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Open and shut cases: East

January 7th, 2020

Some 2019-2020 ups and downs for mining in Quebec and Atlantic Canada

by Greg Klein

Some 2019-2020 ups and downs for mining in Quebec and Atlantic Canada

Eldorado workers celebrate another endowment from Lamaque’s legacy.
(Photo: Eldorado Gold)

 

This is the final installment of a series on mine openings and closures across Canada for 2019 and 2020.

Quebec

Val-d’Or flaunted its abundance yet again as Eldorado Gold TSX:ELD reached commercial production at Lamaque in March. Pre-commercial mining and toll milling began the previous year, with the first gold pour from the project’s refurbished Sigma mill in December 2018. Guidance for 2019 was set at 100,000 to 110,000 ounces, with 125,000 to 135,000 initially expected for each of 2020 and 2021.

At least, that was the original plan. In September 2019 the company began a PEA to study an annual increase to 170,000 ounces. By November Eldorado announced an additional 19,000 ounces for Lamaque’s proven and probable reserves, along with 191,000 ounces for measured and indicated resources.

Some 2019-2020 ups and downs for mining in Quebec and Atlantic Canada

A drill operator probes the Triangle deposit at Lamaque.
(Photo: Eldorado Gold)

That gives the deposit reserves of 972,000 ounces within a measured and indicated 1.55 million ounces.

But until further feasibility states otherwise, Lamaque’s life expectancy ends in seven years.

Eldorado picked up the property with its 2017 buyout of Integra Gold. The Triangle deposit now under production wasn’t part of the historic Lamaque mines, one of which was Quebec’s biggest gold producer between 1952 and 1985. In 2016 Integra’s Gold Rush Challenge offered geo-boffins a half-million-dollar prize to apply cutting edge technology in search of additional auriferous riches on historic turf adjacent to the current operation.

 

Attributing its setbacks more to cost overruns than an overinflated bubble, Nemaska Lithium TSX:NMX ended 2019 by suspending mine construction and demo plant operations, laying off 64 staff, getting creditor protection and halting trades. Hanging in the balance is a possible $600-million investment that’s been under negotiation since July.

Just over a year ago Nemaska confidently spoke of steady construction progress, with concentrate production expected in H2 2019 and lithium salts production in H2 2020. But by February 2019 the company warned of a $375-million capex shortfall revealed by “detailed engineering work, revised site geo-technical data and updated equipment and installation costs” not foreseen in the previous year’s feasibility update.

That same month Livent Corp (previously FMC Corp) cancelled an 8,000-tpa lithium carbonate supply agreement that was to start in April 2019.

Some 2019-2020 ups and downs for mining in Quebec and Atlantic Canada

Until funders come to the rescue, Nemaska’s
Whabouchi camp will resemble an instant ghost town.
(Photo: Nemaska Lithium)

By September a US$75-million second tranche of a US$150-million stream agreement with Orion Mutual Funds fell into jeopardy. Bondholders called for repayment of US$350 million. The company had so far spent only $392 million towards a capex estimated at $1.269 billion.

Plan A calls for sealing a $600-million deal with the London-based Pallinghurst Group, which over the last 12 years has invested about US$2 billion in mining projects. But negotiation delays caused Nemaska to seek creditor protection, which was granted in December. Bracing for a possible fallout with Pallinghurst, Nemaska says it’s also considering other investment, debt or M&A alternatives.

Before suspending the Phase I plant at Shawinigan, however, the company did finish delivering samples to potential customers “ranging from cathode manufacturers to battery makers to industrial grease users, in addition to our existing offtake customers, which include LG Chemicals, Johnson Matthey and Northvolt” using proprietary methodology.

The mine plan calls for 24 years of open pit operation prior to nine years of underground mining, producing an annual 205,000 tonnes of 6.25% Li2O spodumene concentrate. On achieving commercial production, the Shawinigan plant’s annual capacity would reach 37,000 tonnes lithium hydroxide monohydrate.

Should funding allow, Nemaska would target Q3 2021 to begin spodumene concentrate production at Whabouchi and Q2 2022 to start producing lithium salts at Shawinigan.

The provincial government’s investment agency Ressources Québec holds about 12.5% of Nemaska.

 

Some 2019-2020 ups and downs for mining in Quebec and Atlantic Canada

Although Nyrstar has moved mining equipment
out of Langlois, the company says exploration
potential remains. (Photo: Nyrstar)

Another James Bay-region operation, the Langlois zinc-copper mine went back on care and maintenance in December. A short-lived operation between July 2007 and November 2008, Langlois was taken over by Zurich-headquartered Nyrstar in 2011. Mining resumed the following year. But by October 2018 the suspension was decided “due to rock conditions having deteriorated,” making the mine uneconomic. Some 240 staff lost their jobs.

But Langlois “has exploration potential for other metals such as gold,” Nyrstar stated. “The company is in active discussions with interested parties in the mine and its assets.”

Usable equipment was slated for transfer to other Nyrstar properties in Tennessee and on Vancouver Island, where the company’s Myra Falls zinc-copper-polymetallic mine suspended operations briefly in early 2019.

