Tuesday 7th April 2020

Resource Clips


Posts tagged ‘rare earths’

Crisis response

April 3rd, 2020

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

by Greg Klein

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains

 

Idled explorers: Can you help?

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

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

  • Insulated structures (both hard and soft wall)

  • Camp gear such as furniture, lighting and kitchen appliances

  • Medical equipment

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

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

  • Other supplies or skills

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

For further information contact Savannah Nadeau.

Preparing for a wider emergency

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

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australia guards against predatory foreign takeovers

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

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

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

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

Critical minerals become ever more critical

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

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains

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

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

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

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

Sharing the disease, hoarding the treatment

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

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

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

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

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

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains

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

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

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

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

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

Chinese supply chains also jeopardized by Chinese disease

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

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

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

Miners’ providence unevenly distributed

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

A look at mining, exploration, infrastructure and supply chains

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

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

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

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

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

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

“China needs to be held responsible”

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

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

Update: Commerce Resources’ metallurgy upgrades Quebec fluorspar to acid-spar

March 9th, 2020

On March 9 Commerce Resources announced a collaboration with CanmetMINING to enhance beneficiation performance for the company’s Ashram rare earths deposit. Funded by Natural Resources Canada, the study takes place within CanmetMINING’s rare earths and chromite R&D program. Commerce and CanmetMINING will present a paper on Ashram at the 2020 Conference of Metallurgists (COM2020) in Toronto next August.

 

by Greg Klein | Updated February 28, 2020

With further progress on a strong potential byproduct, an advanced rare earths project could provide a second critical mineral from a Canadian source. Metallurgical tests on material from Commerce Resources’ (TSXV:CCE) Ashram deposit in northern Quebec have achieved 97.8% calcium fluoride, surpassing the 97% level typical of the more expensive acid-spar grade.

Conducted at the Colorado lab of Hazen Research, the tests show Ashram’s amenability to standard physical separation techniques to upgrade fluorspar from a head grade of about 7.5% CaF2 to over 97%, Commerce pointed out.

Ashram is primarily a rare earth deposit that is well-positioned to supply the permanent magnet industry over the long term. However, these fluorspar test results also demonstrate the potential for Ashram to be a significant contributor to the acid-spar market.—Chris Grove,
president of Commerce Resources

The lab’s next trials will focus on removing impurities well as further improving fluorspar recovery, Commerce added.

The achievement follows December reports of flotation tests conducted by l’Université Laval and last month’s announcement that Hazen had studied an alternative or complimentary approach at the front end of the project’s current flowsheet.

This approach “includes a coarser-grind followed by a fluorspar pre-float as an initial beneficiation step to isolate a sizable portion of the fluorspar prior to material entering the primary REE recovery flowsheet,” Commerce stated.

Fluorspar’s higher-priced acid-grade is converted to hydrofluoric acid for the chemical industry and aluminum production. Considerable demand potential also comes from increasing use of refrigerants and from the growing lithium-ion battery market, according to Roskill. Met-spar, grading below 97%, is used in steel and cement production.

Apart from upgrading fluorspar, the Colorado lab has worked on improving REE recovery and producing concentrate samples requested by potential customers.

High-grade, near-surface drill results released by Commerce in November further highlight Ashram’s dual potential for rare earths and fluorspar. A few examples:

  • 1.71% rare earth oxides and 7.2% calcium fluoride over 221.95 metres, starting at 2.69 metres in downhole depth
  • (including 2.18% REO and 11.5% CaF2 over 36.6 metres)

  • 1.68% REO and 8.4% CaF2 over 101.86 metres, starting at 1.59 metres
  • (including 2% REO and 9.6% CaF2 over 13.28 metres)

True widths were unavailable.

Amid heightened concern about critical minerals, rare earths have gained considerable attention for their importance to the economy, clean energy and defence, among other applications. Less prominent, however, has been fluorspar, which also comes under the U.S. list of 35 critical minerals. China controls well over 50% of production but has become a net importer due to increasing domestic demand and mine shutdowns caused by environmental concerns, according to Roskill.

Commerce Resources’ metallurgy upgrades Quebec fluorspar to acid-spar

Working on northern Quebec’s Eldor property,
Commerce and Saville offer the Western world
potential for critical minerals including
rare earths, fluorspar, niobium and tantalum.

In January, Canada and the U.S. signed a Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals to develop deposits and supply chains.

Looking at yet more critical minerals on the Eldor property that hosts Ashram, earlier this month Commerce joined Saville Resources TSXV:SRE to announce a preliminary mineralogical analysis on material from the Niobium Claim Group. Saville operates that project, two kilometres from Ashram, under a 75% earn-in from Commerce.

