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Bold explorer targets Yellowknife lithium

Junior bets on historical results with aggressive program Mining Explorers 2023 - January 18, 2024

Armed with new leadership and a plan to rapidly explore and develop its lithium prospects in Canada, Li-FT Power Ltd., set out in late 2022 on a bold quest to confirm historical prospects of lithium near the capital of Northwest Territories.

While aggressive, the move was far from lacking precedent. Yellowknife, after all, has a history of delivering mineral riches, most notably upwards of 12 million ounces of gold from the legendary Con and Giant mines throughout much of the 20th century.

Could the area in and around this northern city of 22,000 people yield another mother lode, this time in the form of the newly coveted mineral, lithium? Considered one of the 35 or so minerals critical to national security, both the United States and Canada have taken steps in recent years to encourage exploration and production of lithium.

Moreover, the increasing popularity of electric vehicles, smartphones, and other cordless electric devices we use at home and work has sparked a global clamor for the lightest of metals.

And some analysts predict that demand for lithium will multiply 20-fold by 2040 and result in a worldwide supply deficit that could send prices through the roof.

Lithium is primarily recovered from the hardrock mineral spodumene and lithium-rich brines in salt lakes.

Canada, China, and Australia have significant resources of lithium minerals, while lithium brine is produced in Chile, followed by Argentina, China, and the U.S.

Li-FT is working towards building large deposits of hardrock lithium in the spodumene enriched pegmatites east of Yellowknife.

A lithium exploration rush

Li-FT Power is leading the pack of a half-dozen other juniors that rushed to mount lithium exploration programs in 2023 in and around Yellowknife.

Rather than initiating a grassroots program, Li-FT Power studied the area's mineral exploration history and purchased a 100% interest in mineral leases it dubbed the Yellowknife Lithium Project. Formerly owned by a private company, 1361516 B.C. Ltd., the property covers most of the lithium pegmatites in the Yellowknife Pegmatite Province.

First discovered in the 1940s, the Yellowknife Pegmatite Province was intermittently explored through to the 1980s. Canadian Superior Exploration Ltd., the exploration arm of Superior Oil, completed systematic mapping, spodumene crystal counts, blasting-trenching, channel sampling and diamond drilling in the area from 1975 to 1979.

In 1978, Canadian Superior geologists estimated an overall resource potential for the province of 49 million metric tons at an average grade of 1.4% lithium oxide from surface to a depth of 152 meters, of which 75% is located within Li-FT's Yellowknife project.

The property was described by a former explorer, Equinox Resources, in a 1987 report as being one of the largest lithium resources in the Western world.

Large enough to be visible on images taken by satellites orbiting the earth, numerous outcroppings of grayish white spodumene-bearing pegmatites poke out of the ground across the 9,600 square kilometers (3,705 square miles) that comprise the property. Outcropping amid stunted sub-arctic vegetation, these mineral-rich rocks are exposed up to 1,800 meters long and 40 meters wide.

The Yellowknife project extends from just outside the city limits east for about 60 kilometers (37 miles) and hosts 14 known lithium pegmatite systems. Historical channel sampling on the property has produced average grades ranging from 1.1 to 1.59% lithium oxide over widths of seven to 40 meters.

These pegmatites also offer key advantages for development, given their proximity to existing roads, rail, and a skilled labor force.

Railway access at the town of Hay River, located across Great Slave Lake from Yellowknife can be used to ship spodumene concentrate via barge and rail to a processing plant in southern Canada.

The property's Fi, Ki, and Hi mineral leases are accessible via the asphalt-surfaced Ingram Trail and then 10 kilometers (six miles) along the Thompson-Lundmark mine access road, while the BIG lease sits about 30 kilometers (19 miles) to the east of Yellowknife along the Ingram Trail, and then five kilometers (three miles) to the south along winter access trails.

A mega exploration program

Li-FT set out in 2023 to confirm and expand the historical lithium estimate, after a 35-year lull in exploration on the property, with a program of 45,000 meters of diamond drilling over eight of the project's most promising pegmatites.

Francis MacDonald, Li-FT's CEO, sees the Yellowknife project as "a tremendous opportunity to consolidate numerous lithium pegmatites that have the potential to be one of the largest hard rock lithium resources in North America."

