Saturday 19th August 2017

Resource Clips


Posts tagged ‘niobium’

Arctic Star’s B.C. discovery potentially associated with “a plethora of commodities”

August 8th, 2017

by Greg Klein | August 8, 2017

Even before the drill core reached the lab, Arctic Star Exploration TSXV:ADD announced a discovery that’s both rare and potentially associated with several metals. The company found a carbonatite-syenite complex on its Cap project in east-central British Columbia.

The potential rewards associated with a new discovery such as at Cap cannot be overstated.—Jody Dahrouge

“Carbonatite is an extremely rare rock type with only around 550 complexes identified worldwide,” explained Jody Dahrouge, president of Dahrouge Geological Consulting, which oversees the exploration program. “In addition to their rarity, they are also well known for being the source of production for a plethora of commodities, including being the dominant source for niobium and rare earth elements. The potential rewards associated with a new discovery such as at Cap cannot be overstated.”

Also associated with mineralized carbonatite systems are tantalum, copper, nickel, iron, titanium, zirconium, platinum group elements, gold, fluorspar, lime, sodalite and vermiculite, Arctic Star added.

Some of the world’s better-known carbonatite deposits include Palabora in South Africa (copper, nickel, gold and PGEs), Bayon Obo in China (REEs, iron ore, niobium and fluorspar), Araxa in Brazil (niobium), Cargill in Ontario (phosphate), Niobec in Quebec (niobium), Mountain Pass in California (REEs), and Mount Weld in Western Australia (REEs).

Arctic Star’s B.C. discovery potentially associated with “a plethora of commodities”

Carbonatite in drill core from hole Cap17-004.

The discovery prompted Arctic Star to stake another 7,657 hectares, expanding its property to over 10,482 hectares. The new turf covers a ridge that extends towards the Wicheeda REE deposit, about 50 kilometres northwest.

Cap’s exploration has so far focused on an area of about 3,000 by 1,000 metres, the site of prior geophysics and anomalous niobium-REE geochemical samples. This season’s work consisted of mapping, sampling, prospecting and four drill holes. Assays are pending but carbonatite and/or alkaline rock types were found in two holes.

Carbonatite in outcrop has been mapped approximately 90 metres in strike, with an estimated thickness surpassing 50 metres. Additional outcrops of carbonatite and related rocks have been found across an area measuring about 800 by 200 metres, the company added.

Last month Arctic Star announced plans to acquire Timantti, a Finnish diamond project on the Fennoscandian Shield, which also hosts Russia’s Lomonosov and Grib diamond mines. Due diligence revealed 58 small diamonds in an 18.9-kilogram sample from Timantti’s White Wolf kimberlite. More recent assays on 48.65 kilograms of historically extracted split core showed 111 microdiamonds.

In late July the company offered a $1.25-million private placement.

Read Isabel Belger’s interview with Arctic Star president/CEO Patrick Power.

Finland’s Arctic welcome

August 2nd, 2017

Arctic Star finds the Scandinavian north an hospitable place for diamond exploration

by Isabel Belger

Isabel Belger

Isabel Belger

Isabel: I would like to introduce the CEO and president of Arctic Star Exploration TSXV:ADD, Patrick Power. Hi Patrick, it is a pleasure to talk to you again.

To give the readers a chance to get to know you a bit, would you be so kind as to tell more about your background and your experiences in the mineral exploration business?

Patrick: I started in the business as a floor trader in 1984. I did that until 1990. In that period I met someone who became soon very prolific in the diamond world, Chuck Fipke. He found the Ekati mine, the first diamond mine in Canada and he got my interest up in diamonds and the exploration for diamonds. When I finished with the floor in 1990, I joined up with a company called Kelco Resources and I became a director there. That is how I got involved with the diamond world in Canada. Subsequent to that, I worked with a company called Montello Resources, and became the president and CEO. We did a lot of diamond exploration with that company from 1993 to 2000, primarily in Alberta.

