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New research says critical metals for renewable energy products can be found in existing mines

Wed, 10/12/2022 - 06:46

Ramping up renewable energy products will require a range of critical metals. One of these elements, tellurium, is gaining in popularity for use in photovoltaics, or solar panels. As global demand for solar panels continues to increase, so is the need for critical metals like tellurium, notes the Geological Society of America.

Tellurium isn’t mined as a solo mineral. Currently, most tellurium is collected as a by-product from copper mining. “The fundamental question is: how much tellurium is out there?” says Simon Jowitt, economic geologist at University of Nevada Las Vegas.

He and coauthor Brian McNulty are trying to find out where this tellurium is and how much metal could be there. Jowitt is presenting their work at the Geological Society of America annual meeting on Wednesday.

The amount of tellurium in a mine is rarely reported, GSA notes. To fill in the gaps and create estimates of critical minerals, Jowitt and McNulty developed proxies to estimate tellurium content globally.

Their first proxy results from Resource and Reserve estimates. In these reports, a mining company uses their own investigation data and estimates that there are X-million tons of metal in the ground. These reports are used to estimate the value of a mine site.

“We what we do is take that information—which tells us how big the deposit is, how many million tons of ore or mineralization—and we combine that with information that’s published elsewhere on the concentration of tellurium and the deposit,” says Jowitt. The researchers can then calculate an estimate for tellurium.

“The second proxy is where we know the size of the deposit,” Jowitt says. In this case, the team uses the amounts of related tellurium minerals like calaverite, a gold-tellurium metal. “We can estimate the amount of tellurium in that mineral, combine that with the reported size of the deposit, and again, develop a proxy.”

They looked at 518 mineral deposits in active mines in the U.S. and Canada that are known to contain tellurium. Using their proxies, the researchers calculated that 18 gold mines in the two countries could produce ~90 tons/year of tellurium from current mining, with another six copper, zinc, and nickel mines in Canada having the potential to produce ~170 tons per year of tellurium. Jowitt says this is a minimum estimate, because not every gold, copper, and nickel mine in the US and Canada had appropriate data available.

By these estimates, they found that mines move around 260 tons of tellurium, but they don’t collect it. “If you recovered that tellurium, you could bump up global tellurium production by about 25%,” says Jowitt. “That’s about seventeen and a half million dollars of tellurium that’s being moved around by the minerals industry but is being lost to waste.”

Jowitt notes that their tellurium study is just one example for the potential of extracting critical metals from existing mining operations. “There’s a whole range of byproduct and co-product elements that are we moving around when mining,” he says. “We need to do better making mineral mining operations more sustainable by extracting what we can from existing mineral deposits. And if we do that, it’s good for the environment, it’s good for the minerals industry (the way it’s being viewed), and it’s good for company bottom lines.”

While their study focused on active mines, Jowitt notes that extracting critical metals from spoils piles in old mines can be another win-win situation. “There’s a whole scope for extracting all sorts of metals from mining waste,” he says. Old tailings and slag have potential for metal extraction. “There’s potential for all sorts of wealth from waste,” he says. While extracting metals from tailings can be economically profitable, there’s also an environmental benefit.

“A whole load of these sites are environmentally problematic. So what you do is essentially reprocess an environmentally problematic waste pile or tailings pile, you remove the environmental problem, and use the revenue generated from the process,” he says. “It’s not-for-profit mining—the value of the stuff you extract is being incorporated into the mining operations and actually reducing the environmental harm.”

Jowitt says that as the need for carbon-neutral technologies increase, companies will have to consider mining multiple critical metals at once.

“The demand estimates for some of these metals are just huge,” says Jowitt. “Unless we start thinking about [mineral extraction] in these kinds of ways, we’re going to end up with situations where metal prices start skyrocketing and climate change mitigation starts slowing down.”

Shell launches consortium to speed up electrification of mining vehicles

Wed, 10/12/2022 - 06:03

Oil and gas giant Shell (LON: SHEL) is tapping into the mining electrification market with the launch of a consortium that seeks to help miners speed up the adoption of electric trucks and reduces emission without compromising on efficiency or safety.

The British multinational has attracted eight companies working on energy storage, ultrafast charging technologies and renewables to launch an end-to-end, interoperable electrification system pilot for 220 off-road vehicles.

The partners include Skeleton, Microvast, Stäubli, Carnegie Robotics, Heliox, Spirae, Alliance Automation and Worley.

Some of the key components of the power provision and energy management solution come from Alliance Automation, a multi-disciplined industrial automation and electrical engineering company.

Spirae, a technology company that develops solutions for integrating renewable and distributed energy resources within microgrids and power systems, and Skeleton, a global technology leader in fast energy storage, are also in support.

Worley, in turn, is providing expertise in project delivery and consulting services for the resources and energy sectors.

The end-to-end mining electrification scheme. (Courtesy of Shell.)

Microvast, a leader in the design, development and manufacture of battery solutions for mobile and stationary applications, leads the in-vehicle energy storage side.

The ultra-fast charging element involves solutions from Carnegie Robotics, a provider of rugged sensors, autonomy software and platforms for defence, agriculture, mining, marine, warehouse and energy applications.

Shell described the initiative as being critical, since transport equipment comprises up to 50% of mining’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Eight-year plan

By 2030, it is estimated that a battery-electric haulage truck will lower total cost of ownership, involve 20% lower maintenance costs, and 40% lower fuel costs than existing diesel trucks, Shell said.

