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By Shane Lasley
Mining News 

Graphite Creek nominated high priority

Alaska governor requests designation under Trump order


Last updated 10/25/2019 at 6:47am

Tesla Inc.

The lithium-ion rechargeable batteries in both the Tesla Model S and Powerwall require graphite as the anode material.

In a recent letter to the White House, Alaska Governor Michael Dunleavy has requested that U.S. President Donald Trump consider designating the Graphite Creek mine project and associated processing facility as a high-priority infrastructure project under Executive Order 13766, signed by Trump shortly after he took office in 2017.

"Graphite Creek is the largest deposit of graphite in the nation, and would be a superior domestic supply of this critical mineral, which is necessary for modem batteries, renewable energy technology, and many other high-technology uses," Dunleavy penned in his Oct. 4 letter to Trump.

Currently, the U.S. is fully dependent on foreign sources for natural graphite, which is used as the anode material in the lithium-ion batteries that power the skyrocketing number of electric vehicles, portable tools, home goods and electronics. And global competition for this important battery metal is expected to increase dramatically in the coming decades.

According to the World Bank, worldwide graphite demand for clean energy applications alone – primarily electric vehicle batteries and energy storage systems – is expected to rise by 383 percent between now and 2050.

America's full dependence on foreign countries for its graphite, coupled with the projected skyrocketing demand, are reasons the U.S. Geological Survey listed graphite among the 35 minerals and metals critical to the United States.

Graphite One Inc., the company advancing exploration and planned development at Graphite Creek has outlined roughly 8.2 million metric tons of graphite – 850,000 metric tons in the measured and indicated resource category plus 7.34 million metric tons in the lower confidence inferred resource category – at its mine project about 50 miles north of Nome.

"With the growing demand for graphite in electric vehicle lithium-ion batteries and other energy storage applications – and the inclusion of graphite on the U.S. critical mineral list – we see the Graphite One deposit as a potentially significant new source of advanced graphite for decades to come," said Graphite One President and CEO Anthony Huston.

Very exciting opportunity

America's growing need for graphite and Graphite Creek's potential as a domestic source to fill this need has already captured the attention of lawmakers in Washington D.C.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called Graphite Creek as "a very, very exciting" opportunity to develop a domestic mine to produce this increasingly important critical battery metal during a Sept. 17 hearing to examine the sourcing and use of minerals needed for clean energy technologies.

"The United States is capable of being a leader in the development of the minerals needed for clean energy technologies. We have incredible high-grade deposits in states like Alaska, but we have also ceded production, manufacturing, and recycling to our competitors," Murkowski said.

With the world turning to rechargeable batteries to provide power for every electric device imaginable – from household goods such as vacuum cleaners, to phones and computers, to massive grid-scale electrical storage – the U.S. is now scrambling to ensure it has a reliable supply of the ingredients of electrical storage.

And, while lithium nabs the top billing in lithium-ion batteries, graphite is the single largest ingredient in these cells.

Tesla Inc.'s Gigafactory, an enormous lithium-ion battery facility in Nevada, alone is expected to require around 35,200 tons of spherical graphite per year, a special form of graphite that is manufactured for batteries.

The spherical shape allows the graphite to be more efficiently packed into battery cells, while the coating extends the graphite's lifetime capacity.

This plant's annual graphite need increases significantly when you consider it takes about 2.9 tons of average flake graphite, the common natural form of this carboniferous material, to make 1 ton of spherical graphite.

The Gigafactory, which is being built in phases, will cover roughly 10 million square feet of Nevada desert and be able to manufacture enough batteries for roughly half a million Tesla's per year when fully operational.

Ensuring that the U.S. has the materials needed for Gigafactory and other battery plants popping up across America fits well within the parameters of Executive Order 13766, which requires federal agencies to expedite environmental reviews of projects deemed "high priority to the nation."

