THE CONFERENCE CALLER: Blackstone Minerals took a lot of market pundits by surprise when it announced it was entering a binding term sheet for the exclusive option to acquire a 90 per cent interest in the Ta Khoa nickel project.
The Ta Khoa nickel project is located 160 kilometres west of Hanoi in the Son La Province of Vietnam and includes an existing modern nickel mine built to Australian Standards that was under care and maintenance.
The Ban Phuc nickel mine operated as a mechanised underground nickel mine from 2013 to 2016 and its previous owners invested more than US$136 million in capital and generated US$213 million in revenue during a 3.5-year period of falling nickel prices.
The project was placed into care and maintenance in mid-2016 during some of the lowest nickel prices in the past 10 years.
Existing infrastructure associated with the project includes an internationally-designed 450,000 tonne per annum processing plant connected to local hydro grid power with a fully-permitted tailings facility and a modern 250- person camp.
Blackstone Minerals had its eyes on the potential the project offers with the 150 square kilometre land package hosting more than 25 advanced stage massive sulphide vein (MSV) targets and many large disseminated sulphide (DSS) targets including the unmined Ban Phuc DSS.
Blackstone also signalled its interest in investigating the potential to develop downstream processing infrastructure in Vietnam to produce a downstream nickel and cobalt product to supply Asia’s growing lithium ion battery industry.
“Blackstone will be the first company to explore Ta Khoa for both MSV and DSS nickel sulphide deposits all the while investigating downstream processing opportunities to meet the demands of the growing Asian lithium ion battery sector,” Blackstone Mineral managing director Scott Williamson said.
Blackstone wasted little time in getting the drills spinning on site at Ta Khoa and produced a steady stream of intersections of disseminated nickel sulphide.
The project also demonstrated potential for substantial platinum group element (PGE) credits with Blackstone becoming the first company to assay the Ban Phuc DSS for PGEs, which resulted in the recent uncovering of what the company considers as a previously unrecognised opportunity.
Previous operators focused on the Ban Phuc MSV, which has relatively low PGE grades, and hence did not consider or investigate the full potential of the PGEs throughout the Ta Khoa project.
Blackstone’s maiden PGE assays combined with the abundance of disseminated nickel sulphide targets, leading the company to think PGEs associated with disseminated nickel sulphide mineralisation could greatly improve the economics of the Ta Khoa nickel project.
Blackstone ended 2019 on a high by entering a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Korea’s largest electric vehicle (EV) battery cathode manufacturer.
Blackstone inked a non-binding MoU with Ecopro BM Co Limited that outlines an alliance structure whereby Ecopro BM and Blackstone will work in partnership to develop a downstream processing facility in association with the company’s Ta Khoa nickel project in northern Vietnam.
The MoU is a boon for both entities in that Blackstone wishes to engage a development partner to provide funding to commercialise the Ta Khoa nickel project, while Ecopro BM has indicated its willingness to enter into an alliance with Blackstone with a view to formalising a Joint Venture on the downstream processing infrastructure project in association with the project.
The intention of the MOU is for the parties to enter into an alliance to form a JV with the intention to develop a suitable nickel, cobalt or other battery mineral product for lithium-ion battery manufacturing.
“Our Ta Khoa nickel project has significant potential to deliver the critical raw materials required for Ecopro’s cathode manufacturing process and meet the ever-increasing demand for high-nickel content cathodes driven by the imminent electric vehicle (EV) revolution,” Williamson said.
Blackstone is very keen to deliver a maiden resource on the disseminated sulphide (DSS) at Ban Phuc as it investigates the potential to restart the existing Ban Phuc concentrator through focused exploration on both massive sulphide veins (MSV) and DSS deposits.
The company commenced a scoping study on the downstream processing facility at Ta Khoa, the purpose of which is to provide detail for potential JV partners to formalise a binding agreement.
Blackstone also commenced metallurgical testing on the Ban Phuc DSS orebody with an aim to develop a flow sheet for a product suitable for the lithium ion battery industry.
In addition, Blackstone intends to investigate the potential to develop downstream processing infrastructure in Vietnam to produce a downstream nickel and cobalt product to supply Asia’s growing lithium ion battery industry.