Firefly Resources Brightens on Manganese Spin Off

THE CONFERENCE CALLER: In making its case for the planned spinning off of manganese assets into a new Australian publicly-listed identity, Firefly Resources (ASX: FFR) came up with four compelling reasons for the move. By Mark Fraser

First, there has been a systematic shift in the global manganese sector over the past decade, with South Africa – the largest exporter globally – now facing significant challenges regarding logistics, labour and fiscal regimes.

Coinciding with this is the fact Australian operations are currently experiencing higher operational costs, declining head grades and/or are approaching the end of their mine lives.

In this regard, manganese head grades are also starting to decline across the board, while the carbon steel material’s demand continues to grow as a key and un-substitutable element within steel production.

Second, overlying supply-side challenges have emerged, with the uptake in lithium-ion battery utilisation significantly enhancing investor understanding of manganese’s importance.

Third, Firefly’s Oakover manganese project – which is located 85 kilometres east of Newman and some 200km south of the high-grade Woodie Woodie manganese operation in Western Australia’s East Pilbara – is uniquely positioned to capitalise on projected demand and potential supply shortfall through its planned focus on exploration and development of direct shipping ore (DSO) opportunities.

Amongst other advantages, the Firefly spin off can undertake expansion capacity through the evaluation of beneficiation processes in order to upgrade medium grade mineralisation. Furthermore, Oakover sits in a tier one mining jurisdiction that is ideally located given the short shipment time to key Asian markets.

Additionally, it already has significant resource expansion potential based on a firm targeting model.

Finally, the fourth key reason for the development is the fact the demerger would be a “win-win” for the company, allowing it to crystallise shareholder value from the non-core Oakover asset while ensuring its management had the time and resources available to remain focused on both its wholly-owned flagship Yalgoo gold project in WA’s Murchison as well as its Paterson copper-gold play, which is also in the state’s East Pilbara.

Firefly launched its maiden drilling program for Yalgoo in August last year and – during mid-December – announced it had further consolidated the asset via the acquisition of the historic high-grade City of Melbourne gold mine.

Since beginning operations in 1937, it has produced 8,500 ounces at an average grade of 14.7 grams per tonne over four years.

It was briefly opened again in 1991, but with no recorded production, before lying dormant once more until mining resumed in 2015.

As it stands the historic (non-JORC) inferred resource for the operation is 40,348 tonnes at 5.9 grams per tonne gold for 6,602 gold ounces.

It is currently functioning as a small-scale underground operation employing hand-held mining methods wherein high-grade gold is extracted from a consistent quartz “reef” narrow vein gold system.

The City of Melbourne’s mineralisation is associated with a north-south porphyry intrusive that has pushed in along a structural contact.

This is analogous to the company’s neighbouring Melville gold deposit, which has been the main focus of drilling since the Yalgoo asset was acquired.

“With the market currently ascribing little or no value to Firefly for the Oakover manganese project, this demerger represents an outstanding opportunity to release substantial value to Firefly shareholders as a stand-alone ASX-listed vehicle,” Firefly Resources managing director Simon Lawson explained.

“The demerger will enable shareholders to retain exposure to this high-quality manganese exploration and development opportunity, while also allowing Firefly management to focus its efforts on the flagship Yalgoo gold project and the drilling of our exciting Paterson Province assets in early 2021.”

Upon listing the new company – to be called Firebird Metals (ASX: FBM) – will undertake in-fill drilling of the current resource.

It will also conduct along-strike extensional drilling over an identified 4km strike, assess multiple advanced regional prospects that have undergone limited drill testing to date, evaluate additional metallurgical beneficiation testing in parallel with the assessment of DSO strategies (to potentially increase overall project scale) as well as look at consolidation opportunities within the region.

Back in 2012, JORC-compliant due diligence noted that Oakover’s manganese mineralisation appeared to be a partially regolith-controlled supergene enrichment of epigenetic manganese mineralisation of the underlying Balfour shale, where very rich (up to 55% manganese) surface layers overlie thicker deposits of layered manganese in shales of varying grade.

According to Firefly, the drill hole spacings differ only by a small degree, generally conforming to 50m along lines and 100m between them.

Drill coverage at depth is variable, with the maximum hole being 122m.

Drilling density, Firefly said, was considered appropriate at this stage of development.






Carawine Resources Looking for Oakover Makeover

THE CONFERENCE CALLER: Late last year busy exploration house Carawine Resources (ASX: CWX) further revealed its commitment to becoming a bigger force in Australia’s base and precious metals sectors. By Mark Fraser

This became evident after it announced plans to spin off a highly prospective manganese holding in its home state of Western Australia.

Just before Christmas the company executed a binding Heads of Agreement with the yet-to-be listed Black Canyon to help get its wholly-owned Oakover manganese-copper-cobalt-iron project in WA’s East Pilbara up and running.

In doing so, it will be able to concentrate more fully on its plan to develop four other key exploration assets it currently has in Victoria and WA.

Under the terms of the Oakover deal, which is still subject to regulatory approvals, Black Canyon will have exclusive rights to farm into eight granted exploration licences within the Braeside, Oakover East, Oakover West and Mt Frank tenements.

Covering about 950 square kilometres of tenure around 400km south east of Port Hedland, the aptly-named Oakover is centred on the Oakover Basin, a world class manganese province that hosts Consolidated Minerals’ Woodie Woodie manganese mine, an operation that has been producing premium grade product since the 1950s.

Boosting the project’s upside is the fact the region also has several other historic manganese mining centres in addition to numerous separate manganese and copper occurrences.