In early 2023, MacDonald said his company looked forward "to completing an aggressive drill program to delineate the subsurface extent of the abundant lithium mineralization we see at surface."

He said Li-FT's immediate goal is to complete a maiden resource estimate for the project. In its 2023 exploration program, the company focused primarily on the property's most promising pegmatites, east of the city along a paved highway, as well as the Echo target farther afield.

Encouraging drill results

In late July, Li-FT reported assay results from the season's first five drill holes and reported spodumene mineralization over 320 meters of strike length in the Fi Southwest pegmatite, to a depth of 150 meters from surface at the pegmatite's dyke, which remains open in all directions.

MacDonald, a project geologist who co-founded Kenorland Minerals Ltd. in 2016 and before that worked for Newmont Mining, now Newmont Corp., said Li-FT's initial drill results show the project has excellent potential for significant spodumene resources.

In August, Li-FT reported assays from 18 more drill holes completed at the project's Fi Southwest and Fi Main pegmatites, including intersections with 26- to 80-meter intervals of spodumene mineralization averaging 0.87% lithium oxide to 1.42% lithium oxide.

"Fi Southwest continues to deliver high-grade spodumene over significant widths and hole YLP0007 extends the pegmatite's strike length of spodumene mineralization to 335 meters," said MacDonald, who added that the first drill holes into the Fi Main pegmatite also "delivered some excellent intersections."

"Our operational progress has been significant to date – we have drilled 117 holes into six different pegmatites and have submitted samples" for testing, he added.

Concerned about the danger posed by extensive wildfires in the area, the company halted all exploration activity on the project in August and evacuated personnel and equipment for a month-long hiatus from the project.

Assays of core drilled earlier, meanwhile, kept rolling in, showing consistent grades of lithium oxide in the Fi Southwest, Fi Main, Shorty, and BIG East pegmatites.

Highlights of this work include:

22 meters of 1.46% lithium oxide (Fi Southwest).

24 meters at 1.12% lithium oxide (Fi Main).

25 meters at 1.13% lithium oxide (Shorty).

19 meters at 1.01% lithium oxide, (BIG East).

16 meters at 1.13% lithium oxide (BIG East).

With high-grade spodumene showing over significant widths at each of the first four pegmatites the explorer had drilled in 35 holes, MacDonald said excitement was building as the company awaited results from another 82 holes, including assays from two other pegmatites, Echo, and Ki.

"The surprise for us is that BIG East has more spodumene pegmatite material than expected, based on outcropping surface expression," MacDonald observed in mid-October.

"Although grade is partially diluted by internal sections of wall rock, the overall amount of pegmatite dike material at BIG East could add more tonnage than expected," he added.

Other lithium properties

In its quest for lithium in northern Canada, Li-FT also acquired the mineral leases for the Cali Project in the Little Nahanni Pegmatite Field in the Mackenzie mountains in western Northwest Territories, near the Yukon Territory border.

The Little Nahanni Pegmatite Field is known for having more than 275 complex rare element pegmatites scattered over a 13- by two-kilometer (eight miles by 1.25 miles) area.

Canadian Superior held the Cali pegmatite in the 1970s, before it changed hands in 1983, along with the Yellowknife property.

Canadian Superior mapped the Cali pegmatite in 1977 and described it as outcropping over a 500-meter strike length with a 300-meter outcropping vertical extent and a 100-meter width. Panels of metasedimentary country rock occur within the spodumene-bearing pegmatite which has been described to have 60 meters of pegmatite dyke material. Float mapping suggests that the lithium-bearing dyke could be up to 1,200 meters in strike length.

Li-FT crews carried out surface exploration on the Cali pegmatite during the wildfire evacuation of the Yellowknife project.

This work focused on gaining a better understanding of the average grade across the dyke's exposed strike length with systematic rock sampling and mapping, as well as prospecting for parallel dykes and dyke extensions.

"The spodumene percentages that we observed were quite high and we also expect very good grades to come back from surface sampling," MacDonald said.

The company plans to integrate the data collected into a 3D geology model for exploration targeting and planning for a drill program slated for Cali this year.

Li-FT is also exploring two Quebec lithium projects, Rupert and Pontax.

The junior aims to create a pipeline of lithium targets among the four projects and advance them in tandem.


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