“It is increasingly clear that no one, single organisation can solve decarbonisation alone,” said Grischa Sauerberg, vice president, sectoral Decarbonization & Innovation at Shell. 

The global company plans to be a net-zero business by 2050 in accordance to climate change strategy laid out in the UN Paris Agreement, which seeks to limit the rise in average global temperature to 1.5° Celsius.

The commercial offering from the partners is expected in 2025. It would follow a pilot solution that will be tested at a Shell facility in Hamburg, Germany, next year, as well as final field trials at selected mine sites in 2024.

Resolute Mining inks deal for up to 80% of African Gold project in Mali

Wed, 10/12/2022 - 04:19

Australia’s Resolute Mining (ASX, LON: RSG) has struck an earn-in agreement with African Gold (ASX: A1G) that would allow it to earn up to an 80% interest in the junior’s Syama shear zone project, in the south of Mali.

Resolute, which was a gold miner in the home country for about 30 years before gravitating towards West Africa, could become the project’s majority owner by spending $500,000 on exploration over the next two years. It would also need to start a feasibility study within five years and complete it within eight.

If Resolute decides to mine the asset, African Gold can elect to contribute to the development of the project to maintain its equity or dilute to a 1.5% net smelter royalty.

The Western Australia-based miner already has a major operation in the area, comprising the Syama underground mine, the Tabakoroni open pit and several satellite oxide pits.

Resolute Mining chief executive Terry Holohan has been trying for years to prove Barrick’s CEO Mark Bristow wrong. As the leader of Randgold Resources, which merged with the Canadian gold miner in 2018, Bristow decided against developing the gold resource at Syama into a mining operation.

He said at the time that the project, located 300km (217 miles) southeast of the capital Bamako and about 30km (21 miles) from the border with Côte d’Ivoire, was technically too difficult to mine.

“We thought we could crack the metallurgy,” Holohan, who took over as CEO in May, told The African Report. “We’ve now ticked the box.” 

The executive added he was looking forward to updating Bristow on the project’s progress.

“That conversation will happen,” he said.

African Gold’s Syama project location in relation to Resolute’s Syama mining complex. (Courtesy of African Gold. Click to expand)

African Gold managing director Phillip Gallagher said Resolute was the “natural partner” to develop the Syama shear zone project as it is contiguous to Resolute’s Syama gold mine.

“The agreement allows African Gold to maintain a meaningful interest in the Syama project with the option to participate in the future development of the project, if it chooses to do so,” Gallagher said in the statement.

African Gold will now focus its efforts on its flagship Didievi gold project in Cote d’Ivoire and its Senegal-Mali shear zone projects in northern Mali, Africa’s third-largest gold producer.

The country is home to industrial mines operated by companies including Barrick Gold, B2GOLD, AngloGold Ashanti and Hummingbird Resources.

Wits Mining Institute seminar sees launch of two new SAMERDI research centres

Tue, 10/11/2022 - 13:41

As the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) celebrates 100 years since its doors opened in 1922, the Wits Mining Institute (WMI) recently hosted its inaugural annual Seminar, which highlighted the value of innovative research in developing mining technology for the future of the industry.

Speaking at a WMI Seminar held at the Wits Club during the last week of September, WMI director Professor Glen Nwaila noted that although the mining industry in South Africa had some turbulent times during its 100 years, the WMI continued to innovate while holding at its core the sustainable provision of minerals to support the future wellbeing of the industry. 

“The WMI looks to specifically create the environment to foster the characteristics for research, innovation and development, alongside excellent relationships with our stakeholders”, he said.

Under the theme of ‘Turning research curiosity into 21st Century minerals industry performance, relationships and technology’, Nwaila said it could not have developed advanced technologies for the 21st Century model of mining – which included SmartMine Internet of Things (IoT), wearable technologies and sensors, safe blast imitation and optimisation and point-cloud surveys, without ongoing, multidisciplinary partnerships.

He said that through this research, innovation and development, and ongoing public-private partnerships, Wits was not only able to progress cross- and trans-disciplinary research and solutions for the mining industry but was also able to address new and emerging challenges. 

This included stumbling blocks under the umbrella of environmental, social, and governance (ESG), the circular economy, mine waste, sustainable process engineering, orebody modelling and geotechnical engineering. Another challenge faced by the industry as mines continue to develop, is the question of capacity development.

“The WMI cannot stagnate, as the mining industry continues to be in flux. The research will continue to develop alongside industry, which is developing at a rapid pace,” Nwaila said. “Here at the WMI, we have a curiosity, a technical capability and determination to thrive. Understanding market realities and the management of high-risk and exploratory data-driven projects has also put us at the forefront,” he pointed out.

Industry perspective

Delivering his keynote speech on the first day of the event, diversified miner Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neal Froneman highlighted that the Sibanye-Stillwater  DigiMine laboratory at Wits was an example of one of Sibanye’s strategies to create a better mining world. “Fundamental and applied research within the DigiMine laboratory provides us with strategic intelligence on relevant digital advances to institutionalise innovation.”

Sibanye-Stillwater, which is sharpening its focus on the battery metals space, is further pursuing its 3D strategy to address forces of change within the industry. Dubbed ‘grey elephants’ – a highly probable, high impact, yet neglected catalyst – Froneman pointed out that the company was working towards finding innovative solutions to counter these challenges. 

“Our 3D strategy is designed to harness opportunities, manage a complex environment, and facilitate continued growth. We intentionally find new ways to do things better,” he said.

