Fluorspar - a critical first for the U.S.
The way James Walker tells it, Utah’s Lost Sheep fluorspar mine was down to a part-time operation for just two men. Having seen better days between 1948 and 2007, operations dwindled to the point that “a couple of old guys were just driving a loader straight into the face of the fluorspar and putting that into bags. The grade was so rich that was all they had to do. So they just did that a couple of days a week and then they’d go off and fish most of the time.”
That’s based on a bold plan to move forward without the usual 43-101 de-risking stages. Walker attributes his confidence partly to the project and partly to the market.
As he said, fluorspar isn’t well known. But it’s highly coveted nonetheless. Also known as fluorite and more technically referred to as calcium fluoride (CaF2), it’s considered a critical mineral by the U.S.and EU.
Acidspar, the higher-priced fluorspar grading over 97% CaF2, is used to create hydrofluoric acid for refrigerants, pharmaceuticals and electronics, among other applications, and is also used in lithium-ion batteries and aluminum production. Lower-priced metspar, grading under 97%, goes into steel and cement production.
China produced over 57% of world fluorspar supply last year, according to U.S. Geological Survey data, followed by Mexico at 17%. With no significant production of its own, the U.S. has been importing about 66% of supply from Mexico, 13% from Vietnam, 8% from South Africa and 6% from China. Several of the world’s mines have been operating at or near full capacity, the USGS added. Roskill considers China likely to become a net fluorspar importer.
Ares’ work so far has Walker enthusiastic.
Although assays are still to come, last spring the company sunk 12 holes totalling 900 metres to delineate the old guys’ target area. Another five-hole, 300-metre exploration program revealed visible fluorspar in three holes. Metallurgical tests, meanwhile, upgraded Lost Sheep material beyond 97% CaF2, into the higher-priced acidspar level. That highlights the potential for bulk mining instead of selective extraction, Walker says.
He foresees possible production by October or even September with an initial 15- to 20-person operation. The mine plan calls for an adit to intersect a fluorspar-bearing pipe which would be drilled and blasted from the bottom. An underground loader or conveyor belt would move material to a truck which would carry it to the company’s own crushing, grinding, flotation and bagging facility.
“We also have a stockpile of discarded low-grade just sitting there. The other guys couldn’t sell it, they didn’t have a refining process.”
An impressive vote of confidence quickly came from the Mujim Group, a multinational fluorspar mining and distribution company. Soon after Ares announced the Lost Sheep acquisition, Mujim engineers visited the property. A strategic partnership resulted, with the group buying a 9% stake in Ares. Mujim managing director Bob Li joined Ares’ board earlier this month, bringing with him experience running fluorspar mines in Thailand and Laos, along with fluorspar trading companies in India, China and the Emirates. He’ll advise Ares on topics ranging from equipment selection and mining methods to processing techniques.
Walker himself is an engineer, not a common background for a junior mining CEO but especially suitable for a near-term producer. He’s worked on design projects for nuclear reactors, submarines, chemical plants, factories, infrastructure and automotive machinery, as well as mine processing facilities.
In charge of the Lost Sheep mine plan is Keith Minty, a mining engineer with 26 years of project development and operation experience over three continents. “He’s helped put nine mines into production that are way bigger than ours,” enthuses Walker.
CEO James Walker foresees operations by September or October.
VP of exploration Raul Sanabria’s 20-year background includes five years with the Minersa Group, an industrial minerals company that’s Europe’s largest fluorspar producer. Denise Nunes brings over 20 years of experience as a process engineer and metallurgist to manage Ares’ bench testing and design a processing facility.
“We’re quite well-connected in the mining world so we have access to the best personnel for this project,” Walker emphasizes.
He points to financial backing too. Sprott Capital Partners helped broker a private placement that closed on $1.97 million in February. Haywood Securities acted as financial adviser on an over-subscribed private placement that closed on $1.13 million earlier this month. Walker anticipates a debt financing with Sprott on completing the mine plan.
In northern British Columbia, meanwhile, the company acquired the Liard fluorspar project last April. The highway-accessible 476-hectare property comes with historic, non-43-101 resources for seven areas. A joint venture, possibly with Mujim, might be the vehicle to drive the project, Walker says.
Other acquisitions are possible too, especially in the U.S., he adds. Should all go to plan with Lost Sheep, Ares would hold an American mining monopoly on fluorspar. That’s a distinction Walker would like to maintain.
by Greg Klein
Original article - http://resourceclips.com