As I mentioned in my article posted earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend Mining Indaba 2011 in Cape Town, South Africa, last month. With a record 5,700 attendees this year, this is the premier annual mining event in Africa.
I've already mentioned the presence of Great Western Minerals Group (GWMG) (TSX.V:GWG) in an earlier article. They were about the only recognizable exploration and development company with an advanced rare-earth project, officially exhibiting at the event - though there were representatives from other well-known companies present. There were also exhibitors present with projects on the 300+ long TMR Rare-Earths Project List, with names that might not be as familiar to folks watching the rare-earths sector as others.
Avonlea Minerals (ASX:AVZ) has the Hoarusib project in Namibia that is prospective for rare earths, but their main focus appears to be on the Abenab project, a historical vanadium mine which they're looking to develop for base metals. I spoke with folks from Montero Mining & Exploration (TSX.V:MON), who have the Wigu Hill project in Tanzania. Since Indaba they have listed on the TSX Venture Exchange and now that they're through that process, they'll be focusing back on development work. The company has taken over a couple hundred grab samples from the property, and claims to have seen significantly high grades of rare earths in some of them.
Also present was Peak Resources (ASX:PEK), who has the Ngualla project in Tanzania. They had recently completed a drilling campaign at Ngualla, and the company felt that initial drill results appear to be encouraging. They will follow this program up with more drilling before the summer. I also spoke with the guys at African Consolidated Resources (AIM:AFCR), who have the Nkombwa Hill project in Zambia, a joint venture with Rare Earth International, and, if I recall correctly, one other entity called Ferrex. They commented that the project was "highly prospective" for rare earths.
Also present during Mining Indaba 2011 were representatives of Namibia Rare Earths, who have the Lofdal property in Namibia, and who are in the process of getting ready to roll out an IPO for their company.
I then had the opportunity to spend some time with James Kenny, CEO of Frontier Rare Earths (TSX.FRO), which not too long ago went public on the main TSX exchange and which has the Zandkopsdrift project in the Northern Cape of South Africa. This project is a member of the TMR Advanced Rare-Earth Projects Index and has both inferred and indicated rare-earth resource estimates per NI 43-101. It is not too far away from GWMG's Steenkampskraal project. Mr. Kenny reviewed the recent presentation that Frontier put together on the project. We discussed the (at the time) new numbers for supply and demand that Dr. Chen of the Chinese Society of Rare Earths had included in the Vancouver presentation given just a couple of weeks prior to our meeting. If a production cap of 110 kept of rare earths really is put in place in China, this could mean shortfalls of supply for both China and the rest of the world, at levels greater than previously expected.
Mr. Kenny pointed out the proximity of the Zandkopsdrift to the Saldanha deep water port on South Africa's West coast. He commented that they saw the Zandkopsdrift deposit as being a solid peer of other 200 kt+ rare-earth mineral-resource projects. The project would consist of extracting materials from a 50 m high hill on the property, before drilling down a further 30 m. The rare earths are present via supergene enrichment, in the form of fine-grained monazite, similar to the Mount Weld deposit in Australia. Mr. Kenny said that the initial mining campaign would focus on high-grading the deposit, in phases. Frontier is looking to do further drilling over the next six months, including in-fill drilling at intervals of 40 m.
Mr. Kenny said that the goal was to get a significant fraction of the deposit's mineral resource estimated into the measured category. When I asked him about the challenge of processing fine-grained monazite such as that at Zandkopsdrift, he said that the company was working with SGS to get a flow sheet for the project following the completion of metallurgical studies, and he was (naturally) confident that an effective flow sheet would be produced. Mr. Kenny said that Frontier planned to complete their Pre-Feasibility Study by Q1 2012 and a Bankable Feasibility Study by the end of 2012.
We then discussed the novel approach to presenting value estimates that Frontier adopted in recent presentations. The company has focused on the use of a neodymium (Nd)-equivalent value for its project; this type of approach is used quite often for base metal and other projects, to attempt to determine the equivalent value of auxiliary metals and minerals, in terms of the primary material of interest. To my knowledge though, this is the first time that it's been used in the rare-earths sector in this way. In the case of Zandkopsdrift, Frontier used Nd as the basis for the metric, it typically being the overall most-valuable rare earth present in many deposits. As an example of how this works, let's assume that Nd oxide is currently trading at $100/kg, and that La oxide is trading at $50/kg. At this ratio of prices, every 1% of La oxide present in the material grade is equivalent to 0.5% Nd oxide - from the potential value point of view. This of course assumes similar recovery rates for either rare earth.
A couple of other observations from Mining Indaba 2011: I saw fewer Chinese delegates present than I was perhaps expecting; and I found it slightly odd to see pavilions / booths from the Czech Republic and the Afghanistan Ministry of Mines here... still - it was a very interesting experience, and I want to thank the folks at Resource Investor for facilitating my attendance at the meeting.
Disclosure: at the time of writing, Gareth Hatch is not a shareholder of any of the companies listed above, or of any other publicly traded junior-mining company. He did not receive compensation from any of the companies listed above, in return for writing this article.
Gareth Hatch analyzes the role of rare and strategic metals in the technology supply chain and is a co-founder with Jack Lifton of Technology Metals Research LLC as well as founder of Terra Magnetica and an editor at RareMetalBlog.