South African Mining Extraction Research, Development & Innovation (SAMERDI)

The WMI Seminar also served as the launch platform of two new research centres established through the SAMERDI strategy.

Hosted by the WMI, the two SAMERDI Research Centres (SRCs) will focus their fundamental research on the themes of Real-Time Information Management Systems (RTIMS) and Successful Application of Technology Centred Around People (SATCAP), respectively. These are two of the thematic areas pursued by the Mandela Mining Precinct (MMP) in Johannesburg, which is administered by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The initiative is also funded by the Minerals Council of South Africa (MinCoSA) and the Department of Science and Industry (DSI).

Skills development

Referring to the ‘grey elephants’ raised by Froneman, Prof Gill Drennan, Head of the School of Geosciences at Wits, believed the answer was in skills development. 

“Wits is aligning its teachings to develop with the changing world, allowing for multiple skillsets,” Drennan said. 
“Therefore, we are reviewing, revitalising and refreshing our curricula to allow for ongoing continuous assessment to increase learning during classroom time and enhance student motivation, combining theory and training embedded in a real-life work environment in interconnected educational ecosystems and encouraging self-directed training and nano-degrees – a certified online education programme that helps students develop specialised skills for lifelong learning,” she said.

Strike ends at Westshore Terminals coal port in British Columbia

Tue, 10/11/2022 - 12:54

The strike action at Westshore Terminals’ coal export facility at Roberts Bank in Delta, British Columbia has ended after workers and the company reached a tentative six-year agreement.

According to a statement from Westshore, the deal was reached with Local 502 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and will last through Jan. 31, 2028. While the deal is still subject to a ratification vote by the union’s members later this month, Westshore reports that workers returned on Oct. 9.

The announcement ends a strike lasting about three weeks, which shut down operations at Roberts Bank’s chief coal terminal. The strike, along with below-expectations second-half performance of rail carrier BNSF – which carries coal from the United States to the Port of Vancouver – dropped Westshore’s estimated throughput volume this year from 27.5 million tonnes to about 25 million tonnes, the company said.

There remains the potential of further labour unrest. The negotiation with ILWU Local 502 was the first of three to be completed by Westshore this year. Currently, ILWU 514 and 517 are still awaiting scheduling for their negotiations with the company.

Roughly 200 people took part in ILWU 502’s strike. The talks had been ongoing since October 2021, although the last deal expired on Jan. 31 of this year.

The Westshore coal terminal at Roberts Bank – which typically processes about 33 million tonnes of coal a year – is among the busiest such facilities in Canada and along the west coast of North America. It handles coal produced in B.C. and Alberta as well as in U.S. states such as Montana and Wyoming.

(This article first appeared in Business in Vancouver)

Burkina Faso miners say operations unaffected following second military coup of 2022

Tue, 10/11/2022 - 12:43

Burkina Faso-focused miners say operations have not been affected following a second coup d’état on September 30 that saw the country’s president Lt.-Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba overthrown after only nine months in power.

While local mining operators face growing security, logistical and financing issues, they appear to remain bullish on the jurisdiction, with no announcements emerging of reduced exploration and mine development budgets to date.

Burkina Faso is Africa’s fourth-largest gold producer, and gold makes up a significant part of its GDP and national exports.

The change of leadership appears to have its roots in a disagreement within the Burkina Faso military on security issues in the north and east of the country, areas which have been hard-hit by Islamic-associated terrorist insurgencies in recent years.

The nation’s new military leader, Captain Ibrahim Traoré, said on Oct. 2 that the country was facing an emergency in every sector, “from security to defence, to health, to social action, to infrastructure,” and it was time for the government to “abandon the unnecessary red tape.”

An analyst with global risk consultancy Control Risks says that, at first glance, the development is unlikely to directly impact the mining sector from a regulatory perspective. The current leadership has gone so far as to say no additional constraints will be placed on the mining sector, given its economic importance.

“The succession of coups in Burkina Faso, and more broadly persistent discontent in the armed forces, is driven by worsening militancy and repeated failure of successive governments to improve security,” said analyst Tristan Gueret in response to emailed questions.

Since 2015 Islamist militants have made significant gains across the country, expanding their influence in rural areas and carrying out frequent and deadly attacks against civilians and security forces.

Azimut’s Patwon gold zone in Quebec named AEMQ discovery of the year

Tue, 10/11/2022 - 11:06

Azimut Exploration (TSXV: AZM) has received the Discovery of the Year award from the Mineral Exploration Association of Quebec (AEMQ) for the discovery of the Patwon gold zone on the company’s 100%-owned Elmer property.

The award is granted to highlight the importance of a new discovery that has a ripple effect on exploration activities both on the property and in the surrounding area. The Azimut team is understandably very honoured by this recognition.

The discovery of the Patwon zone was announced in January 2020, following the initial drill program. Thus far, the zone has been delineated by 115 holes (48,381 metres). The zone is continuous from surface to at least 800 metres, and it remains open pit depth – and probably along strike, says Azimut. The strike length extends nearly 600 metres with an estimated true width of 35 metres. Drilling continues to expand and optimize a potential open pit.

The best assay from the Patwon zone was 24.04 g/t gold over 18 metres from 254 to 272 metres.

Azimut’s wholly owned Elmer property is a gold-silver-copper-zinc project located in the Eeyou-Istchee James Bay region of Quebec, about 5 km west of the James Bay Road and 100 km from Newmont’s Eleonore gold mine. The property is also 60 km from the Cree community of Eastmain.