As part of a debt restructuring, in July Nyrstar came under majority ownership of the Trafigura Group, one of the world’s largest physical commodities traders.

 

Fear of closure came to another Quebec mine in September after Stornoway Diamond followed its application for creditor protection with this ominous declaration: “There is and will be no recoverable or residual value in either Stornoway’s common shares or convertible debentures.”

Such an admission made the company’s October delisting something of a formality. But if investors got wiped out, the Renard mine continues operations due to creditors led by Osisko Gold Royalties TSX:OR and including Ressources Québec. As of November 1, Osisko became the largest shareholder, with a 35.1% stake. The royalty company also holds a 9.6% stream.

Some 2019-2020 ups and downs for mining in Quebec and Atlantic Canada

Despite Stornoway’s failure, creditors keep Quebec’s only
diamond mine in operation. (Photo: Stornoway Diamond)

Under a September LOI, the lenders agreed to take over all of Stornoway’s assets and liabilities. An initial $20-million financing should ensure Renard operations continue “in an uninterrupted manner.”

Open pit mining began in 2015, with an official opening following in 2016 and commercial production in 2017. But Renard encountered technical problems while shifting to underground operations and also faced a disappointing initial underground grade as well as the global slump in diamond markets.

Nevertheless, Osisko suggested the mine remained on target to meet the 2019 guidance set by Stornoway of 1.8 million to 2.1 million carats, with sales expectations of $80 to $105 per carat. A 2016 resource update expected prices ranging from $106 per carat for the Renard 4 pipe to $197 for Renard 2. The technical study assumed a 2.5% annual increase in diamond prices to the end of 2026.

New Brunswick

A casualty of an earlier mine closure, Glencore’s Brunswick lead-silver smelter shut down permanently by the end of 2019. “Despite years of efforts by committed employees and a strong management team, the smelter has been uneconomic since the closure of the Brunswick mine in 2013,” said company spokesperson Chris Eskdale. “We have thoroughly assessed all our options and come to the unavoidable conclusion that the smelter is simply not sustainable, regardless of the recent labour dispute.”

Termed a lockout by the United Steelworkers and a strike by management, the dispute had left 280 union members of the 420-person workforce off the job since April. The company’s November announcement of the impending shutdown also coincided with a strike at the CEZinc refinery near Montreal, which ended December 3 after 10 months. That facility is owned by Noranda Income Fund TSX:NIF.UN but operated by Glencore, which holds 25% of NIF.

Glencore’s Alexis Segal emphasized that Brunswick plant losses averaged $30 million annually for the last three years, CBC reported. Premier Blaine Higgs and labour minister Trevor Holder expressed concern but couldn’t offer reassurances, the network added.

The facility opened in 1966 to process concentrate from the Brunswick zinc-lead-silver mine, at one point the world’s largest underground zinc operation. Following the mine’s 2013 closure, the company was transforming the smelter into a custom plant.

Labrador

Some 2019-2020 ups and downs for mining in Quebec and Atlantic Canada

Blasting began last June as Tacora brought new life
to the Scully iron ore operation. (Photo: Tacora Resources)

Western Labrador’s iron industry revived in May as production resumed at the Scully mine after nearly five years. Minnesota-based Tacora Resources bought the former Wabush Iron operation through a Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act process in 2017, conducted a new feasibility study and recruited strategic investors that include the metals branch of Cargill, which also agreed to 100% offtake for 15 years.

The restart benefits Quebec too. The Iron Ore Company of Canada’s railway, the Quebec North Shore & Labrador line, carries Scully production to a pellet plant at Pointe Noire on the St. Lawrence. Nearby Sept-Isles provides deep sea docks from where the resuscitated mine’s first shipment left for Europe in late August.

With life expectancy currently set at 15 years, the company expects the open pit to produce 6.25 million tpa. Tacora hopes to upgrade the 65.9% Fe concentrate and also pull profits from the deposit’s manganese, considered problematic by the previous operator.

“The manganese content was a hurdle and an impediment before,” Tacora CEO/chairperson Larry Lehtinen told CBC. “We’re turning that into an advantage.”

The mine previously opened in 1965. The operation shut down completely in 2015 but most staff had already lost their jobs the previous year.

This is Part 4 of a series.

Gaia Metals applies new geophysical analysis to Quebec polymetallic project

December 11th, 2019

by Greg Klein | December 11, 2019

This type of geophysical survey hasn’t changed much in two decades, but the technology of evaluation has. With that in mind, Gaia Metals TSXV:GMC (formerly 92 Resources) plans an up-to-date re-analysis of existing IP-resistivity data from its Corvette-FCI property. The process should offer a cost-effective method of gaining new insight into the project.

Gaia Metals applies new geophysical analysis to Quebec polymetallic project

Gaia Metals’ Corvette-FCI project has already shown
impressive sample results for gold, copper and lithium.

The James Bay-region property has so far yielded high-grade samples of gold, copper-gold-silver and lithium-tantalum. Now the company plans to apply new technology to data collected up to 2000.

