Drills turning at critical Graphite Creek
EV sector presses need for US supply of battery anode material North of 60 Mining News – July 23, 2021
Last updated 8/12/2021 at 3:04pm
With the massive growth in global demand for mined graphite predicted over the coming two decades, Graphite One Inc. has crews collecting the final bits of data that will be needed for a feasibility study for its Graphite Creek project about 35 miles north of Nome, a western Alaska mining town famous for the gold found along the beaches and under the icy waters of the Bering Sea.
"The 2021 field program is a very important and exciting milestone for our stakeholders as it is advancing the Project towards the feasibility study while providing economic benefit to the local businesses," said Graphite One CEO Anthony Huston.
The centerpiece of the summer 2021 program at Graphite Creek is 3,000 meters of core drilling focused on upgrading inferred resources to the higher confidence measured and indicated resource categories ahead of the feasibility study, which will come on the heels of a prefeasibility study due out later this year.
These advanced engineering and economic studies will build upon a 2017 preliminary economic assessment that outlined plans for a mine at Graphite Creek that would produce roughly 60,000 metric tons of 95% graphite concentrate per year and a separate processing facility to refine these annual concentrates into 41,850 metric tons of the coated spherical graphite used in the lithium-ion batteries powering electric vehicles and storing renewable energy, plus 13,500 metric tons of purified graphite powders annually.
According to a 2019 calculation, Graphite Creek hosts 10.95 million metric tons of measured and indicated resources averaging 7.8% (850,534 metric tons) graphitic carbon; plus 91.89 million metric tons of inferred resource averaging 8% (7.34 million metric tons) graphitic carbon.
The infill drilling planned for this year is expected to upgrade large portions of the inferred resources into the measured and indicated category, which could, in turn, be elevated to reserves with the completion of a feasibility study.
"Previous drilling has identified long intercepts of high-grade graphite at surface, and results will continue to provide Graphite One with invaluable data to progress the project towards a production decision," said Huston.
In addition to resource upgrade drilling, the 2021 program includes a sonic rig collecting geotechnical data at the location of the proposed open pit mine and infrastructure sites on the property. This will provide vital ground conditions information to engineers working on the design of the operation for the upcoming feasibility level studies.
"We're working simultaneously to complete our PFS, and to generate additional data for our FS to further demonstrate the strong value proposition of our Graphite Creek deposit," Huston added.
While the drills are turning, the engineering team is carrying out access route surveys and environmental specialists are collecting additional ecological baseline data.
The 2021 program will also include community outreach activities.
By the end of the program, Graphite One expects to have all the information needed to continue advancing the design and engineering for a mine at Graphite Creek, a flotation process facility to produce graphite concentrates from the mined material, as well as the secondary treatment plant that will upgrade those concentrates into the coated spherical graphite used in the anodes of lithium-ion batteries.
The closing in on a mine decision for Graphite One's mining and refining facilities comes at a time when the electric mobility and renewable energy sectors are expected to need massive quantities of the coated spherical graphite that serves as the anode material for most lithium-ion batteries.
According to the International Energy Agency, roughly 146 lb of graphite goes into the average EV battery. With annual EV sales forecast to climb to 82 million by 2040, the automotive sector alone will need around 5.4 million metric tons of battery-grade graphite each year, roughly five times more than produced at all the mines on Earth.
For the United States, this staggering growth figure is compounded by the fact that there are currently no graphite mines, leaving the burgeoning EV and renewable energy supply chains in the U.S. dependent on imports for their supplies of this critical battery mineral.
A mine at Graphite Creek and an associated facility producing battery-ready spherical graphite would help meet a portion of this growing domestic need.