Northcliff shares research into superior performance of tungsten-ion batteries

Tue, 10/11/2022 - 10:59

Northcliff Resources (TSX: NCF) shared what it has discovered about new research on tungsten-ion batteries.

Research conducted by the University of Cambridge and partner Nyobolt have been investigating the advantages of niobium- and tungsten-based anode systems over lithium-ion battery systems. Several improvements have been discovered.

The new type of batteries can be 90+% charged in less than five minutes, and they withstand a wider range of temperatures with reduced fire risk. They have a 10-times higher input power density, which extends their working range and allows for smaller and lighter batteries.

Finally, they new types have 10-times the durability of conventional batteries, resulting in lower total cost of ownership.

Northcliff pointed out that these capabilities enable new applications and enhanced customer experience. Such batteries could be used high performance and industrial vehicles as well as a number of consumer appliances and tools.

Also, researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory discovered that by using a scalable synthesis method, they could create a novel compound of molybdenum, tungsten and niobate (known as MWNO). This compound has high efficiency, recharges quickly, and could potentially replace graphite in commercial batteries.

Should these new technologies be commercialized, they could positively impact the demand for tungsten and molybdenum, said Northcliff CEO Andrew Ing.

Northcliff holds an 88.5% interest and is the operator of the Sisson tungsten-molybdenum project in new Brunswick. (Todd Corp. of New Zealand holds the balance of the project as well as a 52% interest in Northcliff). The 2013 feasibility study is being updated, but it posits a 30,000-t/d open pit and mill producing ammonium paratungstate and molybdenum.

The Scisson project has a measured and indicated resource of 387 million tonnes grading 0.067% tungsten oxide and 0.21% molybdenum. The inferred portion is 187 million tonnes at 0.50% tungsten oxide and 0.020% molybdenum.

Iron ore price down as China limits steel output

Tue, 10/11/2022 - 08:46

The iron ore price is down as steel mills in China’s top producing province of Hebei have been ordered to limit output, in a bid to ensure blue skies for the once-every-five-year Communist Party Congress that starts in Beijing later this month.

Cuts of 30% to 50% will be applied to the sintering process, where iron ore is readied for the blast furnace to be forged into steel, outlets including Coke Union Information and Calian reported.

The restrictions will apply from October 14 to 22. Hebei, which neighbors Beijing, has made headway in reducing capacity in recent years but still accounts for about a fifth of national production.

According to Fastmarkets MB, benchmark 62% Fe fines imported into Northern China were changing hands for $96.59 a tonne Tuesday morning, down 1.9%.

China typically mandates output curbs for highly polluting industries around the capital to ensure air quality for showcase events, and similar restrictions were ordered for the Beijing Olympics earlier this year.

“Chinese steel prices are likely to rebound in October with market fundamentals improving and macroeconomic support policies coming into force,” Mysteel consultancy said, citing its chief analyst Wang Jianhua.

“Caution is likely to prevail, however, ahead of this month’s Chinese Communist Party congress.”

The week-long congress begins on October 16.

(With files from Bloomberg and Reuters)

Hecla Mining ups guidance on strong preliminary Q3 results

Tue, 10/11/2022 - 08:06

Hecla Mining Company (NYSE: HL) has reported strong preliminary production results for the third quarter of 2022. As such, the company has increased its silver and gold production guidance for the fiscal year.

Silver production reached 3.6 million ounces for the quarter, on track to exceed the original production guidance. The major contributor was the Greens Creek mine in Alaska, which operated at a record throughput of 2,500 t/d – a 10% increase over the prior quarter – and produced 2% more silver at 2.5 million ounces. The remaining silver production came from the Lucky Friday mine in Idaho, which saw a slight drop in production (100,000 oz.) from the last quarter.

Gold production totalled 44,747 ounces, in line with the second quarter of 2022. Production from the Greens Creek mine decreased by 8% to 11,412 ounces due to lower grades. The Casa Berardi mine in Quebec churned out 33,335 ounces, which was consistent with the prior quarter’s output, as the mill operated at a new record monthly throughput of 4,856 t/d in September.

“Hecla reported another strong quarter of operational performance from all three mines as Greens Creek achieved record throughput for the quarter, Lucky Friday’s quarterly production continued to exceed 1 million ounces and the mine has already produced around 90% of last year’s annual production, and Casa Berardi delivered consistent production with the mill continuing the record throughput rates,” CEO Phillips Baker Jr. said in a news release.

“We also completed the acquisition of Alexco and are advancing Keno Hill development for consistent mill production in 2023,” he added. To date, approximately 20% of total planned preproduction development at Keno Hill is complete.

Hecla is raising its fiscal 2022 production guidance to 13.6-14.1 million ounces for silver and 169,000-180,000 ounces for gold.

Shares in Hecla Mining Company rose 3.4% by 11:00 a.m. ET following the revised guidance, giving the largest US silver producer a market value of $2.4 billion.

Asante Gold conditionally approved for Toronto venture exchange listing

Tue, 10/11/2022 - 07:55

Canada’s Asante Gold said on Tuesday it had been conditionally approved to list its common shares on the TSX Venture Exchange, which offers earlier-stage companies access to public venture capital. 

The move, chief executive David Anthony said, will provide the company with increased liquidity, greater visibility, and enhanced market access for Canadian and international investors.

