Critical metals are vital for our health, lifestyle and industries, they touch every aspect of modern life. Without them advanced medical equipment would not function, mobile phones would not work, computers would be useless.
As you read this now, on your laptop or desktop computer, tablet or mobile phone your device will contain indium, gallium and a whole smorgasbord of rare earth elements in the screen, tantalum in the capacitors, more rare earth elements in the spindle motors of both the hard drive and the optical drive, cobalt in the batteries, tungsten in vibration motors, palladium in the motherboard and other printed circuit boards (PCBs), and ruthenium in resistors.
Yet despite the essential nature of these metals to everyday life, the supply of these metals is often insecure. This lack of supply security can be due to natural scarcity, geopolitical issues, trade policies, as well as many other factors.
It's a disposable society
Added to this, is the issue of the short lifespan associated with many consumer devices, which requires them to be consistently replaced:
- 3-years for mobile phones;
- 5-years for computers and tablets;
- 6-years for televisions.
While a portion of the critical metals contained in these devices can be recovered by waste electric and electronic equipment (WEEE) recycling, research suggests inefficiencies in the processing methods means that recoveries can be as low as 25% in some cases. More supply of all these metals is essential for us to be able to continue to use the technology on which we all depend.
The global importance of critical metals is increasing, as we seek to move away from fossil fuel-based economies to clean and green renewable energy sources to combat the climate change catastrophe we are facing.
Critical metals will be needed for every aspect of the global energy transition, from solar electricity, wind power, fuel cells, batteries, electrolysis, hydrogen storages, electric cars and energy-efficient lighting.
Players in the industry
Clearly, the name critical metals is not ironic, and with demand for these metals likely to increase here are some companies that are well-positioned with interesting projects and exciting strategies.
Niobay Metals Inc
Niobay Metals Inc (CVE:NBY) is advancing the James Bay Niobium Project, located in Ontario, Canada. The company completed a preliminary economic assessment for the project in November last year, which defined a post-tax NPV8 (net present value using an 8% discount rate) of C$1bn and an internal rate of return (IRR) of 27.5%, over a 30-year open pit mine life.
Niobay Metals is currently completing a series of hydrometallurgical process testing for the production of battery-grade niobium with results expected in the second half of this year. Alongside this, the company is anticipating the commencement of the mid-year 12,000m drilling programme, with a preliminary feasibility study due to launch before the end of the year.
Figure 1: James Bay Niobium Deposit
Source: Niobay Metals Inc
Forum Energy Metals
Forum Energy Metals (CVE: FMC) owns 100% of the Love Lake copper-nickel-palladium project, located in north-eastern Saskatchewan, Canada. Previous work by Forum has led to the identification of three large feeder zone targets: Road Target, Korvin Lake Target and What Lake Target, with several small feeder pipes also identified. The company has commenced permitting for an airborne electromagnetic survey over the three priority targets to generate specific targets for a 3,000-metre drilling programme, planned to commence in the third quarter of this year.
Figure 2: Feeder Zone Targets
Source: Forum Energy Metals
Global Energy Metals Corp.
This year will see Global Energy Metals Corp. (CVE:GEMC:OTCCQ:GBLEF) commence its maiden drilling programme on its Lovelock cobalt-nickel-copper mine & Treasure Box projects, located in Nevada, USA. These projects are strategically located in the Stillwater Range with access to excellent infrastructure and are just 150 kilometres east of Sparks Nevada, which is home to Tesla’s Gigafactory 1. Lovelock and Treasure Box historically produced high-grade cobalt, nickel and copper in the 1880s but no modern exploration over the area has been completed.
Global Energy Metals is planning to complete around 2,000 metres of drilling (8-holes) during the summer of this year, targeting aeromagnetic and induced polarisation anomalies in and around the historic workings. Results are expected by the third quarter and if positive could lead to a large step-out resource definition drilling programme.