Apart from a drilling program completed in late 2018 at the Western Star copper prospect, Carawine’s work in the area to date has comprised largely of target generation activities based on reviews of historic exploration, reconnaissance-level mapping and surface sampling.

Carawine managing director David Boyd said his company’s tight focus on its high quality precious and base metals exploration opportunities at Jamieson (Victoria), as well as those at Tropicana North, within the Paterson Province and along the Fraser Range (all in WA), had effectively seen Oakover slip down the list of corporate priorities.

“We believe Oakover has significant potential for manganese discoveries and we are pleased that Black Canyon is preparing to take this opportunity,” he explained.

“If Black Canyon is successful with its ASX listing, this deal will ensure the manganese potential of the Oakover project is explored, with Carawine retaining an interest and the ability to share in the benefit of any discoveries.”

Of the four remaining projects in the junior’s portfolio, the most advanced would arguably be Jamieson and Tropicana North.

At the former, which sits near its namesake township in the north eastern Victorian Goldfields, the focus is on the search for gold-copper/zinc-gold-silver across two exploration licences that cover 120sqkm.

This tenure contains the Hill 800 gold-copper and Rhyolite Creek copper-gold and zinc-gold-silver prospects, which both sit within Cambrian-aged felsic to intermediate volcanics.

Carawine is testing the strike and dip extents of Hill 800’s mineralisation (which is currently open) and searching the region for a potential copper-gold porphyry source.

Diamond drilling at Hill 800, the company said, had been progressing well, with the second drill hole in the current program targeting the down-plunge extension of previously-intersected high grade mineralisation involving a down-hole depth of 436.2m.

A follow-up drill hole – designed to further test down-plunge from this zone – was, at the end of last year, in progress and would be completed before the rig was moved to the Rhyolite Creek prospect some 5km to the south.

Meanwhile, at the 1,800sqkm Tropicana North gold project in the emerging Tropicana region, two granted exploration licences were the subject of a joint venture between Carawine (90%) and Thunderstruck Investments (the remaining 10%), with the exploration house set to free-carry its minority partner to the completion of a bankable feasibility study – at which point Thunderstruck may elect to contribute to further expenditure or dilute its interest.

Here, aircore drilling at the Neale and Don King tenements is complete, with 80 holes drilled for 4,124m.

Further to the north at the Paterson project, which sits in the Paterson Province at the eastern edge of WA’s Pilbara Craton, Carawine has nine granted exploration licences and seven applications (five subject to ballot) over an area of about 1,500sqkm that cross 10 tenement groups.

One notable aspect about these holdings is the fact the explorer has entered into separate and robust farm-in/JVs with two mining houses – Rio Tinto (ASX: RIO) and Fortescue Metals Group (ASX: FMG) – covering different properties.

Finally, there’s the Fraser Range project, which includes six granted exploration licences in five areas and is considered prospective for magmatic nickel-sulphide deposits.

Again, Carawine has formed a robust JV – this time with miner IGO (ASX: IGO).






Ardea Resources Chases Golden Zues

THE CONFERENCE CALLER: Having been kept busy sizing up one of the world’s largest undeveloped nickel-cobalt-critical minerals laterite plays in its home state of Western Australia, Ardea Resources (ASX: ARL) now looks set to devote a large portion of 2021 complementing this with a gold spin off. By Mark Fraser

While the company has had its hands full progressing the massive (not to mention long-awaited) Goongarrie base metals-scandium project some 70 kilometres north of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, it ended 2020 conducting further RC drilling on the nearby Zeus gold discovery, where yellow metal mineralisation has proven to be both high grade and near-surface.

Although still early days, gold intercepts like 10 metres at 12.97 grams per tonne from 42m (including 4m at 28.25g/t from 44m) and 6m at 2.07g/t (from 68m) have given the junior plenty of food for thought.

Located on the same tenure as Goongarrie, Zeus – at this stage of the game at least – represents a potential shallow gold mining opportunity.

In terms of the bigger picture, which will also involve further field activities at Lily Albany and Big Four Gold, it could well be the leader of a major new gold camp.

Sitting less than 2km to the east of Goongarrie’s 25km-long line of nickel-cobalt-scandium lateritic deposits, Zeus has been subjected to 19 drill holes varying in depth from 40-140m to test a number of targets.

They include the down-plunge and up-dip extension of Lode 1, confirmation of Lode 2 and the up-plunge, near-surface daylighting extent of Lode 2.

Additionally, historic gold anomalism – similar to that which initially highlighted Zeus’ potential – is evident around 200m to the north west.

A set of closely-spaced drill holes, similar to the prospect’s discovery program, aims to delimit gold anomalism and mineralisation distributions.

Just before Christmas the company said RC drilling at Zeus was typically rapid due to the soft, fresh nature of the chlorite schist host rocks, the shallow target depths as well as the negligible transported cover that is typically (or less than) 5m thick.

This work enabled Ardea to schedule the next RC program at the nearby Lily Albany gold discovery, where several targets will now receive the company’s attention.

These include the shallower oxide discovery zone for initial resource definition and assessment of open pit mining potential; the primary gold mineralisation immediately south of the discovery area that coincides with a suite of deep, strong demagnetisation targets; in addition to the Southeast Line of mineralisation, anomalism and demagnetisation targets which are coincident with the top of the target layered mafic-ultramafic intrusive.

This work will also test the northern Hinge Zone of gold anomalism and demagnetisation that coincides with faulted and/or folded intersection of the limbs of the layered mafic-ultramafic intrusive as well as the down-dip – and down-plunge – primary gold mineralisation throughout the areas drilled to date.