IP-resistivity surveys have proven “well-suited to detect near-surface disseminated sulphide mineralization (IP anomalies), as well as areas of alteration and/or silicification (resistivity anomalies),” Gaia stated. “This geophysical tool is commonly used in greenstone-hosted gold and base metal exploration and is often effective at qualifying drill targets initially developed from surface mapping and sampling. With the mineralization styles identified at Corvette-FCI, coupled with the thin overburden cover in the area, IP-resistivity offers an efficient sub-surface scan at good resolution and reasonable cost.”

The original survey covered two grids: Golden Gap (now known as FCI West) and Island Lake (FCI East), which includes the Lac Bruno boulder field. IP targets from the original evaluation have yet to be drilled, “further highlighting the value in modern re-processing to prioritize the targets,” Gaia added.

The company expects to conduct new surveying along the property’s Maven trend, extending east across the Lac Smokycat-SO, Lorraine and Elsass showings, where historic sampling brought impressive copper-gold-silver grades. Expected for completion next spring, the survey will precede ground mapping and sampling scheduled for June and July.

Emphasizing the project’s polymetallic promise were surface samples released in September from last summer’s field program. Lithium grades from six newly found pegmatites reached up to 4.72% Li2O, while tantalum numbers included 564 ppm Ta2O5. Gold samples included a Lac Bruno boulder assay as high as 11.9 g/t. A Lorraine outcrop featured 8.15% copper, 1.33 g/t gold and 171 g/t silver.

The project consists of Gaia’s 100%-held Corvette claims and a 75% earn-in from Osisko Mining TSX:OSK spinout O3 Mining TSXV:OIII on the FCI-East and FCI-West blocks.

Among other assets, Gaia’s portfolio includes the Pontax lithium-gold property in Quebec, the Golden silica property in British Columbia and a 40% stake in the Northwest Territories’ Hidden Lake lithium property.

Last week the company closed a private placement of $412,199.

Infographics: The United States and the new energy era’s lithium-ion supply chain

December 11th, 2019

by Nicholas LePan | posted with permission of Visual Capitalist | December 11, 2019

The world is rapidly shifting to renewable energy technologies. Battery minerals are set to become the new oil, with lithium-ion battery supply chains becoming the new pipelines.

China is currently leading this lithium-ion battery revolution—leaving our neighbour to the south dependent on its economic rival. However, the harsh lessons of the 1970s-to-’80s oil crises have increased pressure on the U.S. to develop its own domestic energy supply chain and gain access to key battery metals.

Introducing the new energy era

This infographic from Standard Lithium TSXV:SLL explores the current energy landscape and America’s position in the new energy era.

 

The new energy era’s lithium-ion supply chain

 

An energy dependence problem

Energy dependence is the degree of a nation’s reliance on imported energy, resulting from an insufficient domestic supply. Oil crises during the 1970s to ’80s revealed America’s reliance on foreign-produced oil, especially from the Middle East.

The U.S. economy ground to a halt when gas prices soared during the 1973 oil crisis—altering consumer behavior and energy policy for generations. In the aftermath of the crisis, the government imposed national speed limits to conserve oil, and also demanded cheaper, smaller and more fuel-efficient cars.

U.S. administrations set an objective to wean America off foreign oil through “energy independence”—the ability to meet the country’s fuel needs using domestic resources.

Lessons learned?

Spurred by technological breakthroughs such as hydraulic fracking, the U.S. now has the capacity to respond to high oil prices by ramping up domestic production.

By the end of 2019, total U.S. oil production could rise to 17.4 million barrels a day. At that level, American net imports of petroleum could fall in December 2019 to 320,000 barrels a day, the lowest since 1949.

In fact, the successful development of America’s shale fields is a key reason why the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has lost most of its influence over the supply and price of oil.

A renewable future: Turning the ship

The increasing scarcity of economic oil and gas fields, combined with the negative environmental impacts of oil and the declining costs of renewable power, are creating a new energy supply and demand dynamic.

Oil demand could drop by 16.5 million barrels per day. Oil producers could face significant losses, with $380 billion of above-ground investments becoming worthless if the oil industry and oil-rich nations are not prepared for a surge in green energy by 2030.

Energy companies are hedging their risk with increased investment in renewables. The world’s top 24 publicly listed oil companies spent on average 1.3% of their total budgets on low carbon technology in 2018, amounting to $260 billion. That is double the 0.68% the same group had invested on average through the period of 2010 and 2017.

The new geopolitics of energy: battery minerals

Low carbon technologies for the new energy era are also creating a demand for specific materials and new supply chains that can procure them.

Renewable and low carbon technology will be mineral-intensive, requiring many metals such as lithium, cobalt, graphite and nickel. These are key raw materials, and demand will only grow.

 

Material 2018 2028 2018-2028 % growth
Graphite anode in batteries 170,000 tonnes 2.05M tonnes 1,106%
Lithium in batteries 150,000 tonnes 1.89M tonnes 1,160%
Nickel in batteries 82,000 tonnes 1.09M tonnes 1,229%
Cobalt in batteries 58,000 tonnes 320,000 tonnes 452%

(Source: Benchmark Minerals Intelligence)

 

The cost of these materials is the largest factor in battery technology and will determine whether battery supply chains succeed or fail.

