Incorporated in 2016, BlackEarth Minerals NL (ASX: BEM) is an identifier, evaluator and acquirer of quality resource projects in the global markets. As a mineral exploration and development company, BEM primarily focuses on high-value graphite assets. The company’s strategy is centred around flake graphite, a component in Li-ion batteries and fire-retardant materials, with BEM intending to become a leading global graphite supplier.
Its primary graphite projects are Maniry and Ianapera, which are located in the world’s second largest island country, Madagascar. In these projects, BlackEarth Minerals owns a 100% stake in each. In the last 18 months since listing, BlackEarth has completed some key development tasks being:
- Resource and Exploration Target definition
- Definitive metallurgical testwork
- Advanced scoping study
- Product testing – expandable and battery (ongoing)
- Commenced off-take discussions (ongoing)
The Maniry Project, based on the scoping study is expected to complete the DFS in 2020 with construction expected to commence thereafter to take full financial advantage of what looks to be a graphite deficit expected to occur sometime around 2023/24.
A Step Forward at Maniry Project
On 12 August 2019, the company announced an update related to its activities on the Madagascar project, Maniry (project life – 10 years). BEM confirmed that spherical graphite from the Maniry project is consistent with the specifications required by the manufacturers of lithium-ion anode materials. The confirmation follows the testing on concentrate from the project by Dorfner ANZAPLAN (Germany).
Maniry Graphite Project Overview (Source: Company’s Report)
The German company is engaged in conducting a detailed program to test the Maniry concentrate to identify whether it is suitable for use as an anode material in lithium-ion batteries. The program involves determining optimum conditions for
- spheroidization of flake graphite concentrate
- Purification of spherical graphite, and
- Manufacturing of pouch cells and electrochemical characterisation
The program is likely to run for several months. Dorfner is performing the test work on concentrate that was generated during the first bulk sample pilot run, undertaken at ALS in Perth, Australia. The pilot run was concluded in the last month of the year, 2018.
The current testing was aimed at targeting the optimised conditions for manufacturing a spherical graphite product from a flake graphite flotation concentrate. The product is planned to be used in the battery industry. The recent testing on concentrate unveiled that the evaluated values for samples after optimisation are in the range of typical comparable products, according to an interim report submitted by Dorfner to the company. Moreover, Dorfner’s observation was supported by spherical graphite producers as well as anode material manufacturers based in China, in terms of positive feedback.
Under the testing, Dorfner achieved spherical graphite production yields of up to 52%, up from the industry average of 40%. Test product – BE S7 unveiled a tap density of 0.98 grams per cubic centimetres, while BE S8 and BE S9 had a tap density of 0.93 and 0.93 grams per cubic centimetres, respectively.
Figure below details the shape and roundness of the material, along with the specific surface area and particle size distribution. All these characteristics are the main elements that are required by the manufacturers of lithium-ion anode materials.
Spheroidization Results (Company’s Report)
Dorfner is moving ahead with its test work. Additionally, purification of spherical graphite involving the chemical, thermal and microwave assisted acid digestion processes is in progress. Following the completion of the purification process, Dorfner would begin the manufacturing of pouch cells as well as electrochemical characterisation work.
Expressing his excitement towards the development, BlackEarth Minerals Managing Director Tom Revy mentioned that the test results are a key milestone for the company as well as a significant step toward end-user qualification. According to Mr Revy, the results further demonstrate that the company is capable of meeting the spherical graphite specifications. These specifications are favourable for the company in executing offtake agreements. Additionally, the positive feedback from spherical graphite producers and anode material manufacturers in China and other end-users in the international market would help the company in its ongoing talks related to the agreements.
The company plans to target the Chinese market, as the Asian country is forecast to require a total of 40 million tonnes per annum of fire-retardant building materials on an annual basis. Of the total product, 5% is made up of graphite, representing 2 million tonnes of high-quality graphite, which is consumed by the construction industry in China every year.
The test results unveil the potential of the Maniry graphite project in delivering quality products, targeted towards the growing high-value graphite markets across the globe. The company intends to continue to advance the Maniry graphite project DFS over the coming months.
The test work follows the release of expandable graphite test results, which highlighted the suitability of the concentrate for the production of high value graphite foil and other related products from the Maniry project. NGS Trading and Consulting, which is an independent graphite specialist from Germany, had performed the testing, with the preliminary tests undertaken unveiling 400 cubic metres per gram of expansion volume, representing a significant increase from the industry benchmark rate of 250 cubic metres per gram. It also unveiled absence or very low content of CaCO3, thereby highlighting the suitability of the BEM flake graphite to use in several application including in the refractory industry.
The test results were announced by the company on 4 June 2019. The company had planned to use the results to aid its ongoing offtake discussions/agreements, in addition to funding, product development and general collaboration discussions, concerning the Maniry graphite project in southern Madagascar.
Additionally, the company obtained Madagascan Department of Mines’ (BCMM) support to fast track Maniry post a meeting with the Minister of Mines and Strategic Resources in June 2019.
With a market cap of AUD 6 million and approximately 85 million outstanding shares, BEM closed the day’s trading at AUD 0.071 on 13 August 2019.
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