THE CONFERENCE CALLER: As part of its corporate brief, the diversified Western Australian resources house Neometals (ASX: NMT) says it “innovatively develops opportunities in minerals and advanced materials essential for a sustainable future”. By Mark Fraser
With a focus on the energy storage megatrend, this strategy “focuses on de-risking and developing long life projects with strong partners and integrating down the value chain to increase margins and return value to shareholders”.
While most junior ASX-listed companies like to talk themselves up in such a manner, Neometals seems to be delivering on its promises, with three core projects currently gaining significant traction.
The first involves lithium-ion battery recycling, with the company having devised a proprietary process for recovering cobalt and other valuable materials from spent and scrap lithium batteries, and now in the process of pilot testing the technology with the help of potential German Joint Venture partner SMS Group.
Second, there’s the development of the wholly-owned Barrambie titanium and vanadium project in WA, which involves the mining and processing of some of the world’s highest-grade hard rock titanium-vanadium ore.
As it stands a decision regarding the go-ahead for this undertaking is expected to be made by mid-2021 with possible Chinese JV partner Institute of Multipurpose Utilisation of Mineral Resources Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences.
Finally, there’s the lithium refinery play, in which Neometals is co-funding the evaluation studies for the establishment of a lithium refinery to supply lithium hydroxide to the lithium battery industry with potential venture partner Manikaran Power.
Underpinning this project will be a binding life-of-mine annual off take option for 57,000 tonnes per annum of the company’s Mt Marion six per cent spodumene concentrate.
And as if all this wasn’t enough, the diversified junior has recently added another string to its portfolio bow – this time involving nickel.
While this base metal hasn’t always been associated with sustainability, this looks set to change with the expected growth in the electric vehicle market, wherein nickel sulphate be a vital feedstock.
A few weeks before the recent RIU Explorers Conference in Fremantle, Neometals announced RC drilling at its wholly owned Mt Edwards brownfields nickel and lithium project in Western Australia’s Widgiemooltha Dome area – which sits some 40 kilometres south east of Kambalda and 90km south of Kalgoorlie-Boulder in WA – had returned some encouraging nickel numbers from the Armstrong deposit, with the key ones being 6 metres at 8.11 per cent (including 5m at 9.63%), 10m at 1.65 per cent (with 4m at 2.42%) and 3m at 1.07 per cent.
Meanwhile, significant intercepts were also found within wide mineralised zones of disseminated nickel, with assays of the base metal including 34m at 1.94 per cent and 24m at 1.13 per cent.
In addition, another 1m at 1.18 per cent nickel was intersected at a just-acquired tenement that sits along strike from Mincor Resources’ (ASX: MCR) Cassini mineral resource.
According to Neometals, drilling at Armstrong focused on testing the down plunge component of an interpreted nickel sulphide channel located north of the previously mined open pit.
In the existing data from earlier drilling circa 2006, the association between the mineralised zones and the ultramafic-basalt contact was unclear, and areas of high-grade nickel located in the basalt below this contact also warranted investigation.
It was previously interpreted that there were some very high grade nickel (above 10%) zones at depth, which were shoots of remobilised nickel along fractures, joints and fault zones.
As it stands the project, which consists of 46 granted and pending mining tenements spanning approximately 50km of strike length over the Widgiemooltha Dome, has indicated and inferred resources of 7.718 million tonnes grading 1.7 per cent nickel for around 130,000t of contained metal in 11 deposits.
During his presentation at the RIU show, Neometals’ chief executive and managing director Chris Reed said the company planned to target larger, lower grade deposits “to identify the high-grade massive matrix ore within that and to develop a pipeline of short lead time projects, and to make new discoveries, ready for the next boom”.
“And we can see there will be a boom in the nickel price – there absolutely has to be,” he said.
“These batteries need sulphate (and) the normal way to make it is to start off with like 49s (the highly permeable nickel alloy), or almost 49s, nickel powder and nickel metal.
“It’s very, very hard to make that. You wouldn’t be able to make it out of nickel pig iron, so there will be a boom – my guess is in the next three to five years.
“So, we will align this project for that development timeline.”