China currently dominates the lithium-ion battery supply chain and could continue to do so. This leaves the U.S. dependent on China in this new era.

Could history repeat itself?

The battery metals race

There are five stages in a lithium-ion battery supply chain—and the U.S. holds a smaller percentage of the global supply chain than China at nearly every stage.

 

The new energy era’s lithium-ion supply chain

 

China’s dominance of the global battery supply chain creates a competitive advantage that the U.S. has no choice but to rely on.

However, this can still be prevented if the U.S. moves fast. From natural resources, human capital and technology, the U.S. can build its own domestic supply.

Building the U.S. battery supply chain

The U.S. relies heavily on imports of several key materials necessary for a lithium-ion battery supply chain.

 

U.S. net import dependence
Lithum 50%
Cobalt 72%
Graphite 100%

(Source: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management)

 

But the U.S. is making strides to secure its place in the new energy era. The American Minerals Security Act seeks to identify the resources necessary to secure America’s mineral independence.

The government has also released a list of 35 minerals it deems critical to the national interest.

Declaring U.S. battery independence

A supply chain starts with raw materials, and the U.S. has the resources necessary to build its own battery supply chain. This would help the country avoid supply disruptions like those seen during the oil crises in the 1970s.

Battery metals are becoming the new oil and supply chains the new pipelines. It is still early in this new energy era, and the victors are yet to be determined in the battery arms race.

Posted with permission of Visual Capitalist.

See European Union pledges €3.2 billion for lithium-ion R&D.

European Union pledges €3.2 billion for lithium-ion R&D

December 10th, 2019

by Greg Klein | December 10, 2019

Seven EU states will subsidize 17 companies working towards greater self-reliance in clean energy resources and technology. Announced this week, the project will provide up to €3.2 billion for research and innovation in European battery production.

The money will back R&D into liquid electrolyte and solid state Li-ion batteries “that last longer, have shorter charging times, and are safer and more environmentally friendly than those currently available,” the commission stated.

European Union pledges €3.2 billion for lithium-ion battery supply chain

Four areas of interest include sourcing raw materials; developing innovations for stationary energy storage, power tools and other applications as well as vehicles; creating battery management software and algorithms as well as innovative test methods; and recycling and re-using battery materials.

“Battery production in Europe is of strategic interest for our economy and society because of its potential in terms of clean mobility and energy, job creation, sustainability and competitiveness,” said Margrethe Vestager, EU commissioner in charge of competition policy. She added the program will deliver “positive spill-over effects across industrial sectors and regions. The approved aid will ensure that this important project can go ahead without unduly distorting competition.”

A claw-back provision requires companies to return part of their subsidies if project revenues exceed forecasts.

The seven funders comprise Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Sweden. The 17 direct participants, including small and medium-sized enterprises, will co-operate with each other and over 70 other European partners. Different sub-projects will have different deadlines but the overall program has 2031 scheduled for completion.

Despite lithium’s price drop, an October forecast from Benchmark Mineral Intelligence saw demand reaching 2.2 million tonnes by 2030, compared with current supply projections of 1.67 million tonnes. Benchmark attributed increasing demand to an EV penetration rate rising from 4.3% in 2020 to 30.7% in 2030.

In September Benchmark reported 99 battery megafactories in the pipeline globally, with over 2,000 GWh of capacity expected by 2028.

 

European Union pledges €3.2 billion for lithium-ion battery supply chain

A chart shows the project’s four areas of interest, the participants
and their supporting countries. (Image: European Union)

Potosí’s legacy

December 5th, 2019

A renowned but notorious mountain of silver looms over Bolivia’s turmoil

by Greg Klein

Far overshadowed by the political violence plaguing Bolivia over the last several weeks was a slightly earlier series of protests in the country’s Potosí department. Arguing that a proposed lithium project offered insufficient local benefits, residents convinced then-president Evo Morales to cancel a partnership between the state-owned mining firm and a German company that intended to open up the country’s vast but unmined lithium resources.

A renowned but notorious mountain of silver looms over Bolivia’s turmoil

In the heart of the Andes, 4,000 metres above sea level,
the city of Potosí sits beneath the infamous Cerro Rico.
(Photo: Shutterstock.com)

Other events overtook the dispute, sending Morales into exile and the country towards an uncertain future that could bring elections, military coup or civil war. Yet Potosí serves as a stark example of Bolivia’s plight: a mineral-rich land that’s one of South America’s poorest countries. That’s one of the contradictions related in Kris Lane’s recent book Potosí: The Silver City that Changed the World.

Unlike so many other New World mineral rushes, the 1545 discovery held enduring global importance. More typically, and probably more dramatically, it was “rife with paradox from the start, a site of human depravity and ingenuity, oppression and opportunity, piety and profligacy, race mixture and ethnic retrenchment,” Lane recounts. “The list could go on.”

Looming over a boom town both squalid and magnificent was the great mountain of silver, Cerro Rico. For their first century of operation its mines and mills churned out nearly half the world’s silver, and then about 20% up to 1825.