We found the Legend field in Alberta with our venture partner Canaccord Canada, which is a Rio Tinto company. We didn’t have the numbers in the pipes that we wanted to. So my partner Tom Yingling and I started our own company called Arctic Star Exploration. We started with a diamond project in Manitoba with Rio Tinto. It kicked off with that project. We never did intersect in kimberlites. Shortly after that, we managed to encourage Buddy Doyle to leave Rio Tinto and he joined us on the Arctic Star board. That happened in 1996. Buddy Doyle brought over a project with him that we called Credit Lake. We spent about $25 million on Credit Lake over a period of seven to 10 years I believe. It was a long time. It just ended recently.

Isabel: Interesting! That tells already a bit of the history of Arctic Star itself. Congratulations on the news on a new member of the board and your new project in Finland. What made the connection to Finland?

Arctic Star finds the Scandinavian north an hospitable place for diamond exploration

Patrick: Thank you, we are very excited and happy about both. It was about 2006 when Buddy Doyle looked at this project we just took into the company. We made an offer for a percentage of it. But they wanted €12.5 million for 25% of it, which we didn’t have the ability to do back then. Then 2008 came and everything became really difficult for all resource companies, specifically for diamond companies. It became very, very difficult.

Roy Spencer, who you could call the father of the Cinnamon project, found the Grip pipe, 450 kilometres east in Russia as the president of Arctic Angel in 1996. That turned out to be a mine, which started producing about two years ago. But as usual in Russia, he got kicked out before it became productive. He traced chemistry trails to the Finnish border and all those trails originated in Finland somewhere.

Isabel: What makes you so excited about this project?

Patrick: No exploration was done there in historical terms. You cannot tell the quality of the diamonds from the chemistry, but usually you can tell the amount of diamonds. All that chemistry was flooding in over 80 kilometres with no answers as to the sources. In 2007, Roy drilled first in this new field. The important part of this is that fields usually have a minimum of 30 and a high of 300 pipes. The upside potential is that it is the first pipe in a new field and that is extremely important because it has good chemistry. It is a great jurisdiction, Finland. A couple of years ago, the Fraser Institute made Finland the number one mining jurisdiction in the world. Mining and exploration friendly!

Infrastructure-wise, the Black and White Wolf, which were the two first pipes discovered—they might actually be one, because they are only 48 metres apart, we will know more about this after further geophysics being done—are only two miles away from a bus stop. Compared to Canada this is amazing infrastructure and that translates right into that you would need far less grade to become a mine. You can have a lot less compared to the north of Canada in order to be still productive. That is a big point! Also it is a very stable country since it is rated a great jurisdiction to be in. We have got Roy on the board now, the man who found this particular discovery when he was with a different company. Another interesting fact: Roy was Buddy Doyle’s first boss at Rio Tinto. They were in the outback of Australia together for two years looking for diamonds. That was more than 30 years ago. And now they are reunited. So the team is back together again. This is one of the prime reasons we got this project because of this relationship between Buddy and Roy; Roy wanted Buddy to lead the project.

Isabel: What is the plan of the re-united team now?

The project offers everything if you are looking for diamonds. Great jurisdiction, great infrastructure, it is a new field, and it has got history in the same craton with productive mines in Russia.—Patrick Power

Patrick: We are going to get out there. We will go back to the Black and the White Wolf, the two pipes that he found in 2006/2007. We will do some geophysics on top of it that wasn’t done 10 years ago. We want to see if they join, get bigger, have multiple phases, do some more drilling, etc. With those two pipes, or maybe it is one, we can potentially make a mine. So there is work to do on the first two pipes of a new field. We expect to find a lot more pipes and that is exciting because the chemistry going into them is dynamic. The project offers everything if you are looking for diamonds. Great jurisdiction, great infrastructure, it is a new field, and it has got history in the same craton with productive mines in Russia.

Isabel: Let me interrupt you for a moment. Could you explain what a craton is?

Patrick: Sure. A craton is a thick, old chunk of continental plate where diamonds form. Kimberlite pipes are created when magma bubbles up through a craton, expanding and cooling on its way up.

