Canada Carbon graphite under “watchful eye of government”

By Emma Hughes
Published: Friday, 21 February 2014

Company talks with IM about high purity graphite, nuclear potential and federal discussions

Tests by Evans Analytical Group on the crystallinity of the graphite and by SGS Lakefield on the purity have shown the potential for the product to enter the nuclear industry. 
Image: Canada Carbon Inc.
Earlier this month, Canada Carbon Inc. reported that laboratory results from its Miller vein graphite property, in Quebec, Canada, showed potential to produce new material that can be used in the nuclear industry.

This news was not only picked up by industry reports, but also at government level, and Canada Carbon has since been in discussion with federal officials in Ottawa.

To find out more about how Canada Carbon hopes to achieve entry into this niche, and often closed-off industry, IM caught up with the company’s CEO, Bruce Duncan.

Duncan outlined the strategy for the Miller deposit, explaining how Canada Carbon expects to overcome stiff competition from over 100 juniors in the graphite market. A lot of this, he said, was down to the simplicity of excavation at Miller.

“With a bulk sample permit, and surface exposure of the veins, we can go into production using simple excavating equipment. We can then have our ore custom milled, and sell the product, which will provide non-dilutive capital to fund further exploration and resource definition activities,” Duncan told IM.

Previous sampling work at Miller has identified grades as high as 80.1% C and assessed the visible graphite deposit through a series of new samples taken directly along and into the vein at a depth of approximately 30-50mm.

Test work conducted by Evans Analytical Group (EAG) on the crystallinity of the graphite and by SGS Lakefield Ontario on the purity further highlighted the potential for the product to be used by the nuclear industry.

EAG said the crystalline quality of the graphite was “better than any other industrial graphite sample” it has analysed to date. Duncan further explained that Canada Carbon’s understanding from the scientists was that the crystallinity of the graphite tested was actually higher than that of the commercial graphite used to calibrate the equipment used to measure it.

Since releasing these results, Canada Carbon said it has received significant industry interest in its graphite, but added that it is still in the characterisation phase.

“Our graphite is found both in high grade veins (30-90% C), but also as smaller disseminations. All indications (easy hydrometallurgical upgrading, and rapid thermal upgrading, along with the high crystallinity (Raman)), suggest that the graphite crystals did not intercalate with the waste minerals,” Duncan told IM.

“That means that the graphite crystals appear to be of very high carbon purity, with the waste material surrounding those crystals, rather that intergrown into them. Picture your fingers laced together. Your fingers are intercalated. Picture your fingers balled into a fist. Your fists are separate graphite crystals,” he explained.

Nuclear industry potential

Canada Carbon’s management has met with a number of federal government officials from “various agencies” to discuss the first domestic production of nuclear- and military-grade graphite in recent history.

Duncan told IM that Canada Carbon did not approach these officials – it was the other way round.

“On 15 October 2013, we first released assay data indicating that our graphite exceeded nuclear purity standards. All it took was combining the words nuclear and graphite in one sentence, and we came under the watchful eye of government,” Duncan said.

“On an ongoing basis, we have directly submitted our technical information to the proper authorities. Our meeting with a number of agencies collectively was simply the most efficient way to bring each other up to date, and ensure that all of the regulatory standards would be met going forward. The ore in the ground is not regulated (...) at a certain point during processing of that ore, it will become regulated,” he explained.

“We will continue to liaise with the appropriate government agencies, as our project develops further,” he told IM, adding that the company anticipates that the next meeting will be held in one or two months’ time.

Other markets

While Duncan explained to IM that it was premature to say that Canada Carbon is now in the nuclear industry, he did say that the company has discovered that graphite from Miller “readily upgrades to exceed the purity standards for nuclear applications.”

“Our ash content is well below the 300 ppm nuclear standard, and our boron equivalent concentration is less than 1 ppm – well below the most stringent nuclear threshold,” he said.

However, in niche industries like nuclear it tends to be a case of very low volumes but higher prices, so IM pressed Duncan on how this might affect the company’s ability to shift volume of graphite mined.

“Low volume and higher prices together provide the perfect impetus for going into early production. We are still very much in the exploration phase at the Miller project. What we have found, already exposed at surface, will already permit us to develop revenue through our bulk sample permit,” Duncan explained.

“As we further explore the property, using surface EM geophysics, we discover new veins routinely. We’ve also uncovered veins during road-building on site. There is great potential for further discoveries,” he added.

Duncan concluded by telling IM that as well as hoping to serve the nuclear industry, Canada Carbon is also looking at other potential markets that will help it to shift volume.

“For military use, high density is a critical variable. As our material is highly crystalline, and density runs with crystallinity, we recognised the potential application immediately. Similar purity standards to those applied to nuclear graphite are also relevant to military applications, so our high-purity high-crystallinity graphite could well be military grade as well,” he said.

“High purity graphite has a number of potential applications, from graphene to synthetic diamonds to semiconductors to lithium ion batteries. We are working on demonstrating the suitability of our high-purity graphite in a variety of applications,” Duncan concluded.

Nuclear grade graphite

Graphite is used in many different types of nuclear reactors, where it serves as both a moderator and a spacer for the fuel elements. Graphite is pretty much inert in that environment, but the same can’t be said of contaminants within the graphite.

The low ash content threshold is to limit the amount of contaminants that could either alter the rate of the nuclear reaction, or participate in it. Some contaminants may also contribute to the breakdown of the graphite structure when exposed to radiation.

The lower the contaminant load, especially those contaminants which can capture neutrons (assessed as the boron equivalent content), the more suitable the graphite becomes for use in nuclear reactor core components.

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