“We believe that a TSX-V listing can attract a wider investment audience including those institutions with investment mandates that specify certain exchanges, including the TSX-V,” Anthony said.

A timeline for the listing will be announced once the company receives final approval.

Upon listing on the TSX-V, Asante will apply to delist its common shares from the Canadian Securities Exchange, or CSE.

Asante currently operates the Bibiani and Chirano gold mines, both in Ghana, which are expected to produce 335,000 ounces of gold (combined) over the next 12 months.

The Vancouver-based miner acquired Bibiani last year from Australia’s Resolute Mining (ASX, LON: RSG). In June, it bought the Chirano gold mine, located immediately south of Bibiani, from Kinross Gold (TSX: K)(NYSE: KGC).

New environmentally friendly method to extract metals from Li-ion batteries launched in Canada

Tue, 10/11/2022 - 05:05

Engineers at the University of Toronto are proposing a new, more sustainable method to mine lithium, cobalt, nickel and manganese from lithium-ion batteries that have reached the end of their lives.

In a paper recently published in Resources, Conservation and Recycling, the researchers explain that conventional processes for recycling lithium-ion batteries are energy intensive and not environmentally friendly.

On one hand, pyrometallurgy, which uses extremely high temperatures, produces greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, hydrometallurgy, which uses acids and reducing agents for extraction, creates wastewater that needs to be processed and handled.  

In contrast, the University of Toronto group is using supercritical fluid extraction to recover metals from end-of-life Li-ion batteries. This process separates one component from another by using an extracting solvent at a temperature and pressure above its critical point — where it adopts the properties of both a liquid and a gas.  

To recover the metals, the scientists used carbon dioxide as a solvent, which was brought to the supercritical phase by increasing the temperature above 31 Celsius, and the pressure up to 7 megapascals.  

They were able to show that this process matched the extraction efficiency of lithium, nickel, cobalt and manganese to 90% when compared to the conventional leaching processes, while also using fewer chemicals and generating significantly less secondary waste. The main source of energy expended during the supercritical fluid extraction process was due to the compression of the carbon dioxide.  

“The advantage of our method is that we are using carbon dioxide from the air as the solvent instead of highly hazardous acids or bases,” head researcher Gisele Azimi said in a media statement. “Carbon dioxide is abundant, cheap and inert, and it’s also easy to handle, vent and recycle.”   

A caffeinated connection

Supercritical fluid extraction is not a new process. It has been used in the food and pharmaceutical industries to extract caffeine from coffee beans since the 1970s. Azimi and her team’s work builds on previous research in the lab to recover rare earth elements from nickel-metal-hydride batteries. 

However, this is the first time that this process has been used to recover metals from lithium-ion batteries.  

“We are now moving towards commercialization of this method to increase its technology readiness level. Our next step is to finalize partnerships to build industrial-scale recycling facilities for secondary resources. If it’s enabled, it would be a big game changer,” Azimi said.

In her view, if more batteries are recycled, it is possible to sustain the constrained supply chain for battery metals and help bring down the cost of EV batteries, making the vehicles more affordable.

Vital Metals ditches Quebec rare earths projects

Tue, 10/11/2022 - 03:57

Australia’s Vital Metals (ASX: VML), the first rare earths producer in Canada, has walked away from a deal Quebec Precious Metals Corp. (TSX-V: QPM) to buy the junior’s Zeus project and a 68% stake the Kipawa heavy rare earths, inked last year.

Vital’s new management informed QPM that it had not been satisfied with the results of its due diligence on the projects, in particular the ability to progress its understanding of the Kipawa (Kebaowek) First Nation’s position.

The Aussie miner also noted it was discontent with the technical due diligence completed by the company’s former management.

QPM, which will continue to seek a buyer for its projects, said Vital’s decision came after not being able to agree on terms to extend the due diligence period to enable the Sydney-based company to further reduce risk.

“We believe that significant value can be realized for our shareholders through the monetization of the Kipawa and Zeus projects,” QPM’s CEO Normand Champigny said in the statement. “With the current market conditions for rare earth projects, we expect that we will receive further expressions of interest for these projects.”

Vital also felt that proceeding with the acquisition of Kipawa and Zeus would have diverted funds from its current high-priority Nechalacho rare earths mine, in Canada’s Northwest Territories, and that the development of the QPM projects would not occur for several years.

Vital began operations at Nechalacho last year, becoming it North America’s second producer of the elements used in magnets for electric vehicles, aerospace, defence and electronics, after California’s Mountain Pass mine. 

Vital aims to produce a minimum of 5,000 tonnes of contained rare earth oxide (REO) by 2025 at Nechalacho.

The company is focusing on its Saskatoon rare earths production facility and development of the Tardiff deposit at Nechalacho, which will consume all resources in the short to medium term.

Vital has already signed an off-take agreement with Norwegian company REEtec for Stage 1 production with the supply of 1,000t REO (ex-Cerium) a year for an initial five-year period.

Appian Capital Advisory appoints new managing director, private equity

Mon, 10/10/2022 - 11:46

Appian Capital Advisory LLP the investment advisor to long-term value-focused private equity funds that invest solely in mining and mining-related companies, has appointed Antti Grönlund as Managing Director, Private Equity.

Based in London, UK, Grönlund will play a critical part in Appian’s strategy and operations. He will be responsible for originating, evaluating, structuring, executing, and monitoring private equity investments at the firm, as well as overseeing the global finance team.

