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Wyloo - Ring of Fire Metals Looks to decarbonize planet with Ring of Fire critical Minerals

Dec 15, 2022

A new company name, a new political landscape, and a new Ontario Mines Minister have all come together as momentum continues to build swiftly around efforts to develop the multi-billion-dollar Ring of Fire region of Northern Ontario.


Stephen Flewelling Pic
Stephen Flewelling, CEO of Ring of Fire Metals


Stephen Flewelling, CEO of Ring of Fire Metals, recently rebranded from Noront Resources , gave an update of the projects in the Ring of Fire at the Central Canada Resource Expo conference in Thunder Bay. Flewelling talked about recent changes that are happening and what the future looks like.
“The environment in the ring of fire in the far north is flat, and wet and that becomes important when you start to talk about what it means to work there and what it means in terms of protecting the environment, which is critically important to our local communities,” said Flewelling. “When one looks at the scale of the Ring of Fire and the extensive claim fabric and you compare that to the Sudbury basin, which has been operating for over 100 years, you can see there’s no doubt that there’s a very, substantial area that will lead to hopefully, mines for generations to come.”

Flewelling, however, was cautious. “Now that concept scares a lot of people, because they say, oh my, there’s going to be this massive development in the ring of fire. And it’s going to have unacceptable environmental consequences. And I think, that’s the secret to the development is how do you do those mines? How do you have an economic engine that will last for decades in northern Ontario and provide that engine and how do you balance those two factors?”

A year ago, Wyloo began the process of bidding to acquire  ownership of Noront Resources, and that was finalized on April 7 of this year, when Wyloo Metals, an Australian private enterprise, owned by Andrew Forest, purchased 100% of Noront Resources.
“Why did Wyloo want to buy Noront?” said Flewelling.  “They saw that this is a region that can have a major impact on the decarbonized future of the planet. It is potentially the major source of critical minerals in Ontario.”

Flewelling pointed out that in 2021, the U.S. published a list of 50 minerals critical to the U.S. economy and national security and of those 50, nine are found in the Ring of Fire.
“The key critical minerals in the ring of fire are chromium, copper and nickel. We have a deep project pipeline, and our development strategy is to first develop the Eagle’s Nest nickel copper PGM deposit.”
“We aspire to take the feed from that deposit, the concentrate, and we will use that as a foundation for developing a battery metals facility which will produce nickel sulfate, which will feed the Ontario-based battery metals business.”

Ring of Fire Metals has an aggressive exploration program for additional nickel deposits. The company is now ramping that up, operated by an exploration team led by Ryan Weston, VP of Exploration, in Thunder Bay. 60% of their exploration employees have come from the First Nation communities.  
Following the development of the Eagle Nest deposit, the company intends to develop the significant chromite assets starting with the Blackbird Deposit, followed by development of the Black Thor deposits. It is their intention to build a ferrochrome processing plant and right now they’ve targeted Sault St. Marie as the host site, despite fierce local opposition.

“We believe we have a technical choice there that would represent the most environmentally friendly plant in the world for producing ferrochrome that would be mainly focused on the US market,” stated Flewelling.
Critical minerals and battery metals, all found in the Ring of Fire, are important in today’s environment. Important for Canada and important to Ontario. “We can see this with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, guaranteeing and enhancing the supply chains in North America for North American use is going to become continuously more important and that creates an opportunity for businesses like the Ring of Fire Metals company and a glorious opportunity for Northern Ontario.”

Eagle’s Nest is a high-grade nickel deposit with 11 million tonnes of proven and probable reserves and an inferred resource of another 9 million tonnes. It is believed there’s a 20-year mine life at a million tonnes a year. This will produce about 15,000 tonnes of nickel concentrate and almost 9000 tons of copper, per year. “Anybody familiar with the Sudbury area will know that the Nickel Rim Mine which is the flagship mine, for Glencore in Sudbury is about the same size as what is being proposed for the Eagle’s Nest,” said Flewelling. The other elements that are very significant for this operation are the platinum and palladium grades. “This is a substantial high-grade deposit that will have a very significant impact on the economy of Ontario. A feasibility study was completed in 2012 and they`re in the process of updating that feasibility study. They intend to produce about a million tonnes a year or 3000 tonnes per day with a 100% underground mining operation.

Flewelling said, “What’s novel about this is we have two challenges, one is what to do with tailings and where to store tailings and traditionally, tailings that don’t go back into the mining area, are stored on surface in a tailings pond. Everyone here knows what the geography looks like. For that reason, it’s challenging both technically and environmentally to store those tailings.”
“The other challenge we have is a lack of aggregate that we can use for construction. We believe we can combine those two problems by having an underground quarry, which will ultimately mine over 3 million tonnes of aggregate for use for our construction purposes and for the roads that will be developed by the communities of Marten Falls First Nation and Webequie First Nation, then use the void created by that construction material to place the tailings.”