I am really glad that we have got all that exceptional expertise within Arctic Star…. Roy was part of the team that found Orapa, the second-largest producing mine in the world that is in Botswana. So we have got lots of positive diamond experience with the two guys, plus they work together and like each other. Their records speak for themselves. They are probably the two most awesome diamond guys with that combined experience and mine-finding ability. They are pretty amazing. We’ve got the best people in the world.

Isabel: Yes, it sounds like it! So the next step is to do more work on your new project. Will you drill, and how deep will you have to drill?

Patrick: The two pipes are very close to the surface, so it is not that deep at all. We have two phases of two programs here. The first program will be carried out on Black and White Wolf, the two existing kimberlites. We will do geophysics on the ground, to determine whether they get larger, whether they come together and whether they have multiple phases. We will also put more drill holes into it to get more samples to get a better diamond count. Buddy thinks we need about 1,000 kilograms before he can make a judgement if we go ahead with it or if we drop it, so we only have a very small amount of material so far. We will take a lot more tonnage out of these drill holes.

Arctic Star finds the Scandinavian north an hospitable place for diamond exploration

Arctic Star VP of exploration Buddy Doyle collecting
float samples at the Timantti project in Finland.

And then out of a bigger concept, we have 250 hectares of mineral claim permitted; 140,000 square kilometres around it. So on that bigger puzzle we could encompass the entire field. We are going to fly EM and mag first and then we want to fly a gravity survey, which is quite expensive. It costs probably about three to four million dollars to get the gravity survey done, but it will be a tool that will be very useful. It has not been used that much in the diamond world; it is only a few years old. Gravity is a very difficult thing to produce on the ground. There are a lot of factors involved with that. This new tool that was developed by the U.S. military was re-developed into a commercial application by BHP and has been on the market for just a few years. Very expensive!

So that is what we plan to do on the big package, not just the claims we acquired, but the much bigger exploration permits that we are in the process of acquiring from the government. We think that this would give us the entire field picture. We will be able to prospect for the pipes in that field. That will be a big thing! We think there are a lot of pipes in this area. If the chemistry is good, it is suggested to have a lot of diamonds. But I repeat to state that it doesn’t tell you the quality of diamonds, but the quantity of diamonds.

Isabel: What is the time frame for that? This is not going to happen this year, is it?

Patrick: The only thing that is restricting us up there is the darkness. The latitude is pretty high, but it is not as cold as in northern Canada. So there is no temperature issue and again the infrastructure is great. It is just within the dark months that we can’t really do much.

Isabel: What is going on at your Cap property in northeast B.C.?

Patrick: In 2008 we diversified a bit from diamonds. We picked up a project from Zimtu [TSXV:ZC]. It is Jody Dahrouge [of Dahrouge Geological Consulting] who has been doing all the work on it for us. We spent only about $1 million developing a really nice niobium and rare earth target. It is probably in carbonatite; we are drill-testing as we speak. It has really good niobium numbers on surface and it is prospective. We decided with a million dollars into it, we need to drill it right now and we are crossing our fingers. It could be something really interesting. If we are successful, we are probably going to spin it out into a new company. We don’t want to mix niobium and diamonds. It will benefit the shareholders with a new share in a new company and we will staff it with people that know a lot about niobium.

Isabel: That sounds like a good plan! How much money do you have in the bank?

Patrick: We are planning to finance soon.

Isabel: How much of Arctic Star is held by the management?

Patrick: That sums up to be 25% by now.

Isabel: What do you like about the mineral exploration business?

Patrick: It is a difficult business, but it can be explosive on the upside. That is the thrill I like about it, which makes the difficult part worthwhile.

Isabel: What is your favourite commodity and why?

Patrick: Definitely diamonds! The reason for that is because it is so hard to find an economic deposit. It is very challenging.

Isabel: Good luck with the ongoing drilling in B.C. and with the new project in Finland. Thank you so much for your time and your insights. It is always a pleasure to talk to you.

Patrick: Thanks for having me, Isabel.

