TORONTO (miningweekly.com) – Outspoken financier and mining guru Robert Friedland is poised to make history in South Africa, as he envisions the creation of a ‘Platinum Valley’ in the platinum-rich Limpopo province that would be as synonymous with hydrogen fuel cell manufacturing, as California’s Silicon Valley is with technology.
Addressing the Canada-Southern Africa Chamber of Business on Thursday evening, Friedland said the rise of megacities around the globe would drive metals demand up, not only for infrastructure, but also in achieving cleaner air, especially within the automobile industry.
Friedland, who is also the executive chairperson of Africa-focused project developer Ivanhoe Mines, until recently known as Ivanplats, said the rise of the hydrogen fuel cell-powered car is about to change the global platinum landscape forever.
He said he had it on good authority that Japan-based automaker Toyota will launch the world's first commercially available hydrogen fuel cell-powered cars in November, which, according to him, would be a game changer for South Africa.
Friedland pointed to the intensifying global trend of urbanisation as being the critical driver behind the impending switch to hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles, adding that South Africa has an unprecedented opportunity to capitalise on beneficiating the platinum it produces, to serve the new markets.
“With Japan being on board, we stand on the verge of something serious. This constitutes a new and fundamental use for platinum, which bodes incredibly well for South Africa, owing to it supplying about 79% of the world’s platinum,” he said.
A stack of fuel cells for one automobile in general contains about 30 g of platinum, about eight to ten times the amount currently used in catalytic converters on conventional internal combustion-powered automobiles.
Countries around the globe, especially in the East, were also increasingly keen to tighten legislation to remove sulphur from fuel, opening up the auto market to the increased use of catalytic converters, which rely on platinum-group metals to clean emissions.
Other technologies, such as the escalating implementation of superfast magnetic-levitation trains, especially in Japan, would also need significant quantities of the white metal.
Friedland (62), made a name in 1996 by selling a then-undeveloped Canadian nickel/copper project called Voisey's Bay for C$4.3-billion.
He solidified his near-legendary status within the mining industry with Ivanhoe Mines, a vehicle he used to promote and build the goliath Oyu Tolgoi copper/gold mine in Mongolia. Last year, mining giant Rio Tinto acquired a majority interest in Ivanhoe, which is now called Turquoise Hill Resources.
That deal allowed Friedland to concentrate on Ivanplats, taking it public in 2012 in one of the most closely followed initial public offerings of the year. The partial offering raised about C$300-million.
Friedland's company owns South Africa's Platreef project, which is rich in platinum, palladium, gold, rhodium, nickel and copper.
At a 2 g/t cutoff grade for gold, platinum, rhodium and palladium (4E), the Flatreef deposit contained an estimated indicated resource of 214-million tonnes grading 4.1 g/t 4E, 0.34% nickel and 0.17% copper, containing about 28.5-million ounces of 4E, 1.61-billion pounds of nickel and 794-million pounds of copper.
At the same cutoff grade, the inferred resource totalled 415-million tonnes grading 3.5 g/t 4E, 0.33% nickel and 0.16% copper, containing about 47.2-million ounces 4E, three-billion pounds of nickel and 1.5-billion pounds of copper.
However, at a higher cutoff grade of 3 g/t 4E, Flatreef was estimated to contain indicated resources totalling 137-million tonnes grading 5.09 g/t 4E, 0.38% nickel and 0.19% copper, containing an estimated 22.4-million ounces of 4E, 1.13-billion pounds of nickel and 558-million pounds of copper.
At the same cutoff grade, the inferred resources totalled 211-million tonnes grading 4.6 g/t 4E, 0.38% nickel and 0.18% copper, containing about 31.4-million ounces of 4E, 1.76-billion pounds of nickel and 855-million pounds of copper.
The Flatreef deposit averaged 24 m in true thickness at a 2 g/t cutoff grade for 4E and was potentially amenable to large-scale mechanised underground mining.
The thick Flatreef mineralisation remains open, with about 37.5 km2 of the property untested.
Friedland said Platreef constituted the largest mechanisable, ethical precious metal discovery in the world, and that the geological nature of the deposit would allow for more humane working conditions than those in rival South African mines.
TSX-listed Ivanhoe Mines was in September given permission to sink a bulk-sample shaft at its Flatreef discovery at the Platreef project, in South Africa’s Bushveld Igneous Complex.
The Platreef project is 90%-owned by Ivanhoe Mines and 10%-owned by a Japanese consortium of Itochu Corporation; Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation and JGC Corporation.
The company expected to invest in total between C$1.5-billion and C$2-bilion in developing the Platreef.
To help facilitate change, Ivanhoe would also fund a research chair position, named after former South African President and world peace icon Nelson Mandela, in the School of Physical and Mineral Sciences at the University of Limpopo. Friedland envisioned collaborations between the University of Limpopo and Laurentian University, where the announcement was made on Wednesday, for training young miners.
Ivanhoe Mines is also developing the Kamoa copper/gold project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which could turn out to be one of the top three copper operations in the world. The company also owns the Kipushi zinc/copper/lead/germanium/precious metals project in that country.