When lithium prices headed upward, investors learned that Chile was pouring out tons of the metal at low costs. The Atacama salt flats became famous, and people assumed that reaping lithium from brines was easier than pulling it out of rock.
But it turns out that the Atacama desert is a rare situation. Most lithium brines are not that rich. Plus, three companies have a near monopoly in the Chilean salars, or brine lakes in the Atacama. The truth is that, although lithium brines occur in many places around the world, only highly concentrated brines actually produce lithium economically.
In contrast, hard rock lithium mines have numerous advantages. They do require more exploratory work; however, once the surveys and sampling are completed, hard rock pegmatite deposits are faster to mine and production is more reliable.
QMC Quantum Minerals has already invested two years in the exploration and proving of its Irgon Lithium project. A typical hard rock project takes three to five years for such work, but QMC has an advantage. Our property was roughly delineated when we acquired it—we knew exactly where to start looking. Also, a road into the mine, and a mineshaft were already built for us. We are now at the final stage. The next round of surveys will help us file the current NI 43-01 before starting to mine.
The local geology around the Irgon Mine is supportive. Irgon Dike lies in the Winnipeg River Pegmatite Field. The entire area is prime lithium-hunting country because it is rich in a mineral called spodumene. Chemically, spodumene is lithium aluminium inosilicate, LiAl(Si2O6).
Spodumene can vary from a dull grey to green, pink or white mineral to crystalline versions used as gemstones called hiddenite and kunzite. When spodumene mineralization occurs in long, linear, granitic intrusions, called pegmatites, the lithium content can be rich enough to make mining profitable. The crystals in pegmatites tend to be much larger than in surrounding areas, simplifying the process of producing a viable, saleable lithium concentrate
In fact, there is still a lot of data to assess, but our surveys in the past year have uncovered additional spodumene-bearing pegmatites on our Irgon property, as we expected.
QMC Quantum Minerals is proud to be a hard rock mining company, and we think hard rock mines offer lithium investors several advantages:
- Faster processing — up to three years for brines versus days for hard rock
- Higher quality — even “good” brines tend to have much lower lithium content than spodumene pegmatites like QMC’s Irgon Dike.
- Better consistency — with brines, the same evaporation pond, processing the same salty water will produce different qualities of lithium in different evaporation cycles. Pegmatite (hard rock) ores are stable and recovery rates are predictable.
- Comparable costs — processing the pegmatite ore on site can lower production costs as much as 55%, making hard rock lithium competitive with the cheapest Chilean and Chinese brine producers.
- Technical expertise easier to find — Hard rock mining means that QMC can easily tap the technical expertise needed to make its project successful. The technology is well understood. This is a distinct advantage because a lack of technical knowhow has been a problem in many of the failures by companies attempting to produce lithium from brines.
- Location advantages — QMC’s Irgon Mine only 150 km (93 miles) from Winnipeg. Provincial Highway 314 transects the property and rail transportation is nearby. These advantages drastically cut transportation cost and give us access to a trained labour force.