Ardea said a regularly-spaced (40m) drill-out over four 40m-spaced lines was designed to define the oxide zone resource potential throughout the discovery area.

Given the recent, “very positive metallurgical results” announced to the market towards the end of last year, the definition of shallower, oxide gold mineralisation would also help assess Lily Albany for its open pit potential.

Additionally, regularly-spaced drill holes should penetrate to fresh rock, thereby providing representative sampling of the entire weathered profile for resource modelling.

Seventeen drill holes for 2,610m will evaluate the top 130m of this profile.

Additional holes, Ardea noted, had been designed if the expansion of this program became warranted.

Should a resource be defined from this program, it was expected it would be between the base of the transported material (between 10-40m depth) and the top of the fresh rock (from 80-150m).

Diamond drilling is also scheduled for the Zeus, Lily Albany and Big Four Gold prospects to enable the full assessment of the controlling structures for gold mineralisation.

This would both ensure the drill directions were optimised and greatly assist resource estimation modelling and the targeting of gold mineralisation.

“Multiple work streams are continuing on other Ardea project areas, such as gold target generation and corporate structure for the planned gold spin out, nickel sulphide exploration drilling and down-hole electromagnetic surveys at the Binti Gossan target at Emu Lake, Kalpini, nickel sulphide target refinement at Highway, Black Range and other targets – and copper target refinement at Ghost Rocks,” Ardea Resources managing director and chief executive Andrew Penkethman explained.

“Work also continues apace in completing Ardea’s Goongarrie Line nickel-cobalt resource which will also include a maiden scandium resource component.”






Deposit Receives More Spring in its Step

THE CONFERENCE CALLER: Emerging Latin American base metals player Centaurus Metals (ASX: CTM) couldn’t have finished 2020 on a better note after drilling one of the best ever holes at its Jaguar nickel suphide project in northern Brazil. By Mark Fraser

During the second half of December the company announced the drill rig had returned a robust 30.8 metres at 3.3% nickel, 0.22% copper and 0.06% cobalt from a depth of 180.7m at its Jaguar Central deposit, which has become a key element in the strong and early economics underpinning the project’s proposed development.

So far Centaurus has established a JORC-compliant mineral resource estimate at Jaguar of 48 million tonnes grading 1.08% nickel for 517,500t of contained nickel – including 7.4 million tonnes at 1.13% nickel for more than 80,000t of contained nickel for Jaguar Central.

Meanwhile, a high grade resource of 20.6 million tonnes at 1.56% nickel for 321,400t of contained nickel includes a near-surface component at Jaguar Central of 4.1 million tonnes at 1.44% nickel for around 60,000t of contained nickel.

According to the company, the latest step-out hole was targeting a 30m zone of semi-massive to massive nickel sulphides. The above-mentioned 30.8m intercept – which included 12m at 2.31% nickel, 0.21% copper and 0.05% cobalt from 180.7m as well as 12.1m at 5.38% nickel, 0.31% copper and 0.09% cobalt (from 195.3m) – confirmed there were down-dip extensions to the high-grade nickel mineralisation shoot at Jaguar Central, which is now over 500m long and remains open at depth and along strike.

Further evidence that this demonstrated “the significant growth potential and upside at the deposit” was then provided when another step-out hole located 100m east intersected the top of the high grade shoot, returning 11m at 0.76% nickel, 0.03% copper and 0.02% cobalt (from 127m) and 20.2m at 1% nickel, 0.04% copper and 0.03% cobalt (from 153.3m).

In addition, Centaurus said, recent infill, extensional and step out drilling at Jaguar South also yielded consistent thick and shallow nickel sulphide intersections, including 20m at 1.4% nickel, 0.05% copper and 0.02% cobalt (from 161m) – with 4.7m at 2.18% nickel, 0.1% copper and 0.05% cobalt (from 161m) in addition to 4.2m at 3.42% nickel, 0.08% copper and 0.09% cobalt (from 172m) – as well as 17.2m at 1.19% nickel, 0.03% copper and 0.03% cobalt (from 162.6m), 11m at 1.21% nickel, 0.07% copper and 0.03% cobalt (from 89m), 9.6m at 1.04% nickel, 0.03% copper and 0.02% cobalt (from 81.5m) and 26.6m at 0.65% nickel, 0.02% copper and 0.01% cobalt (from 168.5m).

While encouraged by all of this good news, Centaurus’ managing director Darren Gordon said the 30.8m diamond hole intercept announced just before Christmas was, for the time being, the second-best nickel sulphide intersection drilled across the entire Jaguar project.

And while it “couldn’t quite pip” an earlier hole at Jaguar South which returned 34m at 3.31% nickel, it nevertheless was “another clear demonstration of the potential of this project to deliver thick zones of semi-massive to massive high-tenor nickel sulphides”.

“Importantly, this hole and other recent step-out holes are located well beyond the current mineral resource boundary, demonstrating the exceptional growth potential and upside the Jaguar project still has to offer as we continue to step out and drill deeper holes across the project area,” Gordon noted.

“Our recent drilling has confirmed the continuity of thick high-grade mineralisation at depth at Jaguar Central, with the growth of the deposit in this area having the potential to either drive down the depth of any future open pit or facilitate a quality start-up option for a future underground operation.

“Our recent drilling has also further enhanced our growing understanding of the potential economics of the Jaguar Central deposit. The in-fill and step-out drilling at Jaguar South is also going very well with results demonstrating the consistency of the mineralisation both along strike and down-dip.

“These results are all expected to contribute to an excellent outcome for the JORC mineral resource estimate upgrade planned for early in the first quarter of 2021.”

