Thursday 17th August 2017

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Commerce Resources signs MOU for tantalum-niobium processing

July 11th, 2017

by Greg Klein | July 11, 2017

While focused on its Ashram rare earths deposit in Quebec, Commerce Resources TSXV:CCE has plans for its other critical minerals project. Under a memorandum of understanding announced July 11, a one-tonne sample from the company’s Upper Fir tantalum-niobium deposit in British Columbia would be tested for suitability under a proprietary separation process developed in Estonia by Alexander Krupin.

Commerce Resources signs MOU for tantalum-niobium processing

Previous drilling has established a resource estimate for two
critical minerals on Commerce Resources’ Upper Fir deposit.

The sample should arrive within the next several weeks, with tests expected to begin immediately afterward. The goal would be to process Upper Fir feed stock into independent tantalum and niobium products.

Krupin’s background includes over 35 years in this area, including more than 15 years processing high-grade tantalum and niobium ore concentrates, Commerce stated. “His research activities have developed new technologies for the chemical upgrading of low-grade tantalum and niobium ore concentrates.”

Based on a tantalum price of $381 a kilo, Upper Fir has a 2013 resource showing:

  • indicated: 48.41 million tonnes averaging 197 ppm Ta2O5 and 1,610 ppm Nb2O5 for 9,560 tonnes Ta2O5 and 77,810 tonnes Nb2O5

  • inferred: 5.4 million tonnes averaging 191 ppm Ta2O5 and 1,760 ppm Nb2O5 for 1,000 tonnes Ta2O5 and 9,600 tonnes Nb2O5

The road-accessible east-central B.C. project has transmission lines and CN Rail crossing the western part of the 105,373-hectare property, and a 20-MW run-of-river electricity facility situated adjacently.

Commerce has found niobium in Quebec too, where samples showed very high grades up to 5.9% Nb2O5 on the company’s property about a kilometre from Ashram. Nevertheless the advanced-stage rare earths deposit remains the company’s priority, as it advances towards pre-feasibility. Among Ashram’s features are high grades, an impressive distribution of magnet feed elements and, crucial to the REE space, relatively simple mineralogy amenable to commercial processing. The deposit shows potential for a fluorspar byproduct as well.

Last month Commerce signed an MOU with Ucore Rare Metals TSXV:UCU to assess the suitability of Ashram concentrate for a proprietary method of REE processing at a plant Ucore plans to build in Utah. A Colorado pilot plant has already produced an Ashram concentrate exceeding 45% rare earth oxides at about 75% recovery.

The U.S. Geological Survey lists tantalum, niobium and rare earths among the critical minerals that the United States depends entirely on imports.

Read more about Commerce Resources’ Ashram rare earths deposit.

U.S. increases its dependence on critical mineral imports

January 31st, 2017

by Greg Klein | January 31, 2017

U.S. increases its dependence on critical mineral imports

China stands out in a map showing major sources of non-fuel mineral
commodities of which the U.S. imported more than 50% of its supply in 2016.
(Graphic: U.S. Geological Survey)

 

Lacking any domestic sources at all, the United States imported 100% of its supply of 20 minerals last year, the USGS reports. That number increased from 19 the previous year and 11 in 1984. Included in the 2016 list were rare earths, manganese and niobium, “which are among a suite of materials often designated as ‘critical’ or ‘strategic’ because they are essential to the economy and their supply may be disrupted.”

U.S. increases its dependence on critical mineral imports

Imports of rare earth compounds and metals increased 6% over 2015, although the value dropped from $160 million to $120 million. China supplied 72% directly, with other imports coming from Estonia (7%), France (5%), Japan (5%) and other countries (11%).

But the Estonian, French and Japanese material was derived from concentrates produced in China and elsewhere, the USGS added.

American imports of tantalum increased about 40% over 2015. The USGS attributed about 37% of 2016 global production to the Democratic Republic of Congo and 32% to Rwanda. Estimates reverse those numbers for the previous year.

An alphabetical list of the 20 minerals follows, with rare earths, scandium and yttrium each comprising a separate category:

  • arsenic
  • asbestos
  • cesium
  • fluorspar
  • gallium
  • graphite
  • indium
  • manganese
  • mica
  • niobium
  • quartz crystal
  • rare earths
  • rubidium
  • scandium
  • strontium
  • tantalum
  • thallium
  • thorium
  • vanadium
  • yttrium

The report listed 50 minerals for which the U.S. imported over half of its supply. Overall China was the largest exporter, with Canada running second.

