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Northern city has Incredible untapped exploration / manufacturing potential

Jan 14, 2021

By Kevin Vincent
The long-term economic picture for the Timmins economy is like a 3-D chess challenge. Issues like youth out-migration, skilled labour shortages, and of course location, are just a handful of the items that define our current set of challenges.
Yet, when it comes to the city’s underlying economic propellant, mining, the city and region have plenty to celebrate, including massive potential to be a part of the growing global green economy.
There are seven mines that feed the local economic engine including the Newmont Borden Mine near Chapleau, the Newmont Hollinger Pit, Pan American Silver’s Timmins West and Bell Creek Mines, Glencore’s Kidd Creek, Newmont’s Hoyle Pond, Steetley Talc’s Penhorwood Mine, and if you throw in Kirkland Lake Gold’s Detour Mine, which includes a large workforce and contractor supply from Timmins, you have a very robust picture.
While gold, and to a lesser extent, zinc and copper are going to be a pillar of the city’s economic foundation for years to come, there are other metals and minerals that are likely to take center stage.  
In a recent podcast, Billionaire Canadian mining investor Robert Friedland outlined a remarkable transformation occurring across the global mining industry.
“There are a few elements in the periodic table that are absolutely critical to the electrification of the world economy, to the generation of electrical energy, to the transmission of that energy and the storage of that energy,” Friedland said.

Timmins region, Resident Geologist Zeinab Azadbakht with the Ministry of Energy Northern Development and Mines (pictured above)

A lot of those raw materials are available in the Timmins region. Resident Geologist Zeinab Azadbakht with the Ministry of Energy Northern Development and Mines (pictured above) told Mining Life that Timmins is still vastly underexplored.
“Looking at the kind of ore deposits that we have in Timmins, and how rich they are regarding the ore itself, companies have started re-looking at their property. Now that the gold price keeps coming up, and also nickel and copper, property owners have started to look into their properties for lower grades,” she said.  
Azadbakht points out that back in the 1800’s, there use to be veins of golds. Then they went through alteration and formed placer gold which was the main thing people looked for when they went to Yukon.
“And then when that was out, they started to look into lower and lower and lower, and now we extract gold from quartz veins.
Azadbakht, who has a Ph.D. in economic geology, taught the subject and a few other subjects and labs at the University of Regina from 2016-2020 before relocating to Timmins to take on the Resident Geologist position for the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines.  
“That’s the basis of the economic development. The grade, which will be going down as we go forward as the price goes up. So, something that might not have been economic in value, let’s say 20 years ago, it might be of economic value now. So that’s why all the big companies are starting to reassess. They’re reassessing their ore body to see how the value has changed throughout time, that’s something that happens all around the world,” she adds.
Azadbakht draws a fascinating picture of Timmins. The historic abundance of gold meant that prospectors, geologists and junior mining companies could spend their energy and investment dollars chasing precious metals. That of course changed when the zinc-copper behemoth orebody of Kidd Creek was discovered in the 1960’s.
Today, the exploration landscape has changed.
“Regarding the Timmins mining camp, we have gold, we have copper, we have zinc, and so many other different elements. And now that the values are starting to kind of hike up, the industry has started to look into the grade. They’re looking to reassess data.
“And regarding Timmins itself, the city of Timmins is a mining society. The majority of the income for the city is coming from the mines. Azadbakht says there are other opportunities, “Plus we have people that have started looking at other elements rather than gold like rare earth element (REE) and nickel. But there might be something else coming up that we don’t know as of now, that would be something that would add to the value of mining companies.”
Elements like niobium are expected to play a big role in the green economy for electric vehicles, not just cars. Aluminum will be a big winner.  Specialty steels, lighter steels require higher quality iron ore specialty metallurgy to make a steel object lighter and stronger.
If you add scandium to an aluminum ladder, you use a lot less aluminum and the ladder gets even lighter. Aluminum is just electrical energy in solid form. It takes a huge amount of electrical energy to make aluminum. The global light-weighting theme of making trucks, buses, trains, motorcycles out of scandium aluminum alloy is revolutionizing vehicle manufacturing.
Timmins mayor George Pirie told Mining Life that the city needs to reassess its thinking when it comes to the potential for value-added economic opportunities around all of our base and precious metals and minerals. “For example, think of something like talc. We mine it here, ship it south, then it gets shipped into New Jersey where a few chemicals are added to it, then it gets shipped off to China, where the Chinese manufacture brake pads and ship them back to North America”
“Why can’t we be doing that right here in Timmins?” Pirie adds.
Robert Friedland says it doesn’t matter whether you’re making a skateboard or a motorcycle or a car or a bus or an SUV or a drone or an aircraft you want to make it stronger and lighter, if you want to reduce the generation of global warming gas.
In that respect, niobium wins, copper wins, silver wins, nickel wins, cobalt wins, vanadium wins, scandium wins, aluminum wins.
Those are the elements in the periodic table that are increasingly relevant and will become more valuable against the United States dollar, given that it is an absolute requirement to green the world economy.
Mining Life asked Azadbakht whether there is still potential for another VMS (volcanic massive sulphide) deposit, similar to Kidd Creek.
Yes. The rethinking of low grade mineralized bodies as potential economic mines will have an impact in the Porcupine division. The presence of Ni-Cu-PGE mineralization of the past (i.e. Alexo, Langmuir, Texmont, Montcalm) suggests there is still a potential.
“Regarding the geology, I believe yes, there are chances for us to be able to find another VMS deposit in our district.”
She goes further to say that the presence of nickel copper PGE mineralization of the past, Alexo, Langmuir, and Montcalm suggests there is still a potential.”
Are there other minerals, explorers should be looking for in the Timmins area we wanted to know.
“When I joined the RGP (Resident Geologists Program) in August, what I did first was to look into the commodities that we have in Timmins camp and in Sault Ste. Marie camp. And then, soon, I realized that the majority of the focus is on gold and everybody seems to be so wrapped up with gold. Every year, we write a Recommendation for Exploration or RFE.
“ Reading previous RFEs, the majority are associated with gold and VMS deposits or a mixture of the two”
“My background is igneous rocks. I did extensive work on granites for my Ph.D., same thing for my masters. So, I started looking around in Timmins at the geological map to see what other types of rocks we have. There’s a very good amount of igneous and granite but no one has actually worked on it. I looked for tin to see how many MDI points we have for tin. There is just one registered MDI point for tin in the whole Timmins District, which is beyond belief, because we have the material that can be related to tin mineralization. Then I came across, an apatite mine and it kind of clicked.
Here is what I know:  apatite is a REE-bearing mineral which is currently being extracted and used as a fertilizer. While the  presence of it may indicate potential sources for REE-mineralization (i.e, it is one of the most common minerals associated with REE-bearing rocks).
Mining Life aske are there other commodities of interest in the area?
For the Porcupine Mining Division, there is the start of Rare Earth Elements mining exploration in northern areas. It is expected to grow in intensity in the future. The NioBay James Bay Lowlands Niobium project is a good example.  
As the global economy continues to shift priorities, one thing seems certain the local economies of Timmins and other northern communities appears endless.

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