With 18 years of transaction experience, and a decade focused particularly on energy and natural resources, Grönlund is well-positioned to support Appian as it continues to consolidate its market- leading position in mining private equity, the company said.

Prior to his current role, Grönlund spent three years as Head of Energy & Resources at Triton Partners, a private equity investor. He has also held private equity investment roles at First Reserve and Quadrangle Capital with focus on investing and developing industrial and infrastructure businesses.

Grönlund started his career at JPMorgan, working in London and New York across its investment banking division. He graduated with an MSc Degree from the Helsinki School of Economics and a joint CEMS Management Master’s Degree from HSE/London School of Economics.

“Antti’s appointment further strengthens our finance team and demonstrates Appian’s continued ability to attract the most senior advisers in private equity,” Michael W. Scherb, CEO of Appian, said in a media statement.

“His strong track-record across energy and natural resources, at several notable private equity investors, will play an important part in Appian’s growth ambitions over the coming years. I look forward to working closely with Antti as we continue to deliver value for our investors across the firm’s strategic investments.”

RG Gold launches $420 million processing plant

Mon, 10/10/2022 - 11:31

Kazakh gold miner RG Gold has launched a new processing plant worth more than $420 million. The added capacity is expected to enable the company to quadruple its 2023 output to approximately 190,000 ounces.

The new plant’s annual processing capacity amounts to approximately 5 million tonnes of gold-containing ore. It deploys CIP (carbon in pulp) technology, which uses coal particles during leaching to extract gold from low-grade ore at a low cost. The plant has been designed and constructed in accordance with all international safety and environmental requirements.

RG Gold currently operates the Raygorodok deposit in northern Kazakhstan, one of the country’s largest mines with 5.9 million ounces of gold reserves, based on the JORC Code. Its output is set to exceed 50,000 ounces this year.

The company is majority owned by Verny Capital, a Kazakh private equity group, which has been its shareholder since 2015. Resource Capital Funds (U.S.) also holds a 35% stake in RG Gold.

“The launch of the new processing plant is a key milestone for RG Gold. It is underpinned by the highest global industry standards using the latest innovation and technical expertise from Resource Capital Funds, our strategic partner,” Bulat Utemuratov, the key investor in Verny Capital projects said in a news release. “

The new plant allows us not only to quadruple RG Gold’s overall output, but importantly, it also provides the opportunity to boost investment in the region.”

“We invested in RG Gold in 2018. It was the first time that we invested in Kazakhstan as a firm, and from the very beginning of the due diligence process, we were impressed with the quality of the people, the quality of the institutions, and the commitment from everyone to do mining in a very environmentally friendly way and with the best interest of all stakeholders in front of everything else, especially for the local communities,” Martin Valdes, partner at Resource Capital Funds, added.

The View from England: Sending the right signals

Mon, 10/10/2022 - 06:00

The world’s first, and still largest, broadcaster is 100 years old. The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) was formed on Oct. 18, 1922, by a group of leading wireless manufacturers, including the Italian inventor and electrical engineer Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937). The company became a corporation when it was nationalized in 1927.

Marconi had been building transmitting devices since 1894, and moved to Wales in 1896 at the instigation of his mentor, Caernarfon-born Sir William Preece (the General Post Office’s chief engineer). Marconi sent the world’s first wireless transmission (from Flat Holm island in the Bristol Channel to Lavernock Point near Cardiff) on May 13, 1897, and transmitted the first transatlantic radio signal in December 1901.

Marconi went on to deliver Britain’s first live public transmission in 1920, and began daily radio broadcasts, for the BBC, from his London studio (2LO on the Strand) on Nov. 14, 1922.

Television (literally ‘far off sight’) wasn’t broadcast by the BBC for another 14 years (November 1936), but Scottish electrical engineer John Baird (1888-1946) had conducted the world’s first demonstration of transmitting images to multiple sites (albeit only silhouettes) in March 1925 from Selfridge’s department store in London. Baird was a prolific inventor, including attempts in his 20s to create diamonds by heating graphite. His first ‘proper’ broadcast (of human faces) was on Jan. 26, 1926 to scientists at the Royal Institution.

During its founding years, in the aftermath of WWI, the BBC was guided by the Victorian paternalism of its first director-general, the imposing Scottish mechanical engineer John Reith (1889-1971). A strict Presbyterian, Reith stood almost two metres tall (6 foot 6 inches) and had a pronounced scar on his cheek from a sniper’s bullet.

Reith helped establish the state broadcaster’s enduring reputation for clarity and impartiality. He summarized the BBC’s purpose in three words: inform, educate and entertain (which remain part of the organisation’s mission statement).

The first two of Reith’s simple corporate instructions, to inform and to educate, are useful guidelines for business communications today. They are also invoked in a book published in February by marketing expert Kevin Duncan. In his ‘Bullshit-Free Book’, Duncan argues that we need to reclaim our language by communicating clearly.

The book starts with an examination of why we use so much jargon and non-sensical phrases (for example “reaching out,” and any percentages over 100%), and then lists and analyzes 100 examples of bullshit. The book ends with a manifesto to help anyone achieve clear communications.

Corporate ‘guff’ is certainly not a new concept. In the mid-1990s, for example, Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway was mocking business jargon, and exposing the hidden meanings behind corporate press releases.

The English language is full of ambiguities, especially when used by the British. For example, when we say “with all due respect,” it means nothing of the sort, we actually mean “I think you are wrong.” Similarly, “that is an original idea” means not that you are a genius, rather you’re daft. For some reason we are often misunderstood by foreigners.