‘The Rare Metal Age’

December 23rd, 2015

Our high-tech society doesn’t understand its dependency on critical elements

by Greg Klein

Read this book and you might want to renounce technology to live in a cave—provided it’s equipped with battery rechargers. Author David S. Abraham brings out some of the paradoxes of our dependency on increasingly elusive minerals while explaining the complicated but murky background of interconnected economic, social and geopolitical forces. It might take an event comparable to OPEC’s 1973 oil embargo to jolt Western society out of its ignorance. Abraham tries to protect us from such a rude awakening with The Elements of Power: Gadgets, Guns, and the Struggle for a Sustainable Future in the Rare Metal Age.

“This book comes at a defining time when rare metals are increasingly critical for high-tech, green and military applications,” he declares. “Yet despite their prevalence, they are not understood.”

Our high-tech society doesn’t understand its dependency on critical elements

By rare metals he means rare earths, tantalum, niobium, lithium, cobalt, graphite and more. Having examined a decade’s worth of reports, he finds “more than half the elements on the periodic table are ‘critical’ to one country or another.”

Resources can be limited and the route from mine-to-market complex. As a case study he presents the electric toothbrush, comprised of roughly 35 metals and relying on “an extensive supply chain: miners like China’s Xiamen Tungsten to supply the metal; a plant in Estonia to process it; and metal traders in New York to provide the alloys to component manufacturers, who sell their wares to the toothbrush manufacturer. It is a web that spans six continents.”

That’s just one example. As the “electronification of everything” coincides with the growing aspirations of emerging economies, “the future of our high-tech goods may lie not in the limitations of our minds, but in our ability to secure the ingredients to produce them…. At no point in human history have we used more elements, in more combinations and in increasingly refined amounts. Our ingenuity will soon outpace our material supplies.”

Our high-tech society doesn’t understand its dependency on critical elements

Hardly limited to consumer luxuries, the metals are essential to uses ranging from green technology to medical instruments to the weapons systems behind a country’s national defence.

Yet sources of production can be frighteningly limited. Some 85% of the world’s niobium comes from Brazil’s Araxa mine, Abraham points out. “Relying on one country and one mine in particular is a risky proposition. A natural disaster, political changes or conflict such as we have seen in Congo can quickly create shortages.”

Then there’s the geopolitical power of countries holding scarce resources. That’s a lesson Japan learned quickly when it challenged China in a territorial dispute, only to lose access to rare earths.

In fact manufacturers from Japan and elsewhere have been relocating their operations to China to ensure supply. One academic tells Abraham that “over the next several decades, every high-tech system—from cars to solar panels—could very well be produced in China.”

Moving to another disturbing topic, Abraham looks at some conflict minerals.

In Colombia, FARC rebels, who have been fighting an insurgency against the government since 1987, produce tungsten from the depths of the Amazon jungle. In Democratic Republic of Congo, anti-government forces and rebel gangs make millions producing tungsten, tin and tantalum. In 2011, about 21% of the world’s tantalum supply came from regions in conflict and almost all of it was processed in China. On the twin Indonesian islands of Bangka and Belitung, bands of small-scale illegal miners dig up more than a third of the world’s tin from jet-black cassiterite minerals, and unknown amounts of other minerals like xenotime and monazite, which hold rare earth elements.

Even Apple notes that it does not have enough information to conclusively determine which country the minerals it uses come from.—David S. Abraham

Where’s that stuff going? Often into products we take for granted. Due to long, baffling supply lines, “a lot of companies have no idea whether or not they’re using conflict minerals,” MetalMiner publisher Lisa Reisman tells Abraham. The author adds, “Even Apple notes that it does not have enough information to conclusively determine which country the minerals it uses come from.”

Abraham tackles other topics as well, including the appalling environmental practices in mining regions like China’s Jiangxi province. Our footprint is there, he says, because “nearly all of your electronics contain specks of metals from those mines.”

Here in the West, our efforts to produce cleaner energy and more energy-efficient machines call for additional metals. “Mining is not antithetical to a green economy; it’s a necessity.”

People who follow resource-related topics will certainly appreciate Abraham’s insights. But other readers might find his book an especial eye-opener. It could make a suitable Christmas gift for any high-tech consumers or green activists who not only disdain mining but deludedly think they abjure the industry.

Unless they live in caves—without battery rechargers—they’re as much a part of the Rare Metal Age as anyone else.