Located on the western side of the well-established Carajás Mineral Province in the Pará state of Brazil, Jaguar was discovered by Vale in 2007. Centaurus acquired the project in 2019 with over 55,000m of drilling already completed along with baseline metallurgical studies.

The company’s tenure in the region is over 100 square km incorporating Jaguar, which spans over a prospective strike of about 7 km.

The project sits on low population density farmland with only four key landowners.

The Pará state is a mining friendly jurisdiction and the Carajás region has established transport routes to port (road and rail), power infrastructure, a skilled mining workforce and access to key mining services.

A high voltage power substation is located at Vale’s Onça-Puma ferronickel plant 15 km to the north. Water is readily available in the area. Meanwhile, rail is accessible from the iron ore hub of Parauapebas.

Initial metallurgical testwork shows potential for around 82% nickel recoveries producing a 16% nickel concentrate for the Jaguar South and Onça Preta deposits.

Centaurus is aiming to generate a single flowsheet for all mineralised material to provide flexibility in co-treating ores from various deposits in the project.

More on the company’s progress will be provided at this year’s RIU Explorers Conference in Fremantle during February.

Sustained Activity Delivers Results for Active Junior

THE CONFERENCE CALLER: From all indications gold explorer Apollo Consolidated (ASX: AOP) will be kept busy during the first half of 2021 as it formalises – and adds to – the impressive one million ounce-plus inventory it has already established at its wholly-owned Lake Rebecca project in Western Australia’s Goldfields. By Mark Fraser

Late last year, while releasing the latest assay results for infill and step-down drilling at the Rebecca deposit, the WA-based junior indicated a re-estimation of mineral resources was planned for the current quarter which, in turn, would guide both exploration priorities and possible commercial studies moving forward.

Continued and sustained activity over 2020, the company said, had led to significant progress at the Rebecca, Duchess and Duke ore bodies, as well as the identification of new mineralisation at Duchess and Rebecca in addition to the discovery of exciting new zones of mineralisation under cover such as Cleo.

Infill and step-down RC drill holes had returned promising intercepts which are now expected to add further mineralisation to the project’s geological interpretation.

These included one hole that yielded three wide gold zones of 30 metres at 1.16 grams per tonne from 143m (the Laura structure), 33m at 1.46g/t from 217m as well as 15m at 1.74g/t from 255m (the Maddy structure).

These results confirmed – and extended -the broad mineralisation in this area. Moreover, these intercepts were interpreted to be close to true width.

Meanwhile, another pre-collar hole intersected 10m at 1.46g/t gold (end of hole) from 350m, which was interpreted to be a mineralised position in the hanging wall of the Laura structure.

This hole will be extended with a diamond “tail” to further test the Laura structure (80m down dip from 4.7m at 19.1g/t) in a previous hole.

Additionally, shallow drilling in up-dip positions identified additional near-surface gold mineralisation, including 10m at 1.22g/t from 30m, 8m at 3.53g/t from 43m and 3m at 8.22g/t (with 1m at a spectacular 22.8g/t) from 85m.

Other intersections included 10m at 0.84g/t from 10m, 8m at 2.58g/t from 48m as well as 5m at 2.55 g/t.

Ongoing drilling along the (approximate) 1.7 km long Rebecca deposit, Apollo said, continued to demonstrate the strength of this mineralised system and it was “pleasing to see mineralisation intercepted as expected in geological modelling as well as in new structural positions”.

In addition, a further eight RC holes and four diamond drill holes were completed at Rebecca.

The major mineralised structures remain open to depth and will drive continued RC and diamond exploration drilling into 2021.

At the Duchess deposit a further 12 infill and step-out RC drill holes were completed, with a best result of 20m at 1.64g/t from 110m returned in a step-down hole which confirmed an extended and widening mineralised structure at this location.

Other holes drilled typically intersected gold mineralisation in expected positions, with results including 10m at 0.88g/t from 115m, and 4m at 1.59g/t (from 94m) as well as 3m at 1.28g/t (from 66m).

This hole is at the southern end of the Duchess drill-out and points to further exploration potential in the area extending toward Duke.

Apollo said ongoing drilling had built a greater understanding of the Duchess mineralised system, which was characterised by more advanced deformation and alteration than seen in other deposits in the project area.

The deposit comprises multiple north-south trending and west-dipping gold structures distributed over an area 900m long and around 400m wide. Reported intercepts are generally interpreted to be close to true width.

Drilling since the announcement of the maiden Duchess mineral resource (180,000 oz inferred) in February 2020 has defined a new mineralised position in the north east part of the deposit as well as local step-out and step-down extensions.

Shallow drilling is expected to continue into 2021, particularly to define near-surface mineralisation up-dip from known structures.

Apollo now expects to re-estimate its mineral resources, the results of which will guide exploration priorities and possible commercial studies some time this year.

The company said drilling would continue in January, with multiple “live” targets available, led by open high grade mineralisation at the Rebecca deposit.

It is expected all these results will be included in an updated mineral resource estimates planned for the current quarter.

Comprising 160 square km of tenure located some 150km east of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Apollo’s project area covers the eastern margin of the Norseman-Wiluna Greenstone Belt and sits at the southern end of the Laverton Tectonic Zone.

Located in a similar geological setting just 140-150km to the north-west are three world class gold operations – Barrick Gold Corp’s (TSX: ABX) Granny Smith and Wallaby mines as well as AngloGold Ashanti’s (ASX: AGG) Sunrise Dam project.

Apollo also continues to retain a valuable royalty interest over the 1 million oz (plus) Seguela gold project in central Cote d’Ivoire in a joint venture with the Toronto-listed Roxgold (TSX: ROXG).

