BASF and Nornickel sign deal to meet battery materials demand

German chemicals company BASF has signed a deal with Russia’s nickel and palladium mining firm Nornickel to form a strategic cooperation to meet the growing demand for battery materials used in electric vehicles.

The parties have also signed an agreement that will see Nornickel supply nickel and cobalt feedstocks from its metal refinery to BASF.

The German company has unveiled plans to establish a battery materials production plant in Harjavalta, Finland, in proximity to the nickel and cobalt refinery owned by Nornickel.

BASF’s investment in the proposed plant is part of its €400m phased investment plan disclosed last year. The firm expects the plant to begin production in 2020, supplying battery materials to around 300,000 full electric vehicles per year.

BASF Catalysts division president Kenneth Lane said: “With the investment in Harjavalta, BASF will be present in all major regions with local production and increased customer proximity further supporting the rapidly growing electric vehicle market.

“Combined with our Nornickel cooperation, we are creating a strong platform that connects the efforts between industry leaders in raw material supply and battery materials technology and production.”

The company is also exploring additional locations in Europe to set up more production plants in support of the European Commission’s agenda towards a European battery production value chain.

Nornickel sales, procurement and innovation senior vice-president Sergey Batekhin said: “The agreement is an important element of Nornickel’s broader strategy to expand its presence in the global battery materials market and establish long-term cooperation with leading producers of cathode active materials.”




Independence Group to install solar facility at Nova mine

Independence Group (IGO) has amended its power purchase agreement (PPA) with Zenith Energy to incorporate a solar photovoltaic (solar PV) facility at the Nova nickel-copper-cobalt mine in the Fraser Range of Western Australia.

With an estimated annual generation of 12.5GWh, the facility will allow IGO to meet the power needs of the mine.

Pursuant to the terms of the agreement, Zenith will build, own and operate a hybrid diesel/solar PV power station, which will have an installed capacity of around 26MW.

The proposed solar PV facility will add to the existing diesel power station operated by Zenith at the Nova operation.

IGO managing director Peter Bradford said: “At IGO we believe in the green energy future and are committed to renewable energy sources as we strive to reduce our carbon footprint.

“The development of this innovative hybrid energy solution will also improve our cost structure with targeted renewable power insertion of up to 50% of demand via the solar PV facility.”

Zenith will install new PV modules, single axis tracking, inverters, communications and control system technology at the facility.

IGO noted that the hybrid power station will comprise diesel-fuelled generators and solar PV generation to promote environmentally friendly and cost-effective power generation.

Zenith Energy managing director Hamish Moffat said: “This development represents the first fully integrated commercial hybrid diesel/solar PV facility in Australia and is a step forward in future renewable energy solutions.”

The facility is expected to commence power supply to the Nova operation from the first quarter of the 2020 financial year for an initial period of six years. IGO has an option to extend the supply deal for an additional two years.




US EPA withdraws Obama administration uranium safety regulation

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has withdrawn a uranium safety proposal introduced in the last days of the Obama administration that would have introduced tighter regulation for uranium mill tailings to minimise the dangers of uranium extraction.

Uranium mill tailings are sandy materials produced as a by-product of uranium mining, which contain radioactive elements. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) states that only waste products produced by surface operations, such as in-situ recovery and ion exchanges, can be considered mill tailings, unlike waste materials left behind underground when ore bodies are depleted.

As a result, mill tailings can pose a threat to people, animals and the environment in the vicinity of a uranium mine, with water sources particularly vulnerable to surface waste.

Uranium operations in the US are governed by the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act, which places responsibility for the regulation and disposal of mining waste with individual states, rather than the NRC.

The Obama-era proposition sought to give the NRC greater authority over tailings regulation and removal, and would have addressed an imbalance in the number of states that regulate their own waste and those which rely on the NRC for guidance.

Currently, just 13 states defer to the NRC for tailing regulation.

“In a rush to regulate during the waning hours of the previous administration, the [Environmental Protection] Agency proposed a regulation that would have imposed significant burdens on uranium miners and the communities they support,” said EPA acting administrator Andrew Wheeler.