An article by Gillian Tett in the Financial Times earlier this year applauded Duncan’s crusade, and discussed the need for clarity. Tett noted that many linguistic characteristics are cultural (the English dislike giving offence) but can cause confusion and misinterpretation. Most people who use English as a foreign language are much more direct than the British in their translation, they speak/write what they see.

Hollywood and the internet have facilitated global communication, and English (or is that American) has become the lingua franca for large parts of the business world. This penetration is monitored annually by Miami-based Education First in its English Proficiency Index (most recently published in December 2021), which ranks 112 countries and regions by their levels of English usage and comprehension.

There are some 7,000 languages in the world, yet more than half of the population speak just 23 of them. Of these languages, English is the most understood (followed closely by Mandarin), with 18% of the global population able to communicate in it. English is spoken by some 400 million people as a native language (it is an official language in 67 countries), and spoken by a further 1 billion as a foreign language.

In business communication, we need to avoid corporate confuscation, jargon and the vernacular of local speech, and learn to speak and write like fluent foreigners; clearly and to the point. Unlike the BBC, mining companies don’t need to entertain, but they do need to inform and educate; Reith would surely approve.

Dr. Chris Hinde is a mining engineer and the director of Pick and Pen Ltd., a U.K.-based consulting firm. He previously worked for S&P Global Market Intelligence’s Metals and Mining division.

De Beers names Equinor’s Al Cook as new CEO

Mon, 10/10/2022 - 05:18

De Beers, the world’s top diamond producer by value, has appointed oil and energy industry executive Al Cook as its new chief executive to replace Bruce Cleaver, who leaves the top job after six years at the helm.

England-born Cook, with 25 years in the energy industry and current vice-president of Norwegian oil major Equinor’s exploration and production business, will assume De Beers leadership early next year, the company said.

Al Cook. (Image courtesy of De Beers.)

Cleaver will become co-chair of De Beers Group, after steering the diamond producer through a period of considerable change in the industry.

Under his leadership, De Beers championed initiatives to remove “conflict diamonds, those mined in an area of armed conflict and traded illicitly to finance the fighting, and grew its sales agreements.

Duncan Wanblad, who in April took over from Mark Cutifani as CEO of Anglo American (LON: AAL), De Beers’ parent company, said today Cook’s broad base of skills won him the position.

Cook will be the third chief executive of De Beers since 2012, when Anglo bought the Oppenheimers’ 40% stake in the diamond company, bringing an end to 80 years of control under the South African family.

De Beers has benefitted from a steady recovery in the diamond market since early 2021. Sanctions on Alrosa (MCX: ALRS), its Russian rival, have also boosted the miner’s position as a global shortage caused by two years of covid-related shutdowns increased this year.

US government includes Li-ion batteries in list of goods produced by child labor

Sun, 10/09/2022 - 13:39

In the 10th edition of its “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor,” the US Department of Labor has decided to include lithium-ion batteries among the 158 goods from 77 countries that the department has reason to believe are produced by child labor or forced labor in violation of international standards.

The addition of Li-ion batteries to the list is not due to direct evidence of labor abuses in the final production of this good, but because of the evidence of human exploitation in the mining of cobalt, a key input in the production of the technology.

“The information is out there for companies and consumers to leverage against regimes that promote and prop up exploitative labor practices,” Thea Mei Lee, deputy undersecretary for international affairs, wrote in the report’s opening statement. 

The International Labor Organization estimates that 160 million child laborers and 27.6 million forced laborers are working in abusive conditions.

Among them are 40,000 children in the Democratic Republic of Congo who – according to the report – miss school and work to produce cobalt for lithium-ion batteries. The DRC supplies over 70% of the world’s cobalt.

“Entire families may work in cobalt mines in the DRC, and when parents are killed by landslides or collapsing mine shafts, children are orphaned with no option but to continue working,” the report reads. “Both adults and children are also trafficked to work in eastern DRC ‘artisanal’ mines, where much of the abusive labor conditions occur.”

Children as young as six years old have been seen hoisting 80-pound bags containing cobalt ore over their heads and carrying them to processing facilities. They work up to 12 hours a day—24 hours if they are underground.

(Image from the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor by the US Department of Labor.)

The extraction of cobalt occurs at large-scale mining sites as well as artisanal and small-scale mining sites in the “copper belt” region of the Haut-Katanga and Lualaba provinces. Artisanal mines – where conditions of child labor are more common – account for 15% to 30% of the DRC’s cobalt production. Once extracted, cobalt from small-scale operations tends to be mixed with that of large-scale mining and refined in preparation for export. 

“Due to the prevalence of child labor in mining this critical mineral, the Department of Labor placed cobalt, specifically referred to as ‘cobalt ore (heterogenite),’ on its List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor in 2009. Over a decade later, child labor persists and is increasingly linked to the global supply chain of products made with cobalt, including lithium-ion batteries that power our smartphones, laptops, and electric cars,” the dossier states. “Cobalt ore is heavily concentrated in one country, the DRC, and the import market is dominated by one country: China.” 

The DoL’s document points out that, in 2020, China imported 89.4% of its cobalt from the DRC, amounting to $2.17 billion. Once imported, the metal is further refined and integrated into battery chemicals. 

