By Greg Klein
On completing its December 2010 IPO of $9.9 million, Zenyatta Ventures (TSXV:ZEN)began 2011 with big ambitions. The company set out to explore its Albany Project in northern Ontario, which may sit on a structure related to the Mid-Continent Rift, home of a number of significant deposits around Lake Superior. Zenyatta hoped for a nickel-copper-polymetallic deposit comparable to the