The red mountain of Potosí is still producing silver, tin, zinc, lead, and other metals, and it never seems to have stopped doing so despite many cycles since its discovery in 1545. Current estimates range from 30,000 to 60,000 tons of silver produced to date, and geologists estimate that the Cerro Rico, easily the world’s richest silver deposit, contains an equivalent amount dispersed in low-grade, refractory ores that would require sophisticated processing.

A renowned but notorious mountain of silver looms over Bolivia’s turmoil

This huge supply came online just as Europe was suffering a “bullion famine,” Lane writes. More than gold, silver served as the world’s exchange medium. Globalization can be dated to 1571, when Spain launched trans-Pacific trade and Chinese demand for silver “reset the clock of the world’s commercial economy just as Potosí was hitting its stride.”

Yet Spain served as little more than a transfer point for its share. With longstanding armed conflicts on a number of fronts, “the king’s fifth went to fund wars, which is to say it went to pay interest on debts to Charles V’s and Philip II’s foreign creditors in southern Germany, northern Italy, and Flanders.”

As for the rest, “once taxed, most private silver went to rich merchants who had advanced funds to Potosí’s mine owners. They then settled their accounts with distant factors, moving massive mule-loads and shiploads of silver across mountains, plains, and oceans. Global commerce was the wholesale merchants’ forte, and most such merchants were junior factors linked to larger wholesalers in Lima, Seville, Lisbon, and elsewhere. Some had ties to Mexico City and later to Manila, Macao, and Goa; still others were tied to major European trading hubs such as Antwerp, Genoa, and Lyons.”

But wealth wasn’t unknown near the source. Known for its “opulence and decadence, its piety and violence,” the boom town “was one of the most populous urban conglomerations on the planet, possibly the first great factory town of the modern world…. By the time its population topped 120,000 in the early seventeenth century, the Imperial Villa of Potosí had become a global phenomenon.”

It was also a “violent, vice-ridden, and otherwise criminally prolific” contender for the world’s most notorious Sin City.

By comparison the much-later Anglo-Saxon boom towns seem small time, only partly for their ephemeral nature. But the men (and later women) who moiled for Potosí silver weren’t the adventurous free spirits of gold rush legend. Slaves and, to a greater extent, conscripted Andean natives endured the inhumane conditions “perhaps exceeded only by work in the mercury mines of Huancavelica, located at a similarly punishing altitude in Peru.”

Native Andeans and Europeans began a long process of negotiation and struggle that would last beyond the end of the colonial era. Potosí’s mineral treasure served as a fulcrum.

At the same time some natives, like some foreigners, achieved affluence as merchants, contractors or traders in bootleg ore boosted by the conscripts. Andean innovation helped keep the mines going, for example by smelting with indigenous wind furnaces after European technology failed, and using a native method of cupellation.

“Put another way, native Andeans and Europeans began a long process of negotiation and struggle that would last beyond the end of the colonial era. Potosí’s mineral treasure served as a fulcrum.”

A “noisy, crushing, twenty-four-hour polluting killer, a monster that ate men and poisoned women and children” needed some rationale for its existence. Spain’s excuse was the money-burning responsibility of defending the faith. Still “the steady beat of Potosí’s mills and the clink of its newly minted coins hammered away at the Spanish conscience. Priests, headmen, and villagers, even some local elites denounced the mita [forced native labour] as immoral. As one priest put it, even if the king’s demand for treasure was righteous, [the] Potosí and Huancavelica mitas were effectively killing New World converts in the name of financing the struggle against Old World heresy. God’s imagination could not possibly be so limited.”

More practical matters stained the empire’s reputation too, as the 1649 Potosí mint debasement scandal unfolded. World markets recoiled and Spain’s war efforts suffered as money lenders and suppliers refused the once-prized Spanish coins. “Indeed, the great mint fraud showed that when Potosí sneezed, the world caught a cold.”

A renowned but notorious mountain of silver looms over Bolivia’s turmoil

Potosí miners, seen here in 2017, work at
surface with Cerro Rico in the background.
(Photo: SL-Photography/Shutterstock.com)

With the 1825 arrival of Simón Bolívar, “the Liberator symbolically proclaimed South American freedom from atop the Cerro Rico. Yet British investors were close on his heels.”

Foreign owners brought new investment and infrastructure. But “the turn from silver to tin starting in the 1890s revolutionized Bolivian mining and also made revolutionaries of many miners. The fiercely militant political sensibility of the Potosí miner so evident today was largely forged in the struggles of the first half of the twentieth century.”

Those clashes bring to mind events of recent weeks, in which dozens have been killed by police and military.

Lane’s narrative continues to Morales’ “seeming ambivalence” toward miners and Potosí’s transformation into a “thriving metropolis” that hopes tourism will offset mineral depletion. Meanwhile underpaid, often under-age, miners continue to toil in woefully unhealthy conditions.

The breadth of Lane’s work is tremendous. He covers Potosí’s history from global, colonial, economic and social perspectives, outlines different practices of mining and metallurgy, recites contemporary accounts and provides quick character studies of the people involved. All that gives the book wide-ranging Christmas gift potential. It also offers considerable context as the geologically bountiful country once again experiences troubled times.