Patrick Power

Patrick Power, president/CEO
of Arctic Star Exploration

Bio

Patrick Power is a seasoned venture capitalist and financier with over 20 years of experience as a stock market professional and as director of public companies. He has been president and CEO of Arctic Star since its inception in 2002. Additionally, Mr. Power serves as a director of other mineral exploration companies. Arctic Star benefits from Mr. Power’s wealth of experience as a shrewd dealmaker, an adept financier and a tireless, results-driven leader of dynamic public companies. The company enjoys Mr. Power’s large network of contacts within the industry, his enthusiasm and his efforts as a member of the audit and remuneration panels.

Fun facts

My hobbies: Travelling and horse racing

Sources of news I use: Internet

My favourite airport: London Heathrow

My favourite tradeshow: PDAC in Toronto

My favourite commodity: Diamonds

With this person, I would like to have dinner: My wife

If I could have a superpower, it would be: Power for peace

Read more about Arctic Star Exploration here and here.

New assays on old core reveal more diamonds on Arctic Star Exploration’s new Finnish acquisition

July 26th, 2017

by Greg Klein | July 26, 2017

Just weeks after announcing plans to take on a diamond project in Finland, Arctic Star Exploration TSXV:ADD has found further encouragement by reanalyzing previous work. Recent assays on 48.65 kilograms of historically extracted split core showed 111 microdiamonds. The results represent approximately 52.7 metres of core from the Timantti property’s White Wolf kimberlite.

New assays on old core reveal more diamonds on Arctic Star Exploration’s new Finnish acquisition

A due diligence program reported earlier this month confirmed 58 microdiamonds from an 18.9-kilogram White Wolf sample.

With most of the world’s diamond-bearing kimberlites showing an exponential relationship between small and large stones, the company plans to gather enough caustic fusion samples to evaluate the property’s diamond size distribution. Following ground geophysics, Arctic Star hopes to drill Timantti for additional samples, delineating the kimberlites’ size and shape.

Looking at an entirely different range of commodities, the company last week sent a drill crew to the Cap project in east-central British Columbia’s Rocky Mountain Rare Metal Belt. Tantalum, niobium and rare earths are among the targets on the 2,825-hectare property. In 2010 sampling results included 0.14% Nb2O5, 3,191 ppm zirconium and 547 ppm total rare earth elements. More sampling the following year brought grades including 0.27% Nb2O5 and 773 ppm TREE, while two historic, non-43-101 samples showed 0.13% and 0.1% TREE.

Arctic Star also holds a 40% interest in the Northwest Territories’ Diagras diamond project, where JV partner Margaret Lake Diamonds TSXV:DIA conducted a short geophysical program last May.

Diamond explorer Arctic Star to drill B.C. property for rare earths and rare metals

July 19th, 2017

by Greg Klein | July 19, 2017

With a crew now en route, Arctic Star Exploration TSXV:ADD prepares to begin a summer field program at its Cap project in east-central British Columbia. Located in the Rocky Mountain Rare Metal Belt, the 2,825-hectare property has undergone geochemical and geophysical surveys suggesting potential for carbonatite intrusions which might host niobium, tantalum and/or rare earth elements. A program of about three holes and 1,000 metres will further investigate the potential.

Diamond explorer Arctic Star to drill B.C. property for rare earths and rare metals

Piquing interest in the property is a circular magnetic anomaly measuring about three to five kilometres in diameter that the company interprets to represent a carbonatite or similar intrusion. Geochem sampling in 2010 on two dykes near the most prominent mag anomaly brought grades including 0.14% Nb2O5, 3,191 ppm zirconium and 547 ppm total rare earth elements, Arctic Star reported.

In 2011, following radiometrics and additional magnetics, the company found more highly anomalous grades with samples containing 0.27% Nb2O5 and 773 ppm TREE. Two historic, non-43-101 samples assayed 0.13% and 0.1% TREE.

Contrasting luxuries with critical minerals, Arctic Star last week announced plans to acquire a diamond project in Finland. The diamondiferous kimberlites of the Timantti property sit on the Fennoscandian Shield, home to the major Russian diamond mines Lomonosov and Grib.

In May the company announced a short program of geophysics on the Diagras diamond project in the Northwest Territories, where Arctic Star has a 40% stake with JV partner Margaret Lake Diamonds TSXV:DIA holding the rest.

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.