Using core from last year’s drill program, a University of Windsor research project found three encouraging signs for the project, the companies reported.

The property’s dominant niobium minerals are pyrochlore and columbite, the main source minerals for niobium globally, a fact that suggests favourable processing.

The property’s niobium may have been mobilized, which could potentially enhance a project’s grade.

The mineralogy supports a model of a continuous niobium mineralized trend through the complex.

Commerce and Saville noted parallels between the project’s Mallard prospect and Magris Resources’ Niobec mine in Quebec. Both projects feature carbonatites, and Niobec’s mineralization is hosted by pyrochlore and columbite similar in grain size to that found in Mallard’s preliminary analysis. Additionally, both Mallard and Niobec show mineralization in moderate to steeply dipping elongate lenses.

Having assayed high-grade niobium and tantalum from 2019 drilling, Saville plans further exploration this year.

In November Commerce closed a private placement totalling $2.51 million.

Read more about Commerce Resources.

Read more about Saville Resources..

Watch Roskill analyst Adam Coggins discussing fluorspar demand and prices.

Saville Resources reports B.C. Greenwood sample results

March 2nd, 2020

This story has been updated and moved here.

Update: Commerce Resources’ metallurgy upgrades Quebec fluorspar to acid-spar

February 28th, 2020

This story has been updated and moved here.

Mike Crabtree outlines the Saskatchewan Research Council’s innovative work in mining-related R&D

February 26th, 2020

…Read more

Anchor House analyst Clint Cox discusses the challenges of competing with China for rare earths

February 20th, 2020

…Read more

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan comments on the Canada-U.S. Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration

January 30th, 2020

…Read more

Commerce Resources reports fluorspar upgrade progress from the Ashram rare earths deposit

January 28th, 2020

This story has been updated and moved here.

“It’s time to be ambitious” on critical minerals: Mining Association of Canada

January 24th, 2020

by Greg Klein | January 24, 2020

Canadian-American co-operation on essential elements means opportunity for this country’s wider economy, Pierre Gratton emphasizes. Speaking to the Vancouver Board of Trade, the president/CEO of the Mining Association of Canada commented on the recent Canada-U.S. Joint Action Plan on Critical Minerals Collaboration, as well as the Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan.

Two weeks ago Natural Resources Canada announced the cross-border agreement to secure deposits and develop supply chains for minerals essential to the economy, defence, technology and clean energy. The initiative takes place as the U.S. seeks ways to reduce its dependency on sources considered unreliable, unethical or potential economic and military rivals.

It’s time to be ambitious on critical minerals Mining Association of Canada

Pierre Gratton: “We have an opportunity to lay the foundation
for a new era in investment and middle class job creation,
not just in mining but in new, emerging downstream industrial
and manufacturing sectors.” (Photo: Matt Borck,
courtesy Greater Vancouver Board of Trade)

“Critical minerals are more than rare earth elements, and include several minerals and metals already mined in Canada including cobalt, copper, precious metals, nickel and uranium, which are critical to low-carbon electrification and new battery technologies in the automotive, space, defence and high-tech sectors,” said Gratton.

“It’s time to be ambitious. We have an opportunity to lay the foundation for a new era in investment and middle class job creation, not just in mining but in new, emerging downstream industrial and manufacturing sectors.”

Canada ranks among the world’s top five countries for 15 minerals and metals, MAC stated, and remains a global leader in responsible mining practices. Over the past five years MAC’s Towards Sustainable Mining program has been adopted by mining associations in seven countries on five continents.

“TSM focuses on enabling mining companies to meet society’s needs for minerals, metals and energy products in the most socially, economically and environmentally responsible way through mandatory commitments to annually report and assure social and environmental performance with strong multi-stakeholder oversight,” the association added.

“Canadian metals come conflict-free, meeting the highest environmental standards and a commitment to transparency unmatched anywhere,” Gratton continued. “We are confident that with these sustainable standards and new government commitments, Canada’s mining industry has the tools and support to provide the responsibly sourced minerals vital to industries around the world.”

Gratton also spoke on the Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan, a federal-provincial initiative intended to enhance the industry’s competitiveness, innovation and native participation.

Mining contributes $97 billion to national GDP and 19% of domestic exports, employing 626,000 people directly and indirectly across the country. The industry is proportionally Canada’s largest private sector employer of natives and a major customer of native-owned businesses.

Clint Cox: Formidable challenges face competitors of Chinese rare earths

January 20th, 2020

by Greg Klein | January 20, 2020

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

Formidable challenges face competitors of Chinese rare earths

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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