VANCOUVER (miningweekly.com) – A surface sampling programme focused on an area of overlapping interest of the Salinas Grandes project, in Argentina – a joint venture (JV) property owned by Toronto-based LSC Lithium and Vancouver-based Dajin Resources – has extended the lithium footprint and confirmed the high-grade nature of the deposit.
"This sampling programme, focused on the 550 ha of salar surface on the LSC/Dajin JV, extends the company's lithium mineralised footprint to the east of the current limit and establishes the high-grade nature of the salar in the Salta section, which can be expected to continue as one moves to the north east through the Jujuy section of the salar," LSC president and CEO Ian Stalker said in a news release on Wednesday.
According to LSC, which is conducting the exploration work on behalf of the JV, lithium concentrations range from 281 mg/ℓ lithium (Li), to 1 353 mg/ℓ Li, averaging 591 mg/ℓ Li. Of the 25 shallow pit samples taken, 60% of them have returned grades higher than 500 mg/ℓ Li and 8% in excess of 1 000 mg/ℓ Li. The peak value returned for this section of the sampling was 1 353 mg/ℓ Li.
This successful sampling programme will be followed up with geophysical surveys to generate a subsurface target and drilling will follow later this year.
Dajin has formed a strategic partnership with LSC over 93 000 ha of land held by Dajin in Jujuy province. The strategic alliance also provides Dajin access to a partnership agreement between LSC and Enirgi Group to access Enirgi's cutting edge Direct Xtraction Process (DXP) technology for lithium brines. A demonstration plant using the DXP technology was opened in June 2017, at Salar del Rincon, in Argentina.
DAJIN'S NEVADA FOCUS
Dajin COO and director Dr Catherine Hickson tells Mining Weekly Online that while LSC is making positive exploration progress in Argentina, it provides the company with the opportunity to focus its resources on moving its lithium assets in North America's lithium hub, Nevada, further along the value curve by conducting a drill campaign on Teels Marsh this year.
The company holds a 100% interest in 403 placer claims totalling 3 202 ha located on a desert playa known as Teels Marsh, in Mineral County, Nevada. This is a potential brine-based lithium target. Exploration activities since early 2015 have included a gravity survey, a nine-hole Geoprobe survey, a structural analysis and a seismic survey carried out during May/June 2016.
The company also holds 278 placer claims totalling 2 262 ha in Alkali Lake, in Esmeralda County of Nevada, just 11 km from Albemarle's Silver Peak lithium brine mine – North America's only producing brine-based lithium mine.
The lithium market is experiencing compelling long-term fundamentals as lithium-ion battery production capacity is expanding at unprecedented rates. The capacity of lithium-ion battery plants is expected to triple by 2020, to mainly provide the energy storage required as the world embraces electric vehicles (EVs), which require significant amounts of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE) to produce each vehicle.
The current LCE market is estimated at just under 200 000 t/y, and is expected to grow exponentially through to 2025 as its use in battery manufacturing grows at a compounded annual growth rate of 24.6% between 2015 and 2025, Hickson points out.
According to analyst Kirill Klip the world will have to produce 100-million tonnes of LCE by 2050 and to reach the International Energy Agency's goal of 600-million EVs of all types by 2040, the world will have to produce 36-million tonnes of LCE.
This is where Dajin intends to make the difference, with its Nevada projects holding surface brines, which are historically cheaper to produce as opposed to hard-rock lithium sources found in places such as Australia.
Critically, Hickson points out, Dajin has secured the water rights for the Teels Marsh project, something which is exceptionally hard to come by in this arid region of Nevada, while the large footprint of its two assets provides no competition will take place because of the activities of neighbouring claim holders. Water rights are in process at Alkali Lake Valley.
Hickson explained that land fragmentation in Nevada is a significant concern, and in places such as Clayton Valley, cooperation between multiple stakeholders will be necessary for successful development. To this end, geophysics has confirmed that Teels Marsh and Alkali Lake are located within their own structurally controlled basins and Dajin holds more than 95% of the playa surface, as well as the hypothetical subsurface reservoir, based on the completed geophysical surveys.
Dajin has secured the required permits to start drilling of the Teels Marsh project soon. The company is in the process of building roads and access to the target sites, and hopes to mobilise drill rigs during the next few weeks.
"Teels Marsh Valley has similar geology, greater depth and has identified near-surface lithium brines, very similar to that of the Clayton Valley, where Albemarle is operating the Silver Peak mine. But we're outside of the Clayton Valley, which is a very important differentiator for us," she explained.
Hickson pointed out to Mining Weekly Online that the company plans to drill four large-diameter wells that could, in the future, be easily and cost-effectively converted to production wells, should the test campaign prove satisfactory.
In a best-case scenario, she believes Dajin is about three to five years out from production, and she speculates that Dajin might even get into production at Teels Marsh first, before the Argentina assets come on line, owing to difficult permitting and regulatory processes in Argentina, that could yet trip-up development momentum at Salinas Grandes.
Dajin is preparing to submit a 'plan of operations' and all baseline surveys have been completed, including spring botany and birds classification, in preparation of the impending drill campaign at Teels Marsh.
"We only need to find a couple of 100 mg/ℓ at Teels Marsh to be in a position to deploy the DXP in Nevada. The project is extremely prospective, and lithium brine analysis has already returned 79 mg/ℓ at 3 m deep. We are very optimistic about finding higher grades at depth," she said.