Margaret Lake, Arctic Star begin geophysical search for NWT diamonds

May 9th, 2017

by Greg Klein | May 9, 2017

Modern geophysics and a new approach come to a property with diamondiferous kimberlites in the Northwest Territories’ prolific Lac de Gras region, as Margaret Lake Diamonds TSXV:DIA and Arctic Star Exploration TSXV:ADD start work on their Diagras JV. Expected to finish in mid-May, the program consists of ground gravity, magnetics and Ohm Mapper EM.

Margaret Lake, Arctic Star begin geophysical search for NWT diamonds

Margaret Lake and Arctic Star hold a 60% and 40% stake respectively, with Margaret Lake acting as project operator.

The companies hope to find non-magnetic evidence that was missed in the 1990s when De Beers flew airborne surveys that identified the property’s magnetic kimberlites.

Diagras hosts 13 known kimberlites, most of them diamondiferous, according to historic data. The property’s Jack Pine kimberlite shows “multiple phases with different geophysical responses,” the JV stated. “It is hoped that our planned surveys will reveal similar geology around the other pipes. There is also a good chance to find new kimberlites using these new ground geophysical techniques.”

In November the JV attributed those techniques to Kennady Diamonds’ (TSXV:KDI) progress at Kennady North, Lac de Gras’ most advanced exploration project.

Results of the Diagras program will be considered for follow-up drilling.

In January Arctic Star applied for a drill permit for its 100%-held CAP niobium-tantalum-REE property in north-central British Columbia. The company raised over $1.47 million in private placements that closed late last year.

Commerce Resources and TUGLIQ Energy ink MOU on wind power for Quebec rare earths project

March 1st, 2017

by Greg Klein | March 1, 2017

Looking at the dual benefits of cutting costs and cutting emissions, Commerce Resources TSXV:CCE and TUGLIQ Energy have signed a memorandum of understanding to assess the potential for wind energy on the Ashram rare earths project. Announced February 28, the MOU follows TUGLIQ’s preliminary evaluation of local and regional wind data proximal to the northern Quebec deposit that Commerce is advancing towards pre-feasibility. Funding for the wind energy study comes partly from the province’s Ministère de l’Énergie et des Ressources naturelles.

Commerce Resources and TUGLIQ Energy ink MOU on wind energy for Quebec rare earths project

TUGLIQ Energy provides wind-generated electricity
for Glencore’s Raglan mine. (Photo: TUGLIQ Energy)

An independent power producer already active in northern Quebec, TUGLIQ operates a 3 MW wind turbine with energy storage that the company built in 2014 at Glencore’s Raglan mine. In the Northwest Territories, the Rio Tinto NYSE:RIO/Dominion Diamond TSX:DDC Diavik mine has been supplementing its diesel power with a four-turbine, 9.2 MW wind farm since 2012.

TUGLIQ’s Ashram study will consist of wind resource assessment, electrical system engineering and an integration study including assessment of greenhouse gas emission reductions.

“We are excited to be collaborating with TUGLIQ and to have the support of the Quebec government on this renewable resource project,” said Commerce president Chris Grove. “We look forward to evaluating this potential in much further detail. The potential to incorporate cost-effective renewable energy into the Ashram project only makes it that much more attractive for development.”

In mid-February the company closed a $1.71-million private placement that included $1 million from Ressources Québec, a subsidiary of the provincial government corporation Investissement Québec. The money will be used to complete Ashram’s pilot plant and produce REE and fluorite concentrates for companies that requested samples. Among them are Solvay, Mitsubishi, Treibacher, BASF, DKK, Albemarle and Blue Line.

Having reached PEA in 2012, the high-grade, near-surface deposit features an impressive distribution of magnet feed elements and relatively simple metallurgy, suggesting a potentially low-cost operation.

Quebec maintains its respected position as a mining jurisdiction, according to a Fraser Institute study released February 28. “Quebec ranks third in Canada and sixth globally—up from eighth spot last year—and is the only other Canadian jurisdiction [along with Saskatchewan and Manitoba] in the top 10 worldwide for overall investment attractiveness,” the FI stated.

