Tungsten in Tasmania

While Australia recovers from the massive readjustment suffered following the boom, not all states and territories strengthened their mining industries at the same speed.

In this year’s annual Fraser Institute survey, a global survey which ranks 109 mining regions around the world, Tasmania ranked as one of Australia’s top regions, and the 30th best place in which to mine globally.

The state was one of the best Australian performers in terms of improvement, and much of this is being driven by innovative juniors on the island.

One junior in particular is pushing Tasmania’s mining industry forwards, by looking backwards.

Elementos Resources is looking to the previously successful Aberfoyle mine, which operated in Tasmania’s northwest for 18 years, dubbing the new operation the Cleveland project.

According to the miner it has grades of 0.8 per cent tin, and 3 to 3.35 per cent copper, and a large tungsten lode.

It has even exited its other assets to focus fully on the polymetallic deposit, with CEO Tim McManus stating, “Our primary focus remains on the staged development of our Cleveland tin, copper, and tungsten project in northwest Tasmania and getting to positive cash flow in the shortest time possible.”

Speaking to McManus, he explained to Australian Mining the urgency behind the company’s move, pointing to the massive tin deposit still available, the untouched tungsten lode, and the ease of access to these metals.

“There’s been a lot of development already done, there’s 11 kilometres of development, the portal is already done; all we realistically have to do is dewater the pit.

“The main focus will be the tungsten porphyry deposit.”

He went on to outline its prospectiveness.

“Wolf Minerals’ Hermerdon tungsten and tin project (in the UK’s south) has grades of 0.18 per cent, and that is considered a great resource; our drilling has uncovered 160 to 170 metres at 0.3 per cent.

The untouched tungsten is almost accessible from existing declines
The untouched tungsten is almost accessible from existing declines

“The only development needed to access this tungsten is a 100 metre drive from the existing decline.”

Getting the project up and running is not a concern for McManus, who stated Aberfoyle was one of the first mechanised mines in Australia, adding that the location could hardly be better.

“We have two power lines running across the project, a sealed drive way into the site, and a local workforce,” he said.

This existing power supply also supplies Grange Resources’ nearby Savage River iron ore mine.

It also located with clear access to ports at Burnie, less than 60 kilometres to the north.

“It ticks a lot of boxes.”

This local workforce will play a major role in getting the mine running once more, McManus stating, “We have a great community engagement program, and plan to only hire locally from Waratah and the surrounding regions.”

But it is not just community engagement where Elementos is gaining ground; the miner is also making strides in terms of technology.

Elementos has partnered with Australian geophysical services company Geo9 to conduct a world-first mapping system trial at its Cleveland mine.

“There have been small attempts to map the area, we’ve done more than 2000 drill holes, and there are around 80 old drill holes, as well as information in the state’s core library.”

The system will be used to generate high resolution 3D maps of the site’s ore bodies at depth, enabling more efficient selections of follow up drill targets and resource development zones.

Geo9’s mapping system is the first application of modern geophysics techniques at the site, McManus stating that it is virgin ground but still very well drilled in terms of historical data.

It is hoped to identify potential tin-copper extensions along strike and at depth, the potential size of tungsten porphyry systems to depth and possible extensions to surface, and to determine other resource opportunities containing high grade lead-zinc-silver on surface.

Geophysical techniques use non-invasive technology to measure the type of physical characteristics underground.

Geo9 uses electro-seismic methods for groundwater exploration, a process which converts seismic energy to electromagnetic energy. They also use a resistivity survey which directs a current on the ground’s surface and measures how strongly the rock underneath opposes it. This allows them to determine geological faults, boundaries and fracture zones.

Geo9 have previously applied their mapping system to energy exploration, groundwater, dam seepage, liquid solution contamination, and geotechnical applications.

This is the first time it has been used in mineral exploration.

Before Elementos starts full operations on the site it will begin by reprocessing the tailings next year, with pre-feasibility work already carried out, after planned approvals are received later this year and in early 2017.

The tailings and open pit phases of the project consist of tin and copper.

“The tailings will help us [get started], an open pit is the next step,” McManus said.

“Around 95 per cent of it is indicated resource.”

From there the miner will continue on to the last stage, underground mining at Cleveland, focusing on tin, copper, and the untouched tungsten bismuth lode, for which it has already carried out a scoping study.

However, McManus added that the size of the lode may encourage the miner to operate it as an open pit tungsten operation, differentiating it from other players in the field.

“We have a really low cost, long term operation, with plans to mine out around 50 million tonnes.

“What sets us apart from the others is our tungsten and tin which is a very strategic resource, and very scarce, and with the state of the site and infrastructure, we will be a low cost producer.”

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