“Today’s action is an important step in rebalancing EPA’s role with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s with respect to protecting public health and the environment alongside supporting modern methods of uranium extraction.”

The EPA also claimed that the plan was shelved in response to a lack of new mining applications, which had been anticipated prior to the initiative’s proposal in 2016. Without a significant change in the number and location of mines in the country, the EPA considers “that regulatory structures already in place are sufficiently protective”.




Freeport subsidiary to acquire 80% stake in Chilean copper property

Freeport-McMoRan’s subsidiary Minera Freeport-McMoRan South America has signed an option agreement with Solaris Copper’s subsidiary Minera Ricardo Resources to acquire up to 80% in the early-stage Ricardo copper-molybdenum property in Chile.

Under the terms of the agreement, Freeport can make gross expenditures of $130m, or alternatively complete an investment of $30m and deliver a feasibility study for a mine at Ricardo under a three-stage process to acquire the interest.

Spread over an area of 14,000ha, the Ricardo property is located along the West Fissure fault in Chile around 25km south of Chilean state-owned miner Codelco’s Chuquicamata copper mine.

The West Fissure is said to comprise several other large porphyry copper deposits.

Solaris Copper CEO Greg Smith said: “Exploration at the prospective Ricardo property will be significantly enhanced by the technical and financial capacity of Freeport.

“We are very pleased to partner with Freeport in advancing the Ricardo property as we focus on our flagship Warintza project in Ecuador.”

Subject to the receipt of relevant exploration permits, Freeport is required to invest $4.2m towards exploration costs over the two years to complete the first stage of the earn-in. Following this, the company has the option to spend $4.8m, $8m, and $13m in the third, fourth and fifth years, respectively.

Once these obligations are completed, the firm will acquire a 60% stake in the property. At this stage, the company can increase its interest to 80% by sole funding a feasibility study for a mine at Ricardo or incurring a further $100m in exploration expenses.

Other projects owned by Solaris include the 100%-owned Warintza copper-molybdenum property in Ecuador and the 60%-owned La Verde copper-silver-gold property in Mexico.




Iamgold invests in blockchain firm to improve transparency

Canadian gold producer Iamgold has invested in financial technology company Emergent Technology (EmTech), which uses blockchain technology to track the provenance of responsibly sourced gold and improve transparency in the supply chain.

Other investors in the technology firm include Sprott, Valcambi and Yamana Gold.

EmTech’s blockchain-based supply chain application, known as Responsible Gold, automates the tracking of responsibly sourced gold from mine, to refinery, to vault.

The gold is then digitised into G-Coin tokens, which serve as digital certificates of title to responsibly sourced gold.

According to Iamgold, the blockchain technology will slash costs related to gold tracking and trading, while also improving transparency.

Iamgold president and CEO Steve Letwin said: “Innovation is a key aspect of the industry’s modernised operating model, and as miners we must begin thinking more strategically to stay sustainable and profitable in the future.

“By placing us at the forefront of an exciting new blockchain-based ecosystem, this investment will allow Iamgold to unlock new value by revolutionising provenance and efficiency and providing greater transparency in the supply chain.

“EmTech also brings a unique opportunity for the gold sector to collaborate and further contribute to the improvement of socioeconomic and humanitarian conditions in jurisdictions where precious metals are mined.”

The miner has four producing gold mines with an average production rate of 800,000 attributable ounces of gold per year.

Earlier this year, de Beers used its Tracr blockchain technology platform to track the journey of 100 high-value diamonds along the value chain from mine to retail.

The Tracr project, which also includes diamond manufacturers, is aimed at improving efficiencies across the value chain and will be made available to the industry.




IDM starts underground drilling at Red Mountain project in Canada

IDM Mining has started underground drilling using two core rigs at the 17,125ha Red Mountain Underground Gold Project, located west of Stewart in British Columbia, Canada.

The company has planned an estimated 7,600m in more than 30 holes at the advanced-stage project and winterised camp and shop facility.