State governors and federal agency heads can nominate such high-priority projects under the order, which the Alaska governor has done for Graphite Creek.

"Graphite continues to grow in importance to the U.S. national economy and national security," Dunleavy wrote. "Alaska, with its resource wealth, stands ready to play its role in meeting this critical need."

The governor made a similar nomination in August for Ucore Rare Metals' Bokan Mountain rare earth element project in Southeast Alaska.

Read Alaska gov nominates Bokan REE as priority in the Sept. 1, 2019 edition of North of 60 Mining News for further details on the Bokan Mountain nomination.

"The U.S. is presently 100 percent import-dependent for both rare earths and graphite, with the world's largest producer being China," Dunleavy inked in his Oct. 4 letter to Trump.

Advancing Graphite Creek

Dunleavy's nomination comes at a time when Graphite One is working on a prefeasibility study for developing a mine at Graphite Creek, expected to be completed in the first half of 2020.

A preliminary economic assessment, which is a scoping level engineering and economic study, completed for Graphite Creek in 2017 provided a first glimpse at plans to develop a mine at Graphite Creek.

At full capacity, which the PEA slates for the sixth year of production, this 2,800-metric-ton-per-day operation would produce roughly 60,000 metric tons of 95 percent graphite concentrate per year.

Graphite One's plan, however, does not end with producing a graphite concentrate from the enormous deposit in western Alaska. The company also intends to build an advanced processing facility that converts this concentrate into the end products needed for lithium-ion batteries and other applications demanded by America's manufacturing sector.

This processing facility, which is expected to be located elsewhere in Alaska or the Pacific Northwest, would refine the concentrates into 41,850 metric tons of coated spherical graphite and 13,500 metric tons of purified graphite powders annually, according to the PEA.

According to a resource calculated in March, the Graphite Creek property hosts 10.95 million metric tons of measured and indicated resources averaging 7.8 percent (850,534 metric tons) graphite; plus 91.89 million metric tons of inferred resource averaging 8 percent (7.34 million metric tons) graphite.

This represents a 14 percent increase in total graphite in measured and indicated resources; and a 48 percent increase in inferred resources, when compared to the resource calculation used to complete the 2017 PEA.

The rise in measured and indicated resources could be reflected in a slightly larger mine or longer mine life when the PFS is completed next year.

In September, Graphite One began a roughly 800-meter drill program to collect the last bits of geological and geotechnical data for this engineering and economic study.

"Our 2019 drilling program is expected to provide technical information we need for the PFS and will add to our understanding of the Graphite Creek deposit," said Graphite One President and CEO Anthony Huston.

In addition to the geotechnical data, it is expected that this drilling will also allow further upgrades to the resources ahead of the PFS.

Graphite One Inc.

The Graphite Creek deposit in western Alaska is the largest known deposit of Graphite in the United States and a potential domestic source of this critical lithium-ion battery material.

The completion of this study will take Graphite Creek one step closer to the final feasibility study and permitting of a mine and advanced processing facility, which could be expedited if the Trump Administration elects to accept Gov. Dunleavy's nomination of the western Alaska critical mineral project as high-priority under Executive Order 13766.

"Designating the Graphite Creek project as a high-priority infrastructure project will send a strong signal that the U.S. intends to end the days of our 100 percent import-dependency for this increasingly critical mineral," the Alaska governor wrote.

At the same time, Graphite Creek could provide a critical new source of jobs for Alaskans and revenues for state coffers.

"The proposed Graphite Creek Mine, developed in accordance with all applicable safety and environmental standards, would be a great benefit to the Nome region, the local villages, the state of Alaska, and to our nation," Dunleavy wrote.

Author Bio

Shane Lasley, Publisher

Over his more than 11 years of covering mining and mineral exploration, Shane has become renowned for his ability to report on the sector in a way that is technically sound enough to inform industry insiders while being easy to understand by a wider audience.

Email: [email protected]
Phone: (907) 726-1095


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