CATCHING THE NEXT TANTALUM WAVE
By Thomas Schuster
deposit: Geolo- Photographs: Commerce Resources Corp.
gist Dr. Alexei
operator and There are only a handful of companies positioned to
trapper Scott take advantage of a potential tantalum supply deficit.
One of these companies, Commerce Resources, has
plan a drill
site on the
an attractive tantalum-niobium deposit in British
Upper Fir Columbia.
deposit at “We are very focused at this point on developing
Blue River. the Upper Fir deposit,” says David Hodge, president
and director of Commerce Resources. “With that in
mind the company has become very involved in the
Cell phones, computers, digital cameras and flat-
screen TVs are just a few of the everyday electronics
that require the metal tantalum. Over half (55 per cent)
of the metal produced per year is used in electronic
applications. The metalworking industry accounts
for 35 per cent of global demand, due to tantalum’s
excellent strength, ductility, corrosion resistance and
thermal conductivity properties. The remaining 10 per
cent is used in chemical applications.
The U.S. Geological Survey and the Tantalum-
Niobium International Study Center predict annual
demand for tantalum (about six million pounds in
2007) will grow seven per cent per year over the next
20 years – a fourfold increase. »
SUMMER 2009 31
2. There are a number of developments on Commerce Resources’ Blue River Tanta-
the supply side of the equation that could lum-Niobium Project spans about 151 square
significantly tip the scales in favour of new kilometres within the Kamloops Mining
primary tantalum producers: Division in east-central British Columbia.
• Last November Talison Minerals announced The company acquired the property in 2000
it would suspend mining at its Wodgina and holds a 100 per cent interest in the proj-
operation in Australia in order to negotiate ect with no underlying royalties, back-in pay-
higher long-term prices. Wodgina previously ments or other agreements.
supplied 30 per cent of the world’s tantalum. The current Blue River property is actu-
• Stockpile inventories have been significantly ally the combination of two historic proper-
depleted over the past five years. ties: Verity to the north and Fir to the south.
• The Kimberley Process (the system used to The Fir property encompasses the tantalum-,
limit the sale of blood diamonds) has been niobium- and phosphate-bearing Fir, Bone
expanded to include sanctions on the pro- Creek, Gum Creek and Upper Fir carbon-
duction of “blood tantalum” from conflict atites, situated 25 to 30 kilometres northeast
regions in Africa. of the town of Blue River, B.C. The Verity
If demand continues to outpace supply, property covers the Verity, Mill, Paradise,
and supply continues to shrink, the future of Roadside and Serpentine 1 and 2 carbonatites
tantalum looks very bright. Since the majority and is situated within the northern half of the
of tantalum is sold under long-term contract, Blue River Property.
there is a premium on material derived from There is excellent infrastructure in the
conflict-free sources. Blue River region. The Yellowhead Highway,
Based on producer reports, tantalum the CN railway and BC Hydro power lines all
concentrate currently sells for US$35 to cross Commerce’s property. Logging roads
US$70 per pound. Ferro-niobium (a poten- that branch out from Highway 5 allow access Testing the waters: ground water quality sampling
tial byproduct from the Upper Fir deposit) to the various deposits. at the Upper Fir deposit.
sells for between US$7.50 and US$13.50 per Last year Commerce Resources drilled
pound. Niobium is used mainly to make stain- over 131 holes on the Blue River project. A Upper Fir carbonatite in order to improve
less steel and high-strength, low-alloy steels. total of 118 holes (23,724 metres) targeted the resource confidence via infill drilling and
Contract Diamond Drilling & Consulting
Box 2828, Smithers, BC V0J 2N0
Ofﬁce: (250) 877-7729 Fax: (250) 877-7580
32 SUMMER 2009
3. Sample-seeking: Mike Hodge, field technician, takes a bulk
sample for metallurgical test work (far left); geologists
Brad Ulry and Rob Tyson review core samples (centre);
water-quality sampling at the Upper Fir deposit (above).
expand the limits of the deposit. The drill- This estimate is based on 20 diamond drill chlore crystals, while phosphate (another
ing revealed a thick (over 70 metres in true holes completed between 2005 and 2006, and potentially salable product) is carried in the
width) carbonatite sill south of the main an additional 18 diamond drill holes com- mineral apatite.
deposit. Tantalum and niobium assay results pleted in 2007. Preliminary metallurgical test work on
from this drill program are still pending. The holes outlined a series of sill-like the property first occurred in 2002 and deter-
In addition to extending currently defined carbonatite bodies ranging up to 100 metres mined that gravity concentration methods
deposits, Commerce geologists discovered in total thickness. These bodies have been could recover tantalum and niobium miner-
several new carbonatites. As a result, 13 outlined over a strike length of 1,300 metres als into a rougher concentrate. Additional
new claims were staked along the southeast in a north-south direction and are up to 600 work the following year produced tantalum-
margin of the existing claim block. Regional metres wide. The carbonatite remains open to niobium recovery rates of about 80 per cent,
exploration also identified several areas con- expansion to the east and to the south. with a concentrate grade of about 20 per cent
taining elevated levels of rare-earth elements. The Fir deposit, defined by 15 diamond combined tantalum and niobium.