Mining for the future

November 21st, 2019

Saskatchewan Research Council R&D fosters innovation and sustainability

by Greg Klein

Predictably for a jurisdiction so rich in potash and uranium, mining plays a prominent role in the Saskatchewan Growth Plan, a 10-year economic program announced last week. Skeptics, however, might question the goal to extract lithium and rare earths locally and even set a near-precedent in non-Chinese commercial REE separation. But it turns out that some of that work has been underway for years, while other targets have already been in the planning stage. That’s just part of a wide range of mining expertise developed and applied by the Saskatchewan Research Council.

Saskatchewan Research Council R&D fosters innovation and sustainability

SRC employees look over the remediated Lorado mill site
in northern Saskatchewan. (Photo provided by SRC)

SRC figures strongly in the province’s new agenda, whose mining-related initiatives include a continuation of the PST exception on drilling, streamlining permitting, creating a Geoscience Data Management System, boosting annual uranium and potash sales, upgrading and building road, rail, pipeline and power infrastructure, and developing nuclear energy.

If some of the mining-specific plans sound over-ambitious, it’s reassuring to learn how few of them are actually new. “The fact that the projects have been promoted in an integrated growth plan is in some ways new, and some of the projects themselves are fairly new in the public domain,” says SRC president/CEO Mike Crabtree. But a surprising amount of work is well underway at his organization, which plays an integral role in the growth plan, in Saskatchewan industry and, increasingly, on the global mining scene.

A Crown corporation with over 340 employees, 1,400 clients in 23 countries and $75 million in annual revenue, SRC focuses its largest division on mining and energy. Mining-related R&D covers everything from early exploration to remediation, with growing attention to sustainability and innovation.

Saskatchewan Research Council R&D fosters innovation and sustainability

Rare earths solvent extraction helps develop another
source of critical minerals. (Photo provided by SRC)

The SRC boasts the largest potash, uranium and diamonds labs in the world. Most Canadian diamond production and a substantial amount of kimberlite from around the world passes through the Saskatoon facility.

“With uranium we test tens of thousands of ore samples per year, predominantly for Saskatchewan but also on a global basis. In terms of that, we’re very much the largest laboratory in the world and, for very similar reasons, for potash.”

But SRC’s work goes far beyond assays. “We’ve also used those laboratories for designing and modelling mine feasibility, through to diagnostics and optimization of ongoing mine operations, and then monitoring and remediation for closure,” Crabtree explains. “That’s full-cycle mining and minerals, making SRC probably one of the largest integrated testing, research and development facilities for mining, certainly in Canada and possibly in the world.”

One sustainability project focuses on comminution, the highly expensive and energy-consuming practice of breaking, crushing or grinding rock for further processing. SRC’s advanced ore sensor and sorting techniques can greatly reduce the procedure with no loss of production and sometimes even an improvement.

Saskatchewan Research Council R&D fosters innovation and sustainability

The SRC’s mineral processing labs handle extensive
work in addition to assays. (Photo provided by SRC)

“We’re already seeing the opportunity to reduce energy costs and therefore the carbon footprint by anywhere from 20% to 40%. That’s huge, given that often 40% of operating costs are in energy. That kind of sustainability and economic optimization really just shows different sides of the same coin.”

Remediation work applies leading edge expertise to former mines through SRC’s Project CLEANS, which takes on the challenge of mitigating some 37 former uranium sites that shut down during the 1960s and earlier.

On another front, Crabtree says SRC oil and gas expertise brings “a lot of synergies” to the development of in-situ mining, a method that’s being tested on potash and uranium projects in Saskatchewan.

As for strategic minerals, the SRC harbours some surprising ambitions: local lithium and rare earths extraction, along with processing in both areas including commercial-scale REE separation. That last goal could give Saskatoon a key role in challenging China’s near-monopoly on rare earths supply chains.

Looking at lithium, Saskatchewan has two potential sources, the continental brines of the southern province, as well as oil and gas-produced waste water.

Starting with lithium levels of 50 ppm to 150 ppm, “SRC has developed technology to concentrate those brines up to maybe 2,500 or 3,000 ppm while excluding the contaminants, which makes processing to lithium hydroxide or lithium carbonate much easier and financially viable,” Crabtree says.

Saskatchewan Research Council R&D fosters innovation and sustainability

SRC oversees the Cowessess First Nation Renewable
Energy Storage Facility. (Photo provided by SRC)

Another possible source of critical minerals from waste comes from the world’s highest-grade uranium resources, which offer rare earths potential from tailings.

Of course with rare earths, the greatest challenge remains processing and separation. SRC plans to develop technology that could be applied to liquid raffinate from waste, or to the bastnasite or monazite minerals often associated with RE deposits.

Phase I begins next year. Working with industrial partners, SRC intends to produce a concentrate of 99.95% mixed rare earths oxides or rare earths carbonate.

Phase II, subject to funding from industry and government, will be to separate the concentrate into individual elements. He foresees “a smaller-scale commercial plant that would demonstrate the commercial viability of that technology. We can see a plant operating within about three years, assuming we can get funding. If no other plant is built by 2003, it would be the first commercial plant in North America.”

And a momentous achievement. Except for the Lynas facility in Malaysia and possibly a small-scale operation in France, there’s currently no commercial RE separation outside China, he points out.

