Fortunate mix of critical metals in Canada
Future NWT mine could supply cobalt, bismuth, copper, gold Metal Tech News Weekly Edition – March 11, 2020
Last updated 6/27/2020 at 5:31am
As lithium-ion battery and electric car companies seek reliable and ethical sources of cobalt, Fortune Minerals Ltd. has sights set on supplying some of that cobalt – along with copper, gold and bismuth – from its Nico mine project in Northwest Territories and associated refinery in Canada.
Over the past two decades, Fortune has advanced Nico from an in-house mineral discovery to a development stage project that could produce two critical metals, a third metal vital to an electrified world and another metal that is nearly the equivalent to cash.
A 2014 study on the economic feasibility of developing a mine at Nico envisioned an operation that would produce an average of 1,615 metric tons of battery-grade cobalt; 1,750 metric tons of bismuth; 265 metric tons of copper; and 41,300 ounces of gold annually.
This feasibility study is based on 33.1 million metric tons of reserves averaging 0.11% cobalt, 0.14% bismuth, 0.04% copper and 1.03 grams per metric ton gold.
This mix of metals in a potential Canadian mine makes Nico an intriguing prospect for those wanting to see more critical minerals mined and refined in North America.
According to an annual minerals report published by the U.S. Geological Survey in February, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) accounted for roughly 71 percent of the global supply of cobalt during 2019.
"This country has a high-risk index for doing business owing to poor infrastructure, resource nationalism, a high perception of corruption, and a lack of transparency as well as wars," USGS wrote about DRC in a 2018 report on cobalt.
This creates a dilemma for companies that need cobalt for lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and a wide range of devices that make the world greener and more convenient.
Bismuth is most widely used for stomach remedies such as Pepto-Bismol but is becoming an increasingly important ingredient as substitute for lead in non-toxic alloys, especially piping for potable water, and in semiconductors for power generation and refrigeration.
Bismuth, however, is one of the least abundant elements on Earth and is rarely found in economically recoverable concentrations.
In fact, Fortune estimates that Nico accounts for 12% of the world's bismuth reserves – which are deposits where it has been shown economic feasibility for recovering the metal.
When you throw in the copper, which is becoming increasingly needed in an electric-centric world, and gold, Nico could be an attractive project for a mining company that wants to take advantage of the U.S. and Canada's recent push to establish North American supplies of critical minerals.
Fortune said it is in ongoing discussions with potential strategic partners interested in the Nico development and participating in the supply chain for transformative automotive electrification with cobalt chemicals required to make the cathodes of lithium-ion batteries together with a highly liquid gold co-product.
Fortune's vision for this supply chain extends to a Canadian facility that refines the concentrates produced at a future Nico mine into battery-grade cobalt, bismuth ingots and oxide, copper, and gold bars.
The company has an option to purchase land in Saskatchewan for this facility but is also examining two undisclosed Canadian locales that already have some of the requisite equipment permits, which could materially reduce development costs.
Fortune said it has also been contacted by mining and refining companies interested in purchasing metal concentrates directly from the mine to be processed elsewhere.
For now, the company is biding its time as a road that will allow Nico concentrates to be delivered to Canada's rail network is being built.
Known as Tlicho Road, this 97-kilometer (60 miles) access being funded by the territorial and federal governments will connect the community of Whati to Highway 3 and Canada's contiguous road and rail infrastructure.
Fortune plans to construct an all-season spur road from Whati to the mine site.
The construction of this all-season spur road, along with new reserves estimate and other economic enhancing initiatives, will likely be included in an updated feasibility study for a mine and refinery that could provide a critical North American supply of cobalt and bismuth with copper and gold as fortunate by-products.