Difficult times generate new initiatives and new
opportunities, was the message delivered by Professor Alexander
Antonov, doctor of geology and president of Industrial Services
Worldwide LP, at the inaugural MINEX European Mining and
Exploration Forum in Vienna, Austria, in November.
Innovation in hard times was a theme that pervaded the
event, as industry participants sought to pinpoint the
positives in an industry weighed down by low commodity prices
and global economic stagnation.
Antonov spoke of possibilities offered by new technologies
in Europe’s oldest mining provinces in the central
and southeastern parts of the continent – the Harz,
Erzgebirge and Pribram geological areas – for the
mining of lead, zinc, gold, copper, tin, uranium, tungsten and
Erzgebirge is host to the Cinovec lithium-tin-tungsten
deposit on the Czech-German border, with exploration rights
owned by ASX-listed European Metal Holdings Ltd (EMH).
The site has an inferred lithium resource of 5.5m tonnes
lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) – 514.8m tonnes at
0.43% lithium oxide (Li2O) (0.1% lithium cut off)
– and an additional exploration target of 3.4m-5.3m
tonnes LCE – 350-450m tonnes at 0.39-0.47%
A soon-to-be formalised joint venture (JV) between EMH and
fellow ASX-listed Lithium Australia NL will see the site make
use of proprietary technology licenced to Lithium Australia for
the extraction of lithium from zinnwaldite – a lithium
The company said that a recent continuous test run in Perth,
processing lepidolite – another lithium mica
– from its Coolgardie mine in Western Australia (WA)
proved the process’s viability to extract lithium
carbonate from micas, which it has described as "the forgotten
Lithium Australia is now awaiting the conclusion of
EMH’s listing on London’s AIM
exchange before finalising JV plans and moving ahead with
process testing for Cinovec’s
"We have a sample from Cinovec sitting in Perth, ready to be
processed pending EMH’s listing," Barry Woodhouse,
Lithium Australia’s CFO, told
Lithium Australia has three licenses for the use of the
technology: one giving it sole use over the technology in WA
for 25 years, plus two floating licenses for use at any site
globally. It intends to use one of these at the Cinovec deposit
and is currently seeking further European opportunities to make
use of the third.
"We are looking for deposits that have been marred for a
number of years," Woodhouse said, "where other people see
waste, we see feedstock."
The nature of the technology allows for the production of
battery grade lithium carbonate from materials that would
otherwise be considered waste products, reducing both capital
cost and energy footprint, and giving it a predicted production
cost of around $1,800/tonne LCE, significantly lower than
current brine extraction methods. It also produces potassium
sulphate and aluminium hydroxide as by-products that can be
sold on the market in their own right.
"Europe is open for mining and communities are looking for
funding and jobs," Woodhouse said.
Delegates at the forum heard from a
number of industry
experts, optimistic about the future of mining on the
in spite of current
Optimism for new mining opportunities extends throughout
In Serbia, an overhauled mining code, a competitive tax
system, a pro-industry government and EU membership by 2020
were among the elements touted in favour of investment in the
country, where mining currently accounts for just 1.4-2% of
Serbia hosts 2,000 metallic and 2,500 industrial mineral
deposits and mineral occurrences, Dragan Milosevic, managing
director of consultancy Serbia Mining, told
Global mining giant Rio Tinto Plc is moving to the next
stage of its Jadar borates and lithium project in western
Serbia, Milosevic told IM. The company hopes
to extract the two products from the rock jadarite, a mineral
unique to the region, which holds the same chemical formula as
Rio has declared an inferred resource of 125.3m tonnes with
a weighted average Li2O concentration of 1.8% and
16.2m tonnes boron trioxide (B2O3) for
the deposit’s lower zone.
It has invested €65m ($69.2m*) into the project to date
and is currently in the process of appointing consultants to
carry out a pre-feasibility study (PFS) for the site from a
list of around eight candidates, Milosevic said. The 18-month
PFS is scheduled to begin in 2016.
Elsewhere in Serbia, major industrial minerals producers
include Omya Vencac, a subsidiary of Swiss group, Omya AG,
which produces calcium carbonate at Arandjelovac in the central
part of the country; Germany’s Quartzwerke GmbH
has clay and quartz operations in eastern Serbia; and
Belgium’s Carmeuse SA produces lime in the
Tungsten mining in Austria and copper and gold mining in
Macedonia were also discussed at the Minex meeting.
Some delegates bemoaned EU environmental restrictions.
"Today, there seems to be a whole industry in not permitting
mines," said one visibly frustrated market participant.
However, EU initiatives to encourage exploration were also
brought centre stage.
Dr Marcin Sadowski, head of the raw materials sector of the
European Commission’s (EC) Executive Agency for
Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (EAMSE), said that the
EU’s Horizon 2020 programme would dedicate around
€3bn in funding research and innovation in climate action,
resource efficiency and raw materials between 2014 and
"Europe is coming back to thinking that production,
specifically mining, is important," he said.
Dr Wolfgang Reiner, managing director of German raw
materials consultancy, Geokompetenzzentrum Freiburg, said that
further measures must be undertaken to address the
deindustrialisation of the continent, while Dr Andreas
Benkitsch, CFO of EIT Raw materials, spoke of his
organisation’s efforts to "bridge the valley of
death" between innovative ideas and the marketplace.
Meanwhile, efforts are also being made to compile geological
data in one place.
Juha Kaija, of the Finnish Geological Survey, introduced
Minerals 4EU, the EU’s intelligence network
structure for minerals.
Part of the European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials
(EIPRM), Minerals 4EU aims to create a platform aggregating the
data of various national geological surveys in order to enhance
resource efficiency and minerals supply security across the
But alongside the various EU ventures, something essential
to pushing forward support for mining in Europe is the removal
of the disconnect between upstream producers and the end user,
Benkitsch said, noting that popular support requires a more
complete understanding of the importance of raw materials in
"My kids think electricity comes from plugs, tomatoes from
the supermarket and cars from car dealerships," said