In another rare metals project, Commerce holds the Upper Fir tantalum-niobium deposit in southeastern British Columbia, which reached PEA in 2011 and a resource update in 2013.

Read more about Commerce Resources.

Province of Quebec invests in Commerce Resources’ Ashram rare earths project

February 17th, 2017

by Greg Klein | February 17, 2017

With potential customers waiting for rare earths concentrate samples, Commerce Resources TSXV:CCE closed a $1.72-million private placement on February 17 that included $1 million from Ressources Québec. A subsidiary of the provincial government corporation Investissement Québec, Ressources Québec “focuses on projects that have good return prospects and foster Québec’s economic development,” the organization says. “Its role is complementary to private funders.”

We are excited to have the support of the Quebec government with this investment from Ressources Québec. The province of Quebec continues to prove that it is one of the most attractive jurisdictions to develop a mineral project. —Chris Grove,
president of Commerce Resources

“We are excited to have the support of the Quebec government with this investment from Ressources Québec,” Commerce president Chris Grove stated. “The province of Quebec continues to prove that it is one of the most attractive jurisdictions to develop a mineral project. We are excited to be advancing our Ashram project with this financing.”

The private placement will be used to complete the project’s pilot plant, to produce samples of REE and fluorite concentrates, and for general working capital. Among companies requesting REE samples are Solvay, Mitsubishi, Treibacher, BASF, DKK, Albemarle and Blue Line.

The money comes in addition to a three-year, $300,000 environmental grant from the province to optimize tailings management.

Ashram’s high-grade, near-surface deposit benefits from relatively simple metallurgy, suggesting a potentially low-cost operation with an impressive distribution of magnet feed elements. Now moving towards pre-feas, the project reached PEA in 2012.

Commerce also holds the Upper Fir tantalum-niobium deposit in southeastern British Columbia, which reached PEA in 2011 and a resource update in 2013.

Read more about Commerce Resources.

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 Ashram advantage

January 30th, 2017

Commerce Resources prepares for a rare earths paradigm shift

by Greg Klein

The appeal to Western markets is obvious—an advanced, low-cost rare earths project in a friendly jurisdiction. So even before the recent military build-up in the South China Sea, Commerce Resources TSXV:CCE experienced an increase in American requests for concentrate samples from its northern Quebec Ashram deposit. With the U.S. Navy now challenging Chinese territorial aggression, the confrontation seems to pit two superpowers against each other. But what does that really indicate?

It’s actually “one lonely small old Russian-built carrier against three U.S. Nimitz-class supercarriers,” Commerce president Chris Grove points out. “So when Beijing says it’s going to take off the gloves, I think they’re referring to trade.”

Commerce Resources prepares for a rare earths paradigm shift

That brings to mind the Senkaku incident, a much smaller 2010 confrontation in the same region that prompted China to cut off rare earths exports to Japan, sending global supply chains into turmoil and prices soaring. A possible Senkaku redux is one of a number of aspects to a global paradigm shift that Grove sees coming, to the benefit of Western industry in general and Ashram in particular.

The U.S. might easily outgun China, but China produces about 90% of the world’s rare earths. They’re essential to several defence needs, “a fact that really drives certain people in the U.S. absolutely apoplectic,” says Grove.

While Westerners have struggled to compete with China on costs, prices mean little to the U.S. Department of Defense, which last year began putting money behind potential domestic processors, Grove says. That support complements a multi-faceted advantage that the West is gaining over China, he explains. The latter country struggles with rising labour costs and the need to finally address its environmental woes. Meanwhile Western countries offset their labour costs with technological innovation and maintain the world’s highest environmental standards.

Even putting aside defence, demand for rare earths continues to grow with another global development. The international commitment to address climate change through clean energy, exemplified by the Paris Agreement, increases rare earths demand for numerous applications ranging from EVs to wind turbines.

In a research report last year, Chris Berry noted that “REE usage continues to grow at a pace well above global GDP growth with demand CAGRs growing anywhere from 4% to 8%, with permanent magnet demand forecast to lead this charge to 2020.”

Commerce Resources prepares for a rare earths paradigm shift

Ashram has undergone another 9,200 metres since
its resource estimate, often hitting even higher grades.