More on the company’s progress will be provided at this year’s RIU Explorers Conference in Fremantle during February.



Old Czech Tin Mine Helping Aussie Developer Become EU Player

THE CONFERNCE CALLER: With the European Union now securing an electric vehicle (EV) future, one ASX-listed junior has found itself in the driver’s seat as it accelerates the development of the Continent’s largest hard rock lithium resource. By Mark Fraser

Over the next 12 months European Metals Holdings (ASX: EMH) plans to complete a definitive feasibility due diligence and front-end engineering design for its underground Cinovec project in the Czech Republic, with the ultimate goal of supplying a minimum of 25,267 tonnes of lithium hydroxide per annum, or 22,500 tonnes per annum of lithium carbonate, to the EU EV battery market for at least 21 years.

The company is also looking to boost Cinovec’s resource model by injecting more probable ore reserves into the proven category, progressing the environmental impact assessments for mining and processing, completing locked-cycle test work and flowsheet optimisation as well as conducting additional discussions with potential strategic partners.

As it stands, the project – which sits around 100 kilometres north west of Prague near the Czech Republic/German border – is the largest hard rock lithium resource in Europe and the biggest non-brine resource in the world.

So far European Metals has established a JORC-compliant resource of 4.08 million tonnes (indicated) and 3.15 million tonnes (inferred) of ore grading 0.42 per cent lithium oxide for a lithium carbonate equivalent of 7.22 million tonnes.

Originally a tin mine, the revamped 1.68 million tonnes per annum Cinovec operation will involve underground crushing and surface milling/beneficiation before the wet magnetic separation of lithium concentrate.

The production of lithium hydroxide or carbonate is set to come via a gypsum and sodium sulphate roast, water leaching, purification and product precipitation/crystallisation.

Tin and tungsten by-products are also expected from gravity separation, while the lithium plant should produce some potash and sodium sulphate.

In addition, there is potential for the recovery of a pure silica product suitable for use in glass and ceramics. Overall, the company will be using low risk and conventional technologies in its downstream processing circuit.

During Vertical Events’ recent New World Metals in Western Australia, European Metals executive chairman Keith Coughlan said Cinovec’s construction capital cost was currently US$486 million, while the lithium hydroxide operating costs were US$3,435/t and US$4,876/t with and without credits respectively.

After-tax economics totalled US$1.08 billion (using a net present value discount of 8%), with the project’s internal rate of return running at 28.8 per cent.

These numbers, Coughlan said, suggested the project “could well be the lowest cost (lithium) hard rock producer in the world.”

Ultimately, this is good news for a junior like European Metals, which is establishing itself in a market where the majors have traditionally monopolised the critical mineral’s supply chain.

“More recently there has been an emphasis on developing the local resources that are there in Europe that have been sitting idle for some time,” Coughlan noted.

“Europe has been largely anti-mining for some considerable time now.

“It has taken them a while, but they have woken up to the fact that they do need to develop their local resources – certainly if they are going to hit anywhere near the (EV) targets that have been stated.

“Importantly, within 500 miles of our project, there are currently six million vehicles made a year, and every year more and more of those vehicles are being made electric.”

Cinovec has already attracted the interest of some significant investor partners, including the Czech national power company CEZ Group, which has injected £29 million into the project to help carry it through to a construction decision.

Principal facilitator and organiser of the European Battery Alliance – EIT InnoEnergy – has also thrown its support behind the venture as it assists in sourcing construction finance, securing grant funding as well as facilitating off-take introductions and negotiations.



Adjustments Expected, But Rules to Stay the Same

THE CONFERENCE CALLER: The face of the global minerals sector may well be changing as it adjusts to the growing demands of the burgeoning de-carbonated market, but some of the industry’s key investment fundamentals will no doubt remain in place moving forward. By Mark Fraser

If Vertical Events’ 2020 New World Metals (NWM) Conference showed punters anything, it’s that while the next generation of miners are expecting to act a little differently than their older peers when it comes to achieving acceptable environmental outcomes, they will nevertheless continue playing by some of the traditional rules if they want to launch new mineral projects.

Factors such as location, geology and global demand will still have a role to play when it comes to raising finance for exploration and mining ventures, even as so-called modern issues pertaining to sustainability and long-term supply dynamics suck up more air time.

This all became apparent during some of the forum’s nickel presentations as they separately ventured into both old fashioned and new frontier corporate territories.

In the case of Western Australian explorer Estrella Resources (ASX: ESR) – which is hoping to break into the battery and electric vehicle (EV) markets via its wholly-owned Carr Boyd nickel-copper sulphide project located some 80 kilometres north-north east of regional mining hub Kalgoorlie-Boulder in WA – its current approach to life couldn’t be more conventional.

Unlike many of the other juniors presenting at the Perth show, Estrella didn’t mention much about potential off-take partners or highlight the technologies it might look to when processing the ore it eventually expects to dig up.

Rather, its initial agenda is quite straight-forward – to “unlock nickel sulphide potential and build shareholder value” in a Tier-1 mining jurisdiction.

Comprising three mining and six exploration licences (as well as a “miscellaneous” one), Carr Boyd covers 259 square kilometres of continuous tenure on its namesake layered complex – a 75sqkm mafic igneous structure hosting several nickel and copper sulphide occurrences, with the most important being the Carr Boyd Rocks mine, which in its day (1973-1977 under the stewardship of WMC) yielded 202,100 tonnes of ore grading 1.43 per cent nickel and 0.46 per cent copper to produce a 9.7 per cent nickel concentrate.

