Walker emphasizes.

He points to financial backing too. Sprott Capital Partners helped broker a private placement that closed on $1.97 million in February. Haywood Securities acted as financial adviser on an over-subscribed private placement that closed on $1.13 million earlier this month. Walker anticipates a debt financing with Sprott on completing the mine plan.

In northern British Columbia, meanwhile, the company acquired the Liard fluorspar project last April. The highway-accessible 476-hectare property comes with historic, non-43-101 resources for seven areas. A joint venture, possibly with Mujim, might be the vehicle to drive the project, Walker says.

Other acquisitions are possible too, especially in the U.S., he adds. Should all go to plan with Lost Sheep, Ares would hold an American mining monopoly on fluorspar. That’s a distinction Walker would like to maintain.

Watch a January interview with Roskill analyst Adam Coggins on fluorspar demand and prices.

Terry Glavin contemplates an unprecedented crisis

June 19th, 2020

…Read more

A look at Canada’s future

June 8th, 2020

…Read more

Terry Glavin comments on the 56 million respirators and masks reportedly shipped to China in the first week of the Wuhan shutdown

June 2nd, 2020

…Read more

Commerce Resources’ Quebec rare earths project gets international academic attention

June 1st, 2020

by Greg Klein | June 1, 2020

Not a subject that normally excites investors, tailings management is nevertheless an important consideration for advanced-stage projects. A previously announced academic article on Commerce Resources’ (TSXV:CCE) Ashram rare earths deposit now comes to an international audience.

Commerce Resources’ Quebec rare earths project gets international academic attention

Written and researched by a six-person team led by PhD candidate Sophie Costis, Assessment of the Leaching Potential of Flotation Tailings from Rare Earth Mineral Extraction in Cold Climates was published last month in Science of the Total Environment, an international peer-reviewed journal.

The study results from tailings characterization test programs still underway by le Centre Eau Terre Environnement of l’Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS).

Funding comes from a $300,000 grant provided jointly by le Fonds de recherche du Québec—Nature et technologies and le Ministère de l’Énergie et des Ressources naturelles. Although the program was scheduled to finish next December, Commerce and INRS hope to extend the project through the same funding sources.

An earlier presentation on her Ashram research won Costis first prize in the Geoscience Research Challenge held by l’Association Québécoise des Sciences de la Terre. Her award was announced in November at the Quebec Mines + Energy conference in Quebec City.

“We continue to be impressed by the quality of work being completed by Sophie Costis and the team at the INRS, and are very happy to have been able to be involved and contribute to REE research in Quebec, and now globally,” said Commerce president Chris Grove.

The company’s work continues on the northern Quebec Ashram rare earths-fluorspar project, which hosts two of the 35 minerals considered critical by the U.S. Rare earths have been an increasing cause of concern to the American government, which relies heavily on China for these elements essential to defence, medicine and clean energy technology, among other applications.

Apart from a friendly jurisdiction, Ashram benefits from carbonatite host rocks with relatively simple monazite, bastnasite and xenotime mineralogy that’s familiar to conventional rare earths processing.

See other news about flowsheet studies for Commerce Resources’ Ashram rare earths deposit.

Read more about Commerce Resources.

Poll shows Canadians back sustainable production of critical minerals

May 13th, 2020

by Greg Klein | May 13, 2020

A Mining Week announcement from the Mining Association of Canada expresses public opinion on an issue of increasing prominence. A survey by Abacus Data shows almost 90% of respondents “like the idea of Canada being a preferred source for critical minerals and would like to see government take a number of steps to support this approach,” MAC reported.

Poll shows Canadians back sustainable production of critical minerals

Increasing demand, supply chain weaknesses, and rivalries in trade and geopolitics have heightened concern for raw materials necessary for the aerospace industry, defence, communications, computing, medicine and clean energy.

“China has been a major supplier of these minerals but Canada has an opportunity to play a larger role in this marketplace as customers look for products made to high environmental standards,” MAC stated, pointing to its Towards Sustainable Mining program.

Among the survey’s findings:

  • 88% of respondents want Canada to increase its role in producing critical minerals for world markets

  • 86% want to encourage international investment in Canadian critical minerals and metals companies that are sustainability leaders

  • 83% want to encourage Canadian production of critical minerals to compete with China

  • 81% want to promote interest in Canadian critical minerals by drawing attention to Canada’s high standards of sustainability

MAC commissioned the online nationwide poll. Conducted between March 3 and 11, it surveyed 2,600 people weighted according to census data. Abacus gave the results a margin of error of plus or minus 1.92%, 19 times out of 20.

Canada is a top five country in global production of 15 minerals and metals, including several critical minerals essential to new technologies such as cobalt, copper, precious metals, nickel, uranium. We have the potential to expand in lithium, magnesium and rare earths.—Pierre Gratton, president/CEO,
Mining Association of Canada

“More than a decade of Canadian leadership in responsible mining practices is giving us an additional edge, and we see more investors and customers examining how their suppliers approach environmental responsibility,” said MAC president/CEO Pierre Gratton. “The market is growing and Canada’s opportunity is clear.”

In January Canada and the U.S. announced their Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration, which the Canadian industry expects will attract investment and encourage further development of supply chains. The plan follows a number of American initiatives to reduce its dependence on rival countries, especially China.

MAC also pointed to the Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan, a federal-provincial effort intended to enhance competitiveness, innovation and native participation in mining.

“Canadians may not all have a detailed knowledge about the mining sector,” added Gratton, “but they can clearly spot the chance to leverage our advantages in terms of abundant resources and the high standards of responsibility that our industry is known for. They know that winning a bigger share of this growing market means more well-paying jobs and stronger communities.”

According to figures supplied by MAC, mining contributes $97 billion to national GDP and 19% of total domestic exports. Employing 626,000 people directly and indirectly, the industry is proportionally Canada’s largest private sector employer of natives and a major customer of native-owned businesses.