Data is currently being compiled and analysis drill holes, contains an indicated resource of In 2004, SGS Lakefield Research dem-
is ongoing. 5.65 million tonnes, averaging 203.1 g/t of onstrated a tantalum-niobium gravity con-
Commerce has three separate NI 43-101- tantalum pentoxide and 1,047 g/t of niobium centrate could be upgraded significantly by
defined tantalum-niobium deposits on its pentoxide. The current geological model sug- reverse sulphide flotation, and this upgraded
property: Upper Fir, Fir and Verity. The gests the Fir deposit may be part of a larger concentrate could be successfully leached
company intends to focus its development mineralized system. using hydrofluoric and/or sulphuric acids.
efforts on the Upper Fir deposit. Explora- The Verity deposit is host to an inferred In November 2008, Commerce took a
tion to date of this deposit has outlined a resource of 3.06 million tonnes, grading 196 g/t 2,000-tonne representative carbonatite bulk
significant resource. In August of last year, of tantalum and 646 g/t of niobium. It remains sample from three different pits. The com-
the company tabled a NI 43-101-compliant open for expansion in three directions. pany sent this material to Process Research
resource estimate. Carbonatites are igneous rock bodies Associates of Richmond, B.C. for continued
Based on a 150-gram-per-tonne tanta- composed of more than 50 per cent carbonate metallurgical analysis. This work will support
lum pentoxide cut-off grade, resources at minerals. They are typically either classified the development of a preliminary flow sheet
the Upper Fir deposit currently stand at 14.7 as magmatic (emplaced as an intrusion) or for a pilot plant program at PRA’s facility.
million tonnes, averaging 190 g/t of tantalum metasomatic (altered by chemicals dissolved Exploration on the property has shown
pentoxide and 1,300 g/t of niobium pentoxide. in fluids). the carbonatite systems contain low amounts
This translates into 6.1 million pounds of The Blue River property is underlain of uranium and thorium as accessory ele-
contained tantalum pentoxide and 42 million by Proterozoic-aged metasediments. Inter- ments. These amounts are, for the most part,
pounds of contained niobium pentoxide. fingered within these often highly deformed lower than the 0.05 per cent uranium and
Inferred resources are estimated to be rocks are carbonatite intrusions of varying 0.15 per cent thorium government reporting
19.8 million tonnes, averaging 188 g/t of sizes. These carbonatites are mainly com- thresholds. Commerce Resources has moni-
tantalum pentoxide and 1,612 g/t of niobium posed of the carbonate minerals dolomite and tored and continues to monitor the levels of
pentoxide, or 8.2 million pounds of contained calcite, which are of magmatic origin. these elements in samples it collects, both as
tantalum pentoxide and 70.4 million pounds Tantalum and niobium are generally an exploration tool and for environmental
of contained niobium pentoxide. contained within disseminated pyro- assessment purposes.
SUMMER 2009 33
4. CROSSROADS OF THE NORTHWEST
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HEAVY INDUSTRY - MINING - FORESTRY - TOURISM
Serviced land for light industrial, aviation purposes and retail
The lay of the land: geologist Ashley Peter-
Rennich mapping deformed carbonatite.
Phone CARMAN HENDRY to set
up shop in a growing, high traffic area.
Tel: 1-250-635-2659 Commerce has been collecting environ-
Fax: 1-250-638-0059 mental baseline data since 2006, including
meteorological information on temperature,
www.yxt.ca wind directions and speeds, rain and snow
email: email@example.com accumulation and seasonal variation of these
parameters; information on water quality and
quantity; surveys of fish, fish habitat, wildlife
and wildlife habitat; soil surveys; vegetation
HELIC OPTER CHARTER SERVICE surveys; metal leaching and acid rock drainage
testing; and terrain hazards assessment. The
company continues to advance environmen-
tal baseline work and regulatory programs to
ensure the Blue River Tantalum and Niobium
Project is well-positioned to enter the envi-
ronmental assessment process once a devel-
opment decision is made.
With $15 million in the bank, Commerce
has its eye on starting an engineering scoping
study on the Upper Fir carbonatite tantalum-
niobium deposit on its Blue River property.
If this study is positive, Commerce will move
directly into a feasibility study with the ulti-
mate goal of becoming a leading low-cost pro-
ducer of tantalum and niobium, as well as a
Seismic Exploration & Support Mining Exploration stable supply source for industry end-users.
“Commerce is certainly in a position,
Pipeline/Power Line Patrols Drill Support given the current market situation, to expect
Precision Vertical Reference Medi-vac Flights participation from the tantalum industry,”
says Hodge, “not just through take-or-pay
contracts, but through participation in the
company itself. We are looking for some of
those large consumers of tantalum or even
the end-users of tantalum to become more
involved with the company on a corporate
level because that’s how they are going to gain
real security.” I
Rising to the challenge. northernairsupport.com Thomas Schuster is a contract geologist and inde-
pendent consultant for Jordan Capital Markets.
34 SUMMER 2009 Ph ot og ra ph: C om mer c e R esour ces C or p.