Clearly there’s a market for non-Chinese sources. And Grove sees Ashram uniquely positioned to help serve that market. Certainly others have failed but, he emphasizes, they lacked Ashram’s benefits of mineralogy, metallurgy, grade and jurisdiction—all of which add up to lower costs.

The project reached PEA in 2012, with an amended PEA in 2015. Since then the company’s been busy on multiple fronts as it advances towards pre-feasibility.

Ashram’s advantage begins with its relatively simple mineralogy, with carbonatite host rock and rare earths within the minerals monazite, bastnasite and xenotime, which dominate commercial REE processing.

Pilot plant metallurgical tests have quadrupled the PEA’s concentrate grade, producing 41% total rare earth oxides and 43% TREO, both at 71% recovery. That puts the grade well within the range of commercial producers and does so through a single-leach process that simplifies the flowsheet.

Requests for concentrate samples have come from Solvay, Mitsubishi, Treibacher, BASF, DKK, Albemarle and Blue Line, among others covered by non-disclosure agreements.

Metallurgy has also found a potential fluorspar byproduct, offering an advantage to both revenue and opex. Grove credits Glencore Canada’s interest in fluorspar with the willingness of its NorFalco Sales division to supply Commerce with sulphuric acid on highly favourable terms.

Proud as he is of Ashram’s high-grade, near-surface resource, Grove anticipates an even more impressive upgrade. The current estimate uses a 1.25% cutoff to show:

  • measured: 1.59 million tonnes averaging 1.77% total rare earth oxides

  • indicated: 27.67 million tonnes averaging 1.9% TREO

  • inferred: 219.8 million tonnes averaging 1.88% TREO

Commerce has since drilled another 9,200 metres, mostly infill but always with some stepout holes as well. “In all those drill programs, we always hit mineralized material in the stepouts, we always encountered less waste rock at surface than was modelled in the resource and we always hit zones that were higher than the average grade,” he says.

Ashram’s magnet feed distribution also has Grove enthused. Overall, the deposit ranks with the largest producers for praseodymium, neodymium, terbium and dysprosium. Ashram’s medium-to-heavy REO resource, moreover, surpasses the producers for those elements. And, as Grove points out, those are critical elements. Efforts to find substitutes for magnet REEs have failed.

Companies with higher operating costs are probably praying for higher prices. Commerce Resources doesn’t need them. We still have a margin at today’s prices.—Chris Grove

Benefiting both Ashram’s opex and the environment would be wind energy, currently being studied for the project. Commerce’s environmental commitment as well as its community outreach have been recognized by the e3 Plus Award for social responsibility from l’Association de l’exploration minière du Québec.

The company has also received a $300,000 provincial grant to optimize tailings management, funding that shows Quebec’s commitment to mining as well as the environment. Grove calls the province “a fantastic jurisdiction,” one that invests directly in companies through Ressources Québec and makes tangible progress on the visionary Plan Nord infrastructure program.

Following a private placement of up to $2.5 million offered last month, Grove looks forward to a number of near-term milestones. Still to come are final assays from last year’s drilling. The agenda also calls for completing the pilot plant and filling requests for REE and fluorspar concentrate samples. The samples, Grove suggests, could spur interest in a JV or offtake agreement.

The Commerce quest for rare metals hasn’t been confined to rare earths. Last September sampling on the company’s property about a kilometre from Ashram found “spectacular” results up to 5.9% niobium pentoxide, described by Grove as “approximately double the grade of the largest and longest-running niobium producer’s head grade, CBMM’s Araxa deposit in Brazil.”

Commerce also holds the Blue River project in southeastern British Columbia. The property’s Upper Fir tantalum-niobium deposit reached PEA in 2011 and a resource update in 2013.

But Commerce remains very much focused on Ashram. Whether events in the South China Sea send RE prices soaring, Grove sees possible increases coming from producers boosting revenues. But, he emphasizes, Ashram doesn’t need higher prices. “Companies with higher operating costs are probably praying for higher prices,” he says. “Commerce Resources doesn’t need them. We still have a margin at today’s prices.”