Flake graphite has been considered
a critical material for some time now, as its importance in
certain end markets, such as batteries, has been well
publicised. More recently, however, graphite has become a buzz
word in both industry and mainstream circles after a potential
game-changing announcement came at the end of February.
The announcement in question is, of
course, Tesla Motors decision to build a new $5bn
lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery Gigafactory, which
could increase flake graphite demand by up to 34% by 2020.
According to calculations by
analysts at IM Data, Teslas plant could
consume at least 28,000 tpa spherical graphite if operating at
capacity. This equates to 93,000 tpa flake graphite if produced
to todays standards, which sees raw material wastage of
up to 70%.
This, as you can imagine, was music
to flake graphite producers ears - especially those who
were already targeting the battery market with high grade flake
One company that could stand to
benefit from developments like Teslas Gigafactory is
Canada-based Energizer Resources Inc., which is looking to
supply flake graphite from its Green Giant project in
IM travelled 5,600
miles from London to meet with the company in March to see the
project first-hand and the potential it holds.
A Green Giant
Energizers flagship Molo
deposit is the second largest confirmed flake graphite resource
in the world and the biggest under Canadian NI 43-101
Located in Fotodrevo, southern
Madagascar, it sits as part of the companys Green Giant
project, which also includes a sizable vanadium deposit. Both
resources are NI 43-101 compliant, yet Molo remains the main
focus for Energizer at present.
From a geological perspective, the
Molo deposit lies in a flat and semi-arid environment and has
flake graphite at surface to an unknown depth, extending deeper
than 300 metres vertically, and a strike extent of over
Owing to this formation, Molo is
one of the worlds largest deposits hosting an indicated
mineral resource of 84.04m tonnes grading 6.36% carbon (C) and
an inferred resource grading 6.29% C of crystalline flake
The company released a Preliminary
Economic Assessment (PEA) study for Molo in February 2013,
which outlined in net present value at a 10% discount of $421m,
a 48% pre-tax IRR and a three-year payback period.
Despite already being a large
resource, Energizer believes Molo is also scalable. Mapping has
shown graphite mineralisation surrounding the project,
providing the company with an opportunity to increase graphite
The company will first focus on an
area which is 2km strike length within the shear zone, at 50-60
metres wide to the north, expanding outwards to more than 500
metres in width and back down to a width of approximately 250
to 350 metres.
Based on drill and trench data
received to date, as well as mapping, prospecting, and
geophysical surveying, graphite mineralisation is confirmed at
surface and over an area of at least 250,000m2 and
drilling has confirmed that the mineralisation is open at depth
in excess of 300 metres.
In February this year, the company
released results from a pilot plant operation at Molo, where
results of 15 size fraction analyses showed large and
extra-large (or jumbo) flake graphite at a mass of 43.5%.
The average grade of the
extra-large flake (+48 mesh) was 97.7% C, while the large flake
samples (+80 mesh) graded 97.4% C.
Medium flake graphite samples,
greater than 200 mesh, were 96.7% C. The average total carbon
content of 12 pilot plant surveys was 93.7% C at an average
carbon recovery of 90.3%.
Owing to the high grade material at
Molo, Energizer is targeting Li-ion battery market.
Mapping Molo with drones
The graphite content at Molo is at
surface, making extraction easier than at some other deposits,
which require the removal of overburden or even underground
This surface material is evident as
soon as you enter the Molo area, as termite hills that are most
often orange/red in colour across southern Madagascar, turn to
grey/black as you drive into Green Giant.
Once inside the Molo boundaries,
loose graphite material is everywhere. On the outskirts, by
simply hitting the rocks with a hammer you are able to uncover
medium flake material, while doing this further into the
deposit uncovers much larger flakes.
Having so much of the material at
surface also makes it easier for the company to map the size of
the deposit. Energizer is using drones (or unmanned
aeronautical vehicles) to conduct this mapping. The drones,
which use photogrammetric survey technology, are wirelessly
linked up to a laptop in the back of the truck. The two drones
are then loaded with a specified flight plan, and sent up into
the air to begin mapping the area, sending photos at a
resolution of 5cm back to base.
This data can then be incorporated
into mine design planning, and to assess social and
environmental impacts in the area.
To see this kind of modern
geological mapping in action is an experience in itself.
Company president and COO, Craig Scherba, was able to activate
them by simply shaking them three times and then throwing them
up in the air. Once up and running, they are all but
In terms of processing, Energizer
has found that graphite flakes are relatively easy to extract
from the ore. Testing has confirmed that the more desirable
extra-large flake graphite (averaging 93% purity) can easily be
extracted by crushing the ore, while a simple crushing and
processing circuit would enable production of a +50 mesh flake
grading 93% C.
While Energizer has what is an
unmistakably valuable resource at Molo, the Green Giant project
has not been without its challenges. One of the main
considerations for any mining project is of course modern
infrastructure - something that has to be created in the
outback of southern Madagascar for such a major operation.
The high grade graphite in Molo is
located around five hours drive from the closest port -
the Port of Tulear - and the majority of roads in that area are
The original transportation
corridor the company was intending to use lies to the west of
Energizers camp and reaches either the Port of Tulear or
a future deep water port called Soalara.
However, while IM
was out in Madagascar, Energizer was informed that the
government of Madagascar has awarded a contract to pave the
RN13 road to a Malagasy construction company.
RN13 is a north-south road
extending from the Port of Fort Dauphin to the paved road that
connects Tulear to the countrys capital, Antananarivo.
This road passes within 30km of the Molo project and work is
scheduled for completion by the end of 2014.
This is big news for Energizer, as
the new road will provide the company with an alternative that
is potentially more viable that travelling to Tulear. It will
not only reduce transportation time, and consequently operating
costs, the new road will also provide direct access to the Fort
Dauphin Port (formerly Port dEhola), which is a
modernised facility constructed by the World Bank and QMM in
It also shows how central new
mining projects are to the Madagascan economy.
While IM was on
the ground in Madagascar it learned not only about the work at
Energizers Molo, but also the workforce. The company has
several expats working in the office in camp and on site but
also employs a local labour force.
Until recently, Malagasy locals
were largely unskilled in relation to the mining industry,
which was why Energizer brought in expats, mainly from South
Africa, to work on the Green Giant project. However, with the
development of Sherritts Ambatovy, and Rio Tintos
QMM mineral sand mines, Madagascar has developed a skilled
mining-related labour force.
Additionally, the development of
these projects has provided much needed foreign investment to
Madagascar. As such, the government of Madagascar is very
supportive of the growing mining industry.
During 2014, Energizer plans to
deliver its feasibility study, outlining a practical plan to
support the next phase of targets in mine construction, by the
final quarter of 2014.
IM was also told
to keep its ear to the ground as Energizer gears up to
announcing potential strategic partners and off-take
Several parties have received bulk
samples from the pilot plant already, and results are expected
in the near future.
Over the last 18 months, exploration work in graphite has
been minimal as funding became hard to come by. Energizer used
this downtime to progress Molo to the level it is at today.
From IMs visit to Madagascar, it looks
like this momentum will continue throughout this year.