As various clean energy initiatives begin to take shape across the world, the supply of industrial metals that will power this global energy transition has increasingly become a concern.
“There’s no way enough mines can be built on time to meet net zero energy transition targets on the timelines policymakers have promised” — this was one of the main takeaways from the Association of Mineral Exploration (AME) Roundup conference held in Vancouver earlier this year.
A report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) showed that literally hundreds of new mines must be built to meet the projected needs by 2030. This, based on IEA calculations, equates to a 10x increase over the current critical minerals supply chain.
BloombergNEF estimates that getting to net zero could require almost $10 trillion worth of metals between now and 2050.
Amongst all the key metals needed, nickel is facing the largest absolute demand increase as high-nickel chemistries are the current dominant cathode for EVs and are expected to remain so, the IEA report found.
As many as 60 new nickel mines would be needed by 2030 to meet global net carbon emissions goals, the IEA estimates. BHP, the world’s biggest miner, expects global demand for nickel to grow as much as fourfold over the next 30 years as electric vehicles almost entirely replace traditional cars.
All this means is that mining companies must up their exploration efforts to locate nickel-mineralized systems large enough to support the industry’s next mines. Only then, the energy transition goals could be more realistic.
District-Scale Project in Quebec
Finding a large-scale battery minerals system is never easy, as a matter of fact it’s akin to finding a needle in a haystack, but the chances of it happening get significantly higher when exploration drilling leads to mineralization within a matter of days. This is what Canadian junior miner Renforth Resources (CSE:RFR, OTCQB:RFHRF, FSE:9RR) has done at its Surimeau district property in Quebec.
Having recently started drilling at Surimeau, which is a still relatively underexplored project with 29 kilometers of surface polymetallic mineralization already defined, the company is now able to confirm that critical minerals zinc, copper and nickel are also visible within the ultramafics and graphitic mudstones much farther away than it had previously explored.
The ongoing drill program is taking place on the property’s western border, about 4 km west of the previous drilling on the Victoria structure. This 20-kilometre structure — one of two battery metals systems with open-pit potential — crosses the center of Surimeau, and is where Renforth first began its work on the property.
The initial results of drilling are “quite exciting,” as Renforth president and CEO Nicole Brewster puts it, because the company is simply getting the results it expected, based upon the first-ever prospecting in this area and the demonstrated accuracy of geophysics and their interpretation.
Large Mineralized System Unfolding
The visible mineralization at the western end of Surimeau is quite significant, as we could be witnessing a large battery metals system unfolding around Victoria.
From what we know so far, the 20 km Victoria trend primarily consists of mafic and ultramafics flows intercalated with graphitic mudstones, albite shears and calc-silicate rocks.
The mafics are a dark green picrite with numerous quartz-albite and quartz-carbonate veinlets and stringers; these display extrusion textures like pillows and are unmineralized.
The ultramafics and calc-silicates host most of the higher-grade nickel and cobalt mineralization within the structures, while the graphitic mudstones and albite shear host most of the higher-grade zinc and copper mineralization as sphalerite and chalcopyrite respectively.
An airborne electromagnetic (EM)/magnetic (mag) survey by Renforth interpreted the western end of Victoria as showing an interesting curvature, possibly representing folding which may have resulted in mineralized fluid entrapment.
Surface sampling has identified mineralization within ultramafic rocks, with bands of calc-silicates typical of the Victoria system. Except for Renforth’s prospecting, the area of curvature has not been previously explored or drilled.
Renforth CEO Nicole Brewster previously said the drilling under surface mineralization, known as undercutting, represents “a huge 4 km step out on strike” from where the company last drilled.
“That is exciting, as, while we have been talking about a mineralized structure that is approximately 20 km long, which we see in our mag survey, and which has measured EM anomalies along its entire length, and which we have surface sampled all along, there are some people who will not take this seriously until it is drilled,” she emphasized.
Until recently, Renforth’s drilling has only focused within the main mineralized system at Victoria and to the north, where the similar Lalonde mineralized system (~9 km) is hosted (see map below).
In December 2022, the company drilled four holes at Victoria with 1,113m, for a total of 6741.7m to date, over a strike length of 2.2 km of the 20 km total. These drill holes were designed to intersect a geophysical anomaly that the company was unaware of until the interpretation of its high-resolution mag and EM survey was completed.
That interpretation led to the identification of 18 discrete conductive anomalies within the first ~100m of depth measured by the survey, one of which was located in the central Victoria area, while the other three were drilled at Victoria to test for mineralization north of the main system in the area of the stripping at Victoria, as prospecting and geophysics suggested there was a secondary horizon.
This hypothesis was eventually proven correct, as each hole drilled in that program intersected the mineralized system at Victoria. Notably, the three holes drilled to test for the northern band of mineralization were not only successful, but also led to the interpretation that the northern band of mineralization has actually split to form two bands, making three horizons/bands.
While nickel grades up to 1,500 ppm were seen in all three trends, to date, grades above 2,000 ppm have not been seen in samples more than 200 meters north of the southern-most trend, though Renforth believes further drilling may change this.
Coming back to the current drilling, the fact that visual mineralization has been encountered, this quickly, in an untested area as far as 4 km to the west of previous drilling occurred is very encouraging.
“We are having success in an area which has never been drilled before, in a very underexplored part of one of Canada’s most established and successful mining camps. Proving the extent of the Victoria mineralization west of the road and powerline, beyond any doubt with a drill bit, is a wonderful achievement,” Brewster stated in a March 29 news release, adding that there are still two more holes to go in this program.
Once the drilling is completed, Renforth will assay numerous samples and analyze that information, releasing results as they are available, which would help to continue establishing the extent of the battery metals mineralization at Surimeau.
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