At the moment Estrella’s money is on the T5 target.

Discovered last year, it was exposed after it and its surrounding area was subjected to some high powered moving-loop transient electromagnetic surveying and extensive geochemical auger drilling.

During 2020 diamond drilling down to 251 metres at T5 hit mineralisation at 165.2m, with interesting intercepts thus far including 3.8m at 0.48 per cent nickel and 0.31 per cent copper (with 0.4m at 1.12% nickel and 1.07% copper from 165.2m) as well as 0.4m at 0.33 per cent nickel and 0.28 per cent copper from 173.6m.

Not surprisingly, Estrella is now upping its field ante, with stage two drilling comprising 8 to 10 RC and diamond holes totalling 5000m over 40 by 40m spacings.

“We’ve currently got two rigs on site, increasing the camp, increasing the personnel, increasing the management teams, and that’s where we are today,” managing director Chris Daws told NWM delegates.

“And in the new year it will be rather interesting for us – we are well funded, and we’re highly leveraged, and we are going for a bit of success.”

Meanwhile, looming producer Blackstone Minerals (ASX: BSX) is also relying on some old school fundamentals as it advances its ultra-green and clean Ta Khoa nickel-platinum group element-cobalt project in Vietnam.

Like Estrella, Blackstone is essentially targeting the lithium-ion battery market.

Unlike the WA explorer, though, Blackstone is well advanced in its endeavours – so much so that South Korea’s largest cathode manufacturer, Ecopro, now has a significant stake (over 50%) in the company.

Although all of the basic building blocks of this (approximate) $1 billion new generation operation are stacking up – and it now has the production of a green critical mineral product (nickel sulphate) within its sights – Ta Khoa is still something of a traditional nickel play.

For a start it is essentially a brownfields project, with the existing mine having been originally tackled 2013-16, and the previous owners leaving behind some much-needed operational infrastructure.

Second, Ta Khoa’s mineralisation consists of nickel sulphides – it’s not lateritic like many other South East Asian deposits – meaning processing of the ore shouldn’t be too problematic or complicated.

Nor should adding to the project’s reserves, according to Blackstone boss Scott Williamson, who said the company currently had 25 massive outcropping sulphide targets that were undrilled at surface.

“This is like going into Kambalda 50 years ago, and we are just shooting fish in a barrel,” he mused.

“It’s systematic exploration – we have our own electromagnetics and geophysics crews, and we have nine drill rigs operating through this belt.”

Although this may have a blast-from-the-past ring about it, Blackstone is expecting to get with the times and confirm its green credentials by hooking Ta Khoa up with South East Asia’s largest hydroelectric power plant, a renewable resource which is “right on our doorstep.”

“This is why we believe we’ve got this ability to produce a green nickel product,” Williamson noted.

“When you are producing your metals for lithium-ion batteries, it’s important to understand how much carbon is being burnt and whether there is renewable power in that process of producing those metals.

“We’ve got this opportunity.”

One outfit which is looking to produce critical green metals sourcing nickel lateritic ore, though, is the dual-listed Clean TeQ (ASX: CLQ, TSX: QTCQX and CTEQF), which is developing the Sunrise battery minerals project in mining-friendly central New South Wales – again to service the global automobile sector.

Like Williamson, Clean Teq chief executive Sam Riggall (with the help of a video presentation) was keen to look at basic project fundamentals and potential markets.

His comments about the future of the AV industry, however, suggested that the new crop of ASX listed mining developers will need to take a more holistic view of supply chain dynamics when it came to managing risk – even if it involves becoming familiar with the machinations of another sector.

“If there is one message I would like to leave you with today, it’s that the cost of integration is actually very high if car makers don’t get this right,” Riggall said.

“In other words, we believe that in the next few years it’s highly likely we’ll see one or two global car makers make a decision about investment in raw materials.

“There is absolutely no way, even if you can secure the metals you need, that you can insulate yourself from … pricing and costs risks unless you have some form of ownership of the raw materials.

“This is obviously not a message that car makers like to hear, but it is the reality.”


WA Critical Metals to Become the Pearl in the Global New World Oyster

THE CONFERENCE CALLER: Senator Linda Reynolds, the Federal Minister for Defence, kicked off her video presentation to the New World Metals Conference in Perth by addressing the elephant seated in the back row.

COVID-19 she said, had been a challenge to the entire nation, both on an individual and an ‘all in this together’ basis taking a toll on our economy and economies across the globe.

But, just as Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan has been able to do, Reynolds also honed in on the strong performance of the WA resources sector and the role it has played in keeping the country afloat in recent times.

“The WA resources sector has assisted in mitigating the economic impacts here in Australia and it will be an integral part of our national recovery over the coming years,” Reynolds said.

“The mining sector has led the way on adapting to meeting the challenges posed by COVID-19.

“The industry’s efforts to test, quarantine, and protect their workforce has been commendable, and to date it has been very successful.

“So, congratulations to you all.”

Reynolds was eager to lay out her credentials as a card-carrying “long-term advocate” for the Critical Minerals and Rare Earths industry.

The minister explained how a couple of years ago she had travelled to South Africa to attend the Indaba mining conference where she had a revelation regarding the need to, “kick start a lithium industry” in Australia.

“And we need to do that right here in Western Australia,” she stressed.

“Batteries are required in everything we use today, and there is certainly no sight of that demand slowing down.

“And as we all know; it is not just lithium.

“Electric vehicle and battery manufacturers are also securing sources of minerals, materials, and components to meet this demand.

“From mining to refining, to production and assembly, Australia must now maximise our opportunities in this rapidly developing industry.