“The line of ownership is clear in the supply chain at this stage, as China owns or finances most cobalt mines in the DRC, and China imports almost 90% of its cobalt from the DRC,” the dossier notes. “Chinese companies use cobalt tainted with child labor to manufacture battery components, such as cathodes, which in turn are used to make lithium-ion batteries. Sources estimate that at least half of all cobalt ends up in rechargeable batteries. This creates enormous labor risks for the electronics industry, electric vehicle supply chains, and other goods that depend on lithium-ion batteries.”

One of the main conclusions in the report is that as the world is shifting toward generating clean and renewable energy, it is important for companies to track the cobalt supply chain by acquiring knowledge of trade data, supplier information, transport routes, and processing steps. 

Demanding such information and conducting their own research, will give companies “fewer excuses—such as the distance between raw materials and the finished product or supply chain complexity—to point to their lack of accountability in determining if a supply chain is tainted with child labor or forced labor,” the reports states.

When art meets mining

Sun, 10/09/2022 - 07:48

“Whether they are active or long dormant, mines speak of a combination of sacrifice and gain.” These are the opening lines of the virtual expo For What It’s Worth, by South African photographer Dillon Marsh.

Throughout his personal site/gallery, Marsh explores what he calls “the tenuous relationship” between humans and the natural environment. One way in which he presents such interaction is by pointing his lens toward some of South Africa’s most famous mines, whether that glory is the product of hosting a world-class deposit or whether some dramatic events have taken place there.

The artist also introduces computer-generated imagery into some of his photos to reveal underlying features or dynamics that, in his view, can’t be illustrated with photography alone.

“The CGI objects represent scale models of the materials removed from the ground. By doing so, the intention is to create a kind of visualisation of the merits and shortfalls of this industry that has shaped the history and economy of the country so radically,” Marsh writes.

When it comes to diamonds, the photographer explains that following a fortuitous find in the Northern Cape province in 1867, the news of diamond-bearing pipes in the area quickly spread out, eventually creating the backbone for towns like Kimberley.

For him, the immense scale of the open-pit mines and the relatively low yield associated with diamond mining make for a dramatic visual comparison.

Kimberley mine. (Image by Dillon Marsh).

Moving onto gold, Marsh used CGI to represent the total amount extracted from each of the seven gold fields in the Witwatersrand Basin, an area that hosts the world’s largest gold deposit.

Central Rand Gold Field. (Image by Dillon Marsh).

For the platinum group metals, the photographer decided to capture the Marikana platinum mine area, now owned by Sibanye-Stillwater but which rose to the spotlight in 2012 when it was in the hands of its previous owner Lonmin. The reasons for its sudden fame were, however, rather negative, as the mine site saw police opening fire on a group of striking mineworkers, killing 34 people and injuring 78 others.

“Against this backdrop, I’ve placed the total national output of all six of the platinum group metals since mining operations began in 1924,” Marsh points out.

Marikana mine site. (Image by Dillon Marsh).

How to determine coal mines’ methane emissions

Sun, 10/09/2022 - 06:58

A research team at Los Alamos National Laboratory found that using multiple methods to measure the ratio of ethane to methane in the ambient air around fossil energy development regions can be used to attribute emissions to specific polluters.

In a paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, the scientists explain that while oil, gas and coal production is widely known to emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas, the industry’s geographically vast and variable infrastructure from extraction sites to processing facilities makes attributing these emissions to specific sources challenging.

But by applying their new method in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin, the researchers are convinced that it is possible to identify the sources and, thus, reduce methane emissions.

“We were able to show that individual sources of methane from coal, oil and gas, and fossil fuel infrastructure in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin have different ethane-to-methane ratios that can be detected at various scales, allowing us to differentiate among them,” Aaron Meyer, lead author of the paper, said in a media statement.

Meyer said the results bring an important new capability for attributing natural gas leaks with greater fidelity, which can help nations meet the Global Methane Pledge, signed by the United States, the European Union and about 100 nations at the COP26 climate conference. The pledge aims to reduce methane emissions globally by 30% by 2030, compared to 2020 levels.

The San Juan coal mine

“Natural gas is primarily methane but includes other hydrocarbons, including ethane,” said Manvendra Dubey, co-corresponding author of the article. “The composition of the gas varies with the source. We were able to discriminate among these using unique instruments that span many scales that were deployed by Los Alamos in the Four Corners. Our findings enable emitter accountability to reduce methane emissions, which are 84 times more potent as a warming agent than carbon dioxide, in this decade.”

Focusing on a methane hot spot discovered several years ago above the Four Corners, the study for the first time analyzed observations made at time scales from seconds to hours and length scales from meters to tens of kilometres. The research team took measurements with a mobile ground-based sensing system and studied older data from aircraft campaigns and remote sensing platforms.

Map showing the San Juan, NM region containing a large coal mine. Known methane emission sources sampled during 2020/2021 mobile surveys and the location of the fourier transform spectrometer instrument are identified. (Image by Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres .)

The analysis determined that the vent shaft of the San Juan coal mine consistently emitted a stable ratio of ethane to methane over eight years of measurements. The ratio held up under a variety of measurement techniques and over a range of distances from the source.

That ethane-to-methane ratio serves as a distinct signature identifying the coal vent and differentiating it from other sources, many of which showed drastically different ratios.

“Despite a diverse and changing emissions environment, we successfully used ethane-to-methane ratios to identify and apportion several sources across scales in space and time,” Meyer said. “Using different measurement techniques, we can leverage the advantages of each to build a systems-level approach to monitoring across an entire basin.”

In the scientist’s view, without the ability to identify, locate and quantify methane emissions, any reduction attempts are thwarted.

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