Not just inadequate reserves but dubious origins threaten security of supply for strategic commodities. A prime example is niobium, a largely single-source product from CBMM in Brazil that gives one company and one country enormous potential power. Tantalum raises further concerns as it passes through shadowy supply lines that could obscure conflict sources. Both metals appear on the recent U.S. draft list of 35 critical minerals. And both appear in substantial quantities in one east-central British Columbia deposit.
That brings additional interest to Commerce Resources TSXV:CCE, best-known for its Ashram rare earths deposit in northern Quebec. While that project moves towards pre-feasibility, the company’s Blue River property in B.C. offers advantageous resources, metallurgy, infrastructure and economics for the rare metals age, says company president Chris Grove.
Industry has noticed, evident in the inquiries he’s received from end-users.
“We’re very excited about the new interest in Blue River,” he says. “Companies are looking at the provenance of these commodities and the new executive order signed by President Trump focuses on the origin of these critical commodities, so I think there’s a lot of opportunity to be seen for Blue River.”
The property’s Upper Fir deposit boasts a resource effective February 2015 based on 271 holes totalling 59,100 metres:
- - indicated: 48.41 million tonnes averaging 197 ppm Ta2O5 and 1,610 ppm Nb2O5 for 9,560 tonnes Ta2O5 and 77,810 tonnes Nb2O5
- - inferred: 5.4 million tonnes averaging 191 ppm Ta2O5 and 1,760 ppm Nb2O5 for 1,000 tonnes Ta2O5 and 9,600 tonnes Nb2O5
At this stage, processing looks good. Tantalum and niobium “occur within the minerals pyrochlore and ferrocolumbite and are amenable to conventional flotation and proven refining processes with estimated recoveries of 65% to 70%,” the 43-101 stated. “The industrial processes proposed for the production of high-quality tantalum and niobium products from the concentrates have not been tested using material from the Blue River project but are known processes that are not expected to be difficult to develop for the project.”
Those qualities alone encourage optimism for production costs, Grove points out. But a more recent development suggests even greater potential savings to both capex and opex. In February the company announced successful processing through a patented method called the Krupin Process. That followed months of work on a 1,300-kilogram sample of Blue River material at the Estonian lab of Alexander Krupin. An expert in tantalum and niobium recovery, his CV shows more than 35 years’ experience, including over 15 years processing high-grade concentrates of those two metals.
But it took another expert to confirm the results. To that end Commerce dispatched chairperson Axel Hoppe to Krupin’s lab. Formerly president of the Tantalum-Niobium International Study Center and a senior manager at H.C. Starck, a global producer of tantalum and niobium products, Hoppe “confirmed a very significant new development in processing that should save significantly on costs,” Grove says.
As a result, Commerce is now working on a definitive agreement to incorporate the Krupin Process at Blue River and also acquire worldwide rights to the method.
Covering 105,373 hectares, the property sits about 250 highway kilometres north of Kamloops, with access from another four klicks of gravel road. CN rail tracks and a parallel high-voltage transmission line cross the property’s western side, while a 20 MW run-of-river hydro plant operates adjacent to Blue River.
With niobium in a location like that, Blue River has attracted “huge interest from the steel sector,” Grove says. As electronics manufacturers take a closer look at some of the Democratic Republic of Congo mines that supply their cobalt, tantalum’s due for similar scrutiny, he adds.
Meanwhile, highly impressive niobium-tantalum assays from Commerce’s Quebec property have spawned an early-stage exploration project. Samples have graded as high as 4.24%, 4.3% and even 5.93% Nb2O5, as well as 1,040 ppm, 1,060 ppm and 1,220 ppm Ta2O5. The exceptional grades prompted Saville Resources TSXV:SRE to sign a 75% earn-in for the Niobium Claim Group on the Eldor property that also hosts Commerce’s advanced-stage Ashram rare earths deposit. Saville now has a 43-101 technical report underway. Dependent on TSXV approval of the deal and subsequent funding, the company plans drilling this year.
Interestingly it was Saville president Mike Hodge who staked the Blue River claims, after Dahrouge Geological Consulting brought the property to the attention of Commerce. Now a former Dahrouge geologist currently with the B.C. Geological Survey plans a public site visit to Blue River. Alexei Rukhlov will co-lead the June 22-24 field trip, an event open to participants of Resources for Future Generations 2018. Click here for more info.