“I believe in the potential of this sector, and I also recognise its strategic value to our nation.”

Senator Reynolds recalled how in 2018 she led a delegation to Canberra to raise awareness of the critical minerals industry, accompanied by other parliamentarians and diplomats.

Even back then the ideas of how important it is to develop secure global supply chains, “free from monopolisation and a range of market risks”.

“Globally, the supply chain challenges of COVID-19 have brought this issue into further sharp relief,” Reynolds continued.

Senator Reynolds pointed out that her role as Minister for Defence held a strong correlation to her being a senator for Western Australia.

The nexus she proposed being the critical metals that are becoming increasingly important to WA and are used in Defence technology.

She presented what she described as one of her, “fun facts”, being that, “Each F35 – the joint strike fighter – includes 417 kilograms of rare earths”.

“From that fact alone, it is clear that securing supplies of these critical technological components is a national security issue,” she said.

The minister spoke to the Federal Government’s recent efforts of championing the critical minerals sector.

She highlighted its inclusion in this year’s budget, garnering support for a new critical minerals processing capability in Australia.

“This is part of the $1.5 billion modern manufacturing strategy,” Reynolds declared.

“This strategy recognises identifies critical minerals processing as a national manufacturing priority, and this funding will build on Australia’s natural competitive advantage in this space.

“Additionally, in response to industry feedback, the government has announced significant reforms to the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, something that I know will be most welcome to many of you today.

“The fund has been extended by five years to 2026.

“Steps are also being taken to turbo-charge the investment program, making it easier for projects to receive funding.

“The Federal Government is taking these steps to support the industry’s development and to make it absolutely clear to overseas investors that these projects are strategically important to the Australian government, that they are viable, that they are worthy of investment, that the Morrison government means business.”

The minister highlighted the need for the industry to create supply chains that are ethical and sustainable, indicating that Australia now has an opportunity to demonstrate to the world our credentials as an extractives partner of choice.

She signalled the development of a National Ethical Certification Scheme by the Critical Minerals Facilitation Office was underway, which will help to progress this.

“We all know that this industry presents a great opportunity for Australian industry, and particularly so for Western Australia,” Senator Reynolds said in conclusion.

“It’s now time for you to do what you do best, and to work together to grow this industry.

“I can assure you I will continue to champion the credentials of this industry, domestically and globally.

“But we all have to work together to achieve this common outcome.”



European Union Ambassador Rolls Out Red Carpet for Australian Producers

THE CONFERENCE CALLER: The European Union is making space for Australian producers of Critical Raw Materials to enter its realm.

Turn on your wireless any morning of any day and you can be guaranteed the news bulletin will include a pseudo finance report that keeps you up to date with current iron ore and gold prices.

Although these commodities are at present important to the Australian economy, especially during the past year, these reports are not as ‘up to date’ as they possibly could be.

They may lead the pack; however, gold and iron ore are being dogged by a new batch of minerals that are becoming more and more important to daily life.

Although some of the political class like to claim otherwise, reducing carbon emissions and energy consumption are important to the survival of the planet – and some political careers.

Unfortunately, it is the latter of those lives that provide the impetus to do anything about carbon emissions and energy consumption, but at least it is on the agenda, albeit in perfunctory terms for now.

Modern technology is constantly shifting up a gear as it challenges old-time thinking to achieve the reduction in carbon emissions and energy consumption demanded by a growing demographic.

The technologies that are emerging and developing to help reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption rely, to a high degree, on Critical Raw Materials

Modern technology such as: wind generators – these use permanent magnets made from rare earths and boron; solar panels – their manufacture a reliability relies on indium, gallium, silicon, and boron; batteries for energy storage and electric mobility – the old energy market stalwart lithium, joined by cobalt, natural graphite, and silicon.

New technologies rely more on Critical Raw Materials than the technologies they replace and the use of specialty materials will only increase as material science advances.

Speaking via video at the New World Metals Conference in Perth, the Ambassador to the Delegation of the European Union to Australia, Dr Michael Pulch said the Critical Raw Materials that are used in modern-day technology are essential for our daily lives and for the economies of tomorrow.

“Rare Earth Elements being used in night vision goggles for our defence forces to the lithium in my plug-in hybrid car to the germanium in the smart phone on my desk,” Dr Pulch said.

“These materials – often taken for granted – are both economically important and vulnerable to supply disruptions.”

Dr Pulch informed the viewing audience that the European Commission had adopted and action-planned on Critical Raw Materials in September this year.

The actions of the Commission presented the EU a list of Critical Raw Materials, as well as ten actions to make Europe’s supply of raw materials more resilient and sustainable.

“The Critical Raw Materials list identified thirty materials with both the highest risk of supply, and economic importance for Europe,” Dr Pulch continued.

The Commission’s first action was to implement the creation of the European Raw Materials Alliance, charged with the objective to secure supply by diversifying the EU’s sources of raw materials from resource-rich countries, such as Australia.

The Alliance hopes to strengthen the resilience of the EU’s value chains, which are vital for many industrial ecosystems.

Its formation follows the model of previous industrial alliances – such as the European Battery Alliance by bringing together industrial actors, and EU Member States to get projects off the ground.

“The Alliance’s first mission will be to build an open, strategic economy for the rare earths and magnets value chain as they are essential for electric car and wind turbine manufacturing,” Dr Pulch explained.

The formation of the European Raw Materials Alliance provides the opening of a new market for Australian companies operating in the space.

Currently, the EU currently relies heavily on imports from third countries, and it would be no surprise to discover China being one of the major trade partners, in fact it is where the EU gets 98 per cent of its rare earth elements.