Additionally, “we believe the process will be substantially more economically viable and much more environmentally sustainable than current techniques.”

Saskatchewan’s Growth Plan also calls for nuclear power. By becoming a consumer of its own uranium, the province hopes to drastically cut its dependence on coal and natural gas-fired electricity.

Saskatchewan Research Council R&D fosters innovation and sustainability

Staff operate SRC’s Centre for the Demonstration of
Emissions Reductions Mobile Facility. (Photo provided by SRC)

Again, SRC can offer a range of expertise. “We have experience not only with mining and processing uranium but also with an operational research reactor, which we just de-fueled in September. So we are the only entity in the province that has a nuclear reactor operating licence. In addition, other parts of SRC are highly skilled at environmental assessment and engineering assessment, so we hope SRC will be playing a role in Saskatchewan for small modular reactors.”

What comes up repeatedly in SRC’s work is the convergence of economics and sustainability as researchers find newer, less expensive and greener methods of producing materials that are, in turn, crucial to economic and environmental well-being. Ongoing innovation, of course, plays a vital role.

So it’s not surprising that a growing SRC priority is artificial intelligence—“specifically for industrial and resource processes in Saskatchewan,” Crabtree emphasizes.

“A lot of the processes that we’re talking about, whether it’s rare earths, lithium, sensor-based sorting, in-situ mining, all these things are going to have a significant deep data analytics and artificial intelligence component. That’s something we’re working very closely on.”

Looking ahead, he adds, “It will be difficult to envisage major projects like these in the next five years that don’t have a significant AI component.”

Read more about mining’s role in the Saskatchewan Growth Plan.

Read the Saskatchewan Research Council blog.

Updated: Belmont Resources’ Greenwood expansion continues with new acquisitions

November 21st, 2019

Update: On November 21, 2019, the company announced two more Greenwood-area acquisitions totalling 45 hectares in the Pride of the West and Great Bear claims.

by Greg Klein | October 30, 2019

Newly acquired turf shows continued interest in an historic southern British Columbia mining camp. On October 30 Belmont Resources TSXV:BEA announced 127 hectares of new claims to add to its existing holdings in the area.

The Glenora acquisition sits adjacent to Golden Dawn Minerals’ (TSXV:GOM) Golden Crown project, about three kilometres from Golden Dawn’s processing plant and one kilometre from the former Phoenix mine.

Belmont Resources expands its presence in B.C.’s Greenwood camp

Although neighbouring deposits don’t necessarily reflect on the potential of other properties, an idea of Greenwood activity can be gleaned from historic production at Phoenix. The open pit reportedly produced over one million ounces of gold and 500 million pounds of copper up to 1978. Golden Crown reached PEA in 2017 with a resource that uses a 3.5 g/t gold-equivalent cutoff:

Indicated: 163,000 tonnes averaging 11.09 g/t gold and 0.56% copper for 11.93 g/t gold-equivalent containing 62,500 gold-equivalent ounces

Inferred: 42,000 tonnes averaging 9.04 g/t gold and 0.43% copper for 9.68 g/t gold-equivalent containing 13,100 gold-equivalent ounces

Belmont plans further assessment of Glenora while considering other possible acquisitions in the camp.

The new claims will cost the company 420,000 units on TSXV approval, with each unit containing one share and one warrant. Another 420,000 shares are payable within a year and a 1.5% NSR will apply.

Earlier this month Belmont reported sample results from its Greenwood-area Pathfinder project, with grades up to 4.999 ppm gold, 35.86 ppm silver, 20700 ppm copper and 45.1 ppm cobalt. The autumn campaign followed a summer program that returned sample assays up to 29.2 g/t gold, along with silver, copper and lead. The company currently has contract proposals under review for an airborne VTEM survey over the property.

Belmont’s portfolio also includes a 75% interest in Nevada’s Kibby Basin lithium project, where drill results have graded up to 393 ppm lithium over 42.4 metres and 415 ppm over 30.5 metres. In northern Saskatchewan the company shares a 50/50 stake with International Montoro Resources TSXV:IMT in two uranium properties.

Belmont currently has private placements on offer totalling up to $300,000. The company closed a $252,000 private placement last June and arranged two loans totalling $50,000 in August.

Saskatchewan mining plans include drilling incentive, lithium extraction and rare earths processing

November 14th, 2019

by Greg Klein | November 14, 2019

It’s interesting enough now but the manifesto might make even more compelling reading 10 years from now. That’s the due date for no less than 30 lofty economic and social goals announced in Saskatchewan’s Growth Plan on November 14. Not surprising for a province where mining plays such an important role, the government intends to further encourage the industry. But the agenda goes well beyond Saskatchewan’s standbys of potash and uranium to call for the development of nuclear energy, lithium extraction technologies and “the first North American REE processing plant to deliver individual high-purity REEs.”

Saskatchewan mining plans include drilling incentive, lithium extraction and rare earths processing

Among the objectives already achieved is the renewed PST exemption on drilling. In a news release from the Saskatchewan Mining Association, Purepoint Uranium TSXV:PTU VP of exploration Scott Frostad describing drilling as “the lifeblood of a sustainable mining sector.