During exploration drilling, four areas will be tested, which include a near-surface synform between the Marc and 141 Zones, as well as the northern and western extensions to the Smit and JW Zones.

Other areas to be tested include a projected high-grade connection between the Smit and 141 Zones, in addition to the northern and eastern extensions to the SF Zone antiform.

Drilling will also target the conversion of inferred resources to measured and indicated classification within the Smit and SF Zones in particular.

IDM Mining president and CEO Robert McLeod said: “With our EA Certificate recently received from BC’s Provincial Government, we are excited to be back drilling at Red Mountain, particularly to target areas identified by our geological team’s new interpretation of untested high-amplitude fold closures and limbs.

“Each drilling programme to date has systematically added high-grade measured and indicated resources that are amenable to underground bulk-mining methods.”

The exploration drill programme is expected to be completed by December.




Research collaboration launched to boost mineral deposits discovery

A new research collaboration, backed by BHP, South32, Anglo American and Barrick, has been launched in Australia to develop technologies to increase the discovery of new mineral deposits.

Known as the MinEx Cooperative Research Centre (MinEx CRC), the A$218m ($155.5m) research collaboration will focus on developing technologies to unlock the potential of mineral deposits located beneath deep rock cover.

The centre, which secured A$50m ($35.66m) in federal government funding, will also develop technologies that improve the productivity of drilling and simultaneously collect data.

MinEx CRC is also supported by a A$165m ($117.7m) commitment from 34 partners belonging to the Mining Equipment, Technology and Services (METS) sector over the next ten years.

MinEx CRC chairman Chris Pigram noted that the establishment of the research organisation was necessitated by the slump in discovery of new mineral deposits.

Pigram said: “There are few, if any, major new mineral deposits that are exposed at the Earth’s surface yet to be found in Australia, and as a result, mineral exploration is moving from Australia to less well-explored countries.

“Today is an exciting day for Australia’s mining and resources sector, as we begin meeting the technical challenge of finding deposits in a more cost-effective way.

“Lowering the cost of drilling, while gathering critical exploration data, means we can drill more holes and discover more deposits.”

Australia’s share of global mineral exploration has fallen to 12.5% from around 25% in the 1990s, partly due to increased drilling costs over the last 20 years.

MinEx CRC CEO Andrew Bailey said: “We will develop new exploration tools and new ways to deploy them that will recognise the fundamental importance of collecting data from the subsurface.”

MinEx CRC is also introducing a National Drilling Initiative (NDI), a collaboration of Government Geological Surveys, researchers and industry. The NDI will be responsible for performing drilling in underexplored areas of potential mineral wealth.




BHP to acquire additional stake in SolGold’s Cascabel project

BHP has signed an agreement to increase its stake in SolGold, which is the majority owner and operator of the Cascabel porphyry copper-gold project in Ecuador, through the acquisition of additional shares.

Under the agreement, BHP will purchase 100 million shares in SolGold at a price of 45 pence per share for a total consideration of £45m ($59.12m) to increase its interest in the company to 11.2%.

The move follows the company’s decision to buy Guyana Goldfields’ (GGI) 6.1% stake in SolGold for $35.2m in September.

BHP Minerals Americas president Danny Malchuk said: “Ecuador is a highly prospective region for the next generation of copper supply. This additional investment strengthens our strategic position in the Cascabel copper exploration project, and is consistent with BHP’s strategy to replenish our copper resource base and grow the business.”

The share subscription deal gives BHP the right to nominate one director to the SolGold board.

In addition, BHP has anti-dilution rights for a period of two years, which will allow it to maintain its shareholding at 10%.

The additional stake will take the company’s shareholding closer to Newcrest Mining’s 14.5% interest in SolGold.

The proceeds from the transaction will be used towards further expanding the Alpala resource, as well completion of the preliminary economic analysis and pre-feasibility studies. Alpala deposit is the main target within the Cascabel concession.

SolGold CEO Nick Mather said: “We believe that the Alpala project is one of the five best undeveloped copper projects in the world.”

The company expects to complete pre-feasibility studies for the project by the end of next year.

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