“The Alliance can help the EU forge new partnerships with third countries, such as Canada, and Australia, as well as better integrating interested African countries into European value chains,” Dr Pulch said.

“Initially, companies from third countries that agree with the aims of the Alliance will be able to join.”

That Australia is on the invite list to the EU alliance party was made evident recently when companies were invited to be part of a video conference of European Union and Australian leaders with the President of the European Commission.

The Eu recognises the need to establish more importation links with global markets for all raw materials, not only those identified as critical and to diversify supply in a sustainable way.

“Partnering with countries, such as Australia, which are committed to the same values of socially and environmentally sound sourcing, is one way of achieving this,” Dr Pulch continued.

“Developing partnerships requires a solid framework and a clear mandate.

“The EU and Australia have a common commitment to fair and undistorted trade investment in the raw materials sector.

“It is in the interest of both parties to explore our synergies.”

The EU has acknowledged Australian commitments to lead an ethical, secure and environmentally sustainable supply of critical minerals, including processed materials, which is good for all parties concerned as the EU has stated it will be looking to source Critical Raw Materials with the lowest possible greenhouse gas and environmental footprint.

“Equally, the extraction and production of these materials need to respect the surrounding communities and their culture,” Dr Pulch declared.

“The European Union’s action-planned on Critical Raw Materials includes research on more environmentally friendly methods of extraction and processing.

“Australia has already signalled interest in linking up on our research activities.”

Dr Pulch said the EU was committed to free trade with its global partners to build together stronger, sustainable and more resilient value chains, indicating that the free-trade agreement currently being negotiated with Australia will contain an energy and raw materials chapter.

“This will encourage EU investors and pave the way for cooperation,” he said.

“I think there is definitely scope for deepening EU/Australia collaboration in Critical Raw Materials and progress on the FDA (Free Trade Agreement) is a key element of this.”


Bellevue Gold Scant on Details, but Conceptually Sound

THE CONFERENCE CALLER: Having substantially firmed up its namesake high grade brownfields gold project in Western Australia, Bellevue Gold (ASX: BGL) is now seeking to expand its resource base via greenfields exploration some 50 kilometres to the east. By Mark Fraser

The company is also preparing to look at some other prospective targets much closer to home.

During his appearance at the recent Diggers & Dealers Mining Forum in Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Bellevue’s upbeat managing director Steve Parsons said drilling was set to begin at Yandal South in WA’s north-east Goldfields.

Covering around 870 square km of under-explored real estate, this land hasn’t been properly looked at for the best part of 20 years.

While details regarding this field campaign were scant, Bellevue’s website says it holds a “dominant land position” between Bronzewing (which boasts an historical production of 5 million gold ounces) and Darlot (4.5 million oz), where “significant historical untested anomalous gold-in-soils and surface sampling await follow-up”.

From all indications the wholly-owned Yandal South has five main targets, with three being Yambo Strike, Popes Patch and Hartwell. Previous drilling in this district has returned gold intercepts like 9 metres at 8.5 grams/tonne (from 37.5m), 27m at 1.32 g/t (42m), 6m at 3.14 g/t (120m) and 19m at 1.4g/t (23m).

Aside from casting its eyes eastward, the company has been looking at an area immediately north of the historic Bellevue operation, which sits 430 km north of Kalgoorlie-Boulder and 40 km north of Leinster.

Covering around 20km of strike from the mine, the Kathleen Valley project has been subjected to very little systematic modern exploration, but nevertheless contains a number of advanced prospects.

During his Diggers & Dealers’ presentation, Parsons indicated the most exciting of these were Kathleen Valley, Government Well and Palmyra, which collectively had yielded numbers like 17m at 4.2g/t (from 19m), 2m at 18.7g/t (32m) and 2m at 22.8g/t (8m).

Then (running north to south) came the Bellevue Northern extension, where intersections of 11m at 6.5g/t (35m) and 2m at 5.6g/t (64m) were recorded, followed by Westralia pit (4m at 28.2g/t from 57m), Vanguard pit (8m at 11.2g/t from 27m), Henderson pit (3m at 53g/t from 13m) and Bellevue West (102g/t in rock chips).

All up, Bellevue is looking to spend a total of $35 million on exploration over the next 12-18 months. This will include the development of near-mine targets.

“We’ve had just such rapid success, and amazing success, at Bellevue (that) we’ve really have been focused on just around the brownfields, around the headframe, of where the mill and mine will be at Bellevue,” Parsons told the Diggers & Dealers crowd.

“(It’s) the first time ever that we are getting out on the ground now and exploring the 20 kilometres of strike of Bellevue and, of course, stepping out and looking at our second project (Yandal South) that sits only 50 kilometres away from where the processing plant will be at Bellevue.

“We’re super-excited by that – and you are going to see us starting on that drilling this weekend, with the first five targets being undertaken between now and Christmas – so hopefully some good news will flow on from that over the coming months.”

As it stands Bellevue has established a gold resource of 2.3 million ounces from ore grading 10g/t.

Within this is a 15.5g/t high-grade core containing 480,000 ounces.

This resource has grown at around 75,000 ounces per month at a discovery cost of $18 per ounce since December 2017.

Located within the Agnew-Wiluna Greenstone Belt in the Leinster region of WA’s Goldfields, the historic Bellevue mine produced around 800,000 ounces from 15g/t material in a predominantly underground gold operation that ran from 1987-1997.

Other projects situated within 100 km of Bellevue are the multi-million oz Lawlers/Agnew complex as well as the Wiluna, Bronzewing, Thunderbox and Darlot deposits.