Figure 3: Geophysical anomalies
Source: Global Energy Metals Corp.
Critical Metals PLC (LON:CRTM) is an investment vehicle formed to identify and acquire brownfield mining opportunities in the critical and strategic metals sector. The company's initial focus is on near-term production opportunities, prioritising cash flow generation.
Critical Metals is aiming to have a broad level of both commodity and jurisdiction diversification in its investments reducing the vehicle's risk exposure. Over the coming months the company expects to complete its first acquisition of a majority stake (57%) in Madini Occidental Limited, which will hold a 70% beneficial interest in a ‘small scale mining licence’ (PEPM 14784), in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Molulu is a copper/cobalt project located on the Katangan Copperbelt, adjacent to many existing medium and large-scale mining operations that are in production.
Electric Royalties (CVE: ELEC) is a mining royalty company focused on metals that will benefit from the drive to electrification. Unlike the majority of its mining royalty peer group, which focus on precious metals, Electric Royalties invests in, and acquire royalties over, mines and exploration projects that will supply the materials needed to feed the electric revolution.
Electric Royalties has a portfolio of 12 royalties with two additional royalties currently under contract, subject to completion. One of these royalties subject to close is a sliding-scale gross metal royalty on zinc production from the operating Middle Tennessee Mine located in Smith County, Tennessee, United States, and operated by a subsidiary of Trafigura Group. This acquisition will be a very important milestone for Electric Royalties as it will be the company's first cash flow generating asset; the company expects the revenue generated will more than cover its general and administrative costs.
Another important development for Electric Royalties will be the completion of a preliminary economic assessment (PEA) over the Battery Hill Manganese Property located in New Brunswick, which is operated by Manganese X Energy Corp (CVE:MN). Electric Royalties owns a 2% gross revenue royalty over this project and the PEA will give investors the first look at the potential economics for the project and the potential value of Electric Royalties' royalty on the project.
Green Battery Minerals Inc
Green Battery Minerals Inc (CVE:GEM, OTCMKTS:GBMIF) is developing the Berkwood Graphite Project, located within Manicouagan Regional County, Quebec, Canada. The project has a total NI 43-101 compliant mineral resource estimate of 3.3 mln tonnes at a grade of around 17% CGR (carbon as graphite).
The company is planning an extensive field work campaign during 2021 to follow up on some of the numerous targets defined at the project (Figure 4). The field work programme is designed to expand the existing resource and define the most environmentally friendly way to advance the project. Preparation for obtaining the required permits to commence a drill programme is underway.
Figure 4: Target Zones
Source: Green Battery Minerals Inc
Adavale Resources Ltd
Adavale Resources Ltd (ASX:ADD) is developing the Kabanga Jirani Nickel Project Area located in Kagera, Tanzania. The company has licences that cover an area of 1,145 km2, which surround, or are proximal to, the world-class Kabanga Nickel Deposit which has a resource estimate of 58 mln tonnes at a grade of 2.62% Ni (Figure 5).
Adavale is currently fast-tracking a programme of geological mapping, infill soil and outcrop sampling alongside a programme of ground-based EM. The results of this target refinement work are expected to culminate in a maiden drilling programme commencing before the end of June. This 2,800m-3,500m (8-10 holes) drilling programme will test a selection of the 15 existing targets defined at the Kabanga Jirani Nickel Project
Figure 5: Project Location
Source: Adavale Resources
Technology Minerals (Private) is the process of listing on the main board of the London Stock Exchange, targeting a market debut in the third quarter of this year. The company has a portfolio of projects in the battery metals and critical metals space.
Unlike other mining and exploration companies, Technology Minerals is focused on the green circular economy of metals and the security of supply. Its strategy includes the mining and supplying of raw material critical for the growing battery market, but also the recycling of these metals. The recycling arm of the business takes place through its 49% interest in Recyclus, a private business set-up to recycle both lead-acid batteries and Li-ion batteries in the UK.