Esker camp
Photo provided by Ring of Fire Metals. Aerial Photo of Ring of Fire Metals’ Esker Camp in Winter


Flewelling says this enables the mine to have no tailings on the surface. “The concentrator will be located on surface which will take the million tonnes of ore and turn that into about 150,000 tons of concentrate and some of that concentrate will be sold to existing smelters with some of that concentrate being used hopefully for the development of their battery metals plant.”
The mine expects to have a net zero greenhouse gas approach. “We’re looking at how we can work with the road proponents and the province to get a power line for green power. We’re looking at interim plans for wind and we’re doing a wind study right now trying to understand what the wind resources are and potentially use hydrogen for our trucking fleets to move the material from the Ring of Fire to the railhead. And we’re very focused on using only electric vehicles underground, which is a great opportunity,” stated Flewelling.

One of the key items important to Ring of Fire Metals is making minimal disturbances environmentally. They are making the mining operation’s footprint as small as possible and minimizing the additional disturbance for what already exists. The mine fits on an already disturbed area in the Ring of Fire, which is where their exploration camp is located. “The disturbance size will be less than one kilometre. So, the additional disturbance for developing this mine is very small, less than one square kilometre. The Ring of Fire area is 65,000 square kilometers of the approximately 250 thousand square kilometers that make up the James Bay Lowlands. Eagle’s Nest will be the first mine to disturb just one square kilometer. The Blackbird deposit will also be done by fitting into this footprint, so there’ll be no additional disturbance.”
Wyloo has made a number of commitments that will be guiding principles for how the mine is developed. The first, is developing Eagle’s Nest as a net-zero emissions mine.

“This comes with many challenges. There is no current power source in the area other than diesel, just like the local communities. That’s going to be an important element to committing $25 million towards investigating the potential for battery metal production in Ontario utilizing the Eagle’s Nest concentrate as a base,” Flewelling told the large audience. They are also targeting $100 million of contracts to Indigenous -owned businesses, everything from building the Eagle’s Nest project and creating an employment framework so that they maximize the employment of the First Nations communities in the area.
“This is ground-breaking for the local communities. The plan is to develop the Eagle’s Nest mine in parallel to the development of the roads in order to integrate the opportunities for the construction, supply of aggregates and the building of the mine to minimize the time to get Wyloo’s first critical minerals mine to market.”

“We’ve got a great opportunity as the Minister (Pirie) mentioned in his presentation with the demand picture for electric vehicles. The current nickel market has about 2 million tons of nickel that goes into supply - mainly for stainless steel globally. So, we expect the demand for electric vehicles to increase the current 2 million by 1 million tonnes by 2028. That’s a 50% increase in the amount of nickel that needs to be supplied from mining operations. There’s a similar story with respect to copper demand. And we believe that Eagle’s Nest can provide enough nickel for 400,000 electric vehicle batteries every year through it’s mine life,” stated Flewelling.

The world needs new mines. The Ring of Fire is an opportunity for Ontario to become leaders in supplying those mines. The best way to supply electric vehicle batteries is from mines like Eagle’s Nest, it’s the most economic and environmentally friendly way to do it. The challenge is, it’s not going fast enough. What’s happening right now is the sources for nickel, over time will come places like Indonesia, and what they’re doing is not nearly as environmentally friendly and they are getting there much quicker.
That’s the challenge for us here in Ontario - how do we get these projects done responsibly, and more expeditiously? “It’s a challenge for us. Just recently, the Indonesian government announced new projects to supply electric vehicle batteries at 295,000 tonnes per year. So that’s 40 Eagles Nests. Those projects went from nothing, to under construction in two years. Not that we were going to get there in two years, but it just shows you, we need to do whatever we can by working together to get our products, our most responsible products to market and not miss this opportunity,” said Flewelling.

In delivering his presentation Flewelling said what’s most important is what we’re doing right now – continued exploration activity. The company has identified over 70 nickel targets in the ring of fire area that they’re following up on and they’re in the process of rebuilding their exploration program and updating their camp. The company intends to spend over $10 million per year on their exploration program in the Ring of Fire.

“Our exploration team’s optimistic that there’s going to be new deposits found so that we can increase our pipeline of nickel deposits,” he concluded. Ring of Fire Metals has a strong focus and an excellent team. Flewelling said nickel deposits around the world tend to occur in clusters. “For example, look at Sudbury, look at Russia and look at northern Quebec that’s what’s happened. The deposits occur in clusters, and we believe that’s the case here.”


For this article and more visit the digital copy of: The Northern Ontario Mining Report

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