Aug 11, 2021

Precious metals, base metals & now EV metals The Abitibi Greenstone belt has it all

By Kevin Vincent, Mining Life
A global movement that has seen the escalation of political pressure to reduce the greenhouse gases and fossil fuel consumption has sparked an intense worldwide race to identify minerals that can feed a growing appetite for electric vehicles.   
Zeinab Azadbakht, the Regional Resident Geologist for the Timmins and Sault Ste. Marie District of the Ontario Geological Survey Resident Geologist Program, is leading efforts to supply comprehensive data that will serve the exploration industry in the Abitibi.
In Ontario, Mines Minister Greg Rickford released a Critical Minerals Strategy earlier this year that outlines the government’s plan to make Ontario a global leader.
“There is no universal definition for critical metals, but in a general sense, the critical minerals are the minerals that have a specific industrial, technological or strategic use,” said Azadbakht. “And for these elements or minerals, there are few viable substitutions. They have a wide variety of usage from the battery industry to hydrogen fuel cells, and electronics.”
Canada and Ontario have released a list of critical minerals at the PDAC in March. There’s an 80% overlap between the two lists. But Ontario has a few specifics to itself namely: barite, beryllium, phosphate, selenium, and zirconium.
From here to 2028, Azadbakht says the global demand for cobalt, nickel, lithium, and graphite, is huge. “The largest of it belongs to lithium and graphite. “We do have mineral development potential in Ontario, but we do not have current mineral production in the province, so it might be a good time to start investing and exploring these two types of minerals in Ontario.”
Azadbakht  says the main sources for lithium are lithium-brines, pegmatites, and hydrothermally-altered clays. The total production last year was about 82,000 tons and the main producers were Australia, Chile, and China.
About 71% of the global production of lithium went to the battery industry and 14% went to ceramic and glasses, based on which mineral you are extracting the lithium from.
The price of lithium has fluctuated over the past few years. It was high in 2017, declined and then right in the middle of 2020 when countries and jurisdictions started releasing their critical mineral strategies, the demand started to expand. Thanks largely to the battery industry, the price started to jump and it’s sitting at about $90,000 per ton of lithium carbonate at the moment.
“The main sources that we extract nickel from are laterite, massive sulfide deposits, and mafic-ultramafic intrusions,” said Azadbakht at the recent Mining The Abitibi Virtual Conference sponsored by Canadian Trade-Ex.  
“Last year global production was about 2,500,000 tons, and the main production came from Indonesia, Philippines, and Russia. About 65% of the global production went to the stainless steel industry and less than 23% then to rechargeable batteries.” The price of nickel is about $18,000 per ton at the moment.
Cobalt is mainly sourced as a byproduct of copper and nickel mining. Last year’s production was 140,000 tons and the main producer was the controversial African country of Congo, which produced about 70% of global production followed by Canada and Russia. The major end use for cobalt is in lithium-ion and rechargeable batteries and as a metal alloy. The price for cobalt saw a spike in 2018. Today, it’s sitting at about $45,000 per ton.
“The last one would be graphite,” said Azadbakht. “The source for graphite commonly comes from the metamorphic rocks such as marble, schist, and gneiss. The last year’s global production was 1,100 000 tons and it was mainly produced in China and Mozambique. The global end-user market for this mineral is high temperature lubricant, and battery and fuel cells. As for the price, it fluctuated and it had a very high rise back in 2011 to 2012 when it reached $2,500 per ton. But it’s sitting at about $1,000 per ton at the moment.”
Azadbakht spoke about the potential for these four elements in two of the districts, Kirkland Lake and Timmins. “The Case Lake project is the swarm of the pegmatites that is located 80 kilometers east of Cochrane and about 100 kilometers north of Kirkland Lake. It’s a spodumene pegmatite and it’s a combination of five dykes that they all have surface exposure at the property. It’s owned by Power Metals Corporation. It has a spodumene which is a lithium-bearing pyroxene, the main mineral that they extract lithium for battery industries. The grade for the lithium varies between 1-3% of the lithium oxide in the property.”

case pic
Power Metals Corp: Sample Collected from Case Main Dyke

She says the second mineral found in the property is pollucite, which is a rare cesium-bearing mineral. There are only five known pegmatites in Ontario that have pollucite and three out of the five are owned by Power Metals.
“The McAra project is a cobalt project 150 kilometers northeast of Sudbury. The cobalt found is in a high grade, five element veins in the Elk Lake Mining Camp. The measure indicated values are included of about a million pounds of cobalt and 11,000 ounces of silver and the inferred values are about 214 pounds of cobalt and about 2,000 ounces of silver.”
Timmins now has the nickel-cobalt project in Crawford Township. “It’s a Komatiite-hosted nickel, copper, and cobalt PGE deposit type. The nickel cutoff grade is about 0.26%. So the total grade for measure indicated is 606 million ton of nickel at the grade of 0.26%, and the inferred value for about 400 million ton at 0.23%.”
The last one Azadbakht highlighted was the Albany Graphite Deposit, owned by Zen Graphene. “It’s a deposit that’s located in northeastern Ontario near the community of Constance Lake, First Nation and the town of Hearst. It’s a very, very large resource of igneous hosted fluid drive microcrystalline graphite. They are high purity graphite and they’re fine grain rather than being flaked. The total indicated resource is about 24 million ton at a grade of about 4% of the graphite and the total inferred 16.9 at 2.64% of the grade.”
“The Abitibi Greenstone belt in Northern Ontario has a great potential for all four raw materials needed in the electric battery industry. More research and exploration are needed to understand such deposits. And many more projects are to come and the projects of today may possibly be the mines of tomorrow,” she concluded.
The increased demand for EV minerals means her office is busy. “Since I’ve joined back in August, we’ve been seeing an increased number of inquiries from clients, especially regarding various elements and some of the critical metals. I think since we released the Critical Mineral List back in March, there has been an increasing interest in these minerals. We have clients from the United States, Australia, and the UK that actually purchase land and lease plans for mining claims here in northern Ontario, especially in Timmins and Sault Ste. Marie districts looking for the critical minerals. So I think there is a very good chance for more inquiries and there is a good chance that we might be able to find something.”

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