“All discoveries are made through drilling and the life of a mine is extended through drilling off additional reserves. Monies recovered through reinstatement of the PST exemption on drilling will be invested in more holes being drilled, which will increase the prospects of finding the next Saskatchewan mineral deposit or extending the life of an existing mine.” 

Exploration spending in the province’s north will surpass $200 million this year, the SMA stated. “Drilling costs represent almost half of a typical exploration budget. For every $1 spent on drilling, another $1.30 is spent on support activities such as geophysics, groceries, camp and air support, and professional services, with the majority of this spend with companies operating out of northern Saskatchewan.”

If the growth plan goes to plan, Saskatchewan will find another customer for its uranium. That would be Saskatchewan itself, which will work with New Brunswick and Ontario to generate electricity with small modular nuclear reactors. Combined with wind and solar, the province hopes to make up to 80% of its energy mix emissions-free. Saskatchewan currently generates most of its electricity from coal and natural gas.

The province also sees potential in strategic and critical metals, touting “world-class resources of both lithium and rare earth elements, which are extracted as part of oil and uranium production.”

The Saskatchewan Party government plans to consider partnerships with industry, universities and research institutes to develop lithium extraction, to work with miners to develop rare earths, “including production of high-value REE concentrate in Saskatchewan within the next two years,” and to host the continent’s first plant to process individual high-purity REEs.

[A rare earths processing plant] would be a first in Canada that would create jobs, increase exports and provide a significant opportunity for value-added manufacturing.—Government of Saskatchewan

“This would be a first in Canada that would create jobs, increase exports and provide a significant opportunity for value-added manufacturing,” the government stated.

The province also committed to streamline permitting and create a Geoscience Data Management System “to increase exploration efficiency, improve drilling and development outcomes, and make new discoveries.”

With Phase I pre-planning expected to finish this month, the project will “improve the province’s investment attractiveness for its mining and petroleum sectors by facilitating access to high-quality geoscience data and supporting the growing interest by industry in machine learning/artificial intelligence applications to guide natural resource exploration,” a government spokesperson told ResourceClips.com.

Among the plan’s 30 goals are increasing annual uranium sales to $2 billion and potash to $9 billion.

Ambitious infrastructure plans entail highway expansion and upgrades, a north-south rail line, and support for pipeline expansion and a national infrastructure corridor to enhance connections with the port of Vancouver and establish a link with the port of Churchill, Manitoba.

Last year mining contributed over $7 billion to Saskatchewan’s GDP, which reached an all-time high of $82.5 billion with the country’s third-highest growth rate. According to the SMA, the industry employs 30,000 people directly and indirectly, with a payroll of over $1.4 billion to direct employees, and is proportionally Saskatchewan’s largest private sector employer of indigenous workers. 

Read Mining for the future: Saskatchewan Research Council R&D fosters innovation and sustainability.

EV rare earths demand to increase 350% to 2025, outpacing supply: Adamas Intelligence

November 11th, 2019

by Greg Klein | November 11, 2019

Increasing reliance on electric vehicles will challenge the ability of suppliers to meet rare earths demand, resulting in “shortages if the market continues on a path of business as usual,” according to an independent research and advisory firm.

A new report from Adamas Intelligence forecasts a 350% increase in rare earths demand from EVs alone between 2018 and 2025. Estimates call for another 127% increase from 2025 to 2030. The REs in question consist of neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium and terbium, key ingredients for the permanent magnets most commonly used in the vehicles.

The report foresees annual EV sales, excluding mild and micro hybrids, to multiply from 4.3 million units last year to 12.5 million in 2025 and 32 million in 2030. Over 80% of those vehicles will use permanent magnet synchronous motors, which rely on RE-bearing magnets. Given their advantages of cost and efficiency over other types of motors, Adamas expects “overwhelming” use in next-generation EV designs.

Adamas forecasts EV demand for neodymium-praseodymium oxide will rise from about 3,000 tonnes last year to 13,000 tonnes in 2025 and 28,000 tonnes in 2030, making up around 20% of total global demand in 2030. With production anticipated to increase at a slower rate, the report predicts a shortfall of 7,500 tonnes by 2030, along with a 300-tonne deficit for dysprosium oxide, “if supply is not increased beyond what is currently anticipated.”

While hybrids and fully battery-dependent vehicle sales combined rose 23% between 2010 and 2018, the study found battery-only EVs such as the Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf increased at a compound average growth rate of 118% during that time. Battery-only vehicles showed 133% CAGR. Fully electric models will constitute about 63% of the 32 million EVs forecast for 2030, the report estimates.

Despite a general trend to cut subsidies, national, regional and municipal governments worldwide have set goals for EV use to offset climate change. But “ambitious targets alone will not drive EV penetration into the mass market,” the report maintains. “Falling costs and improved EV economics will.”

Besides rare earths, Adamas sees accelerated EV demand for lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese, graphite and copper, as well as other metals and materials.

Read the Adamas Intelligence report: Electric Growth: EVs, Motors and Motor Materials.

Belmont Resources expands its presence in B.C.’s Greenwood camp

October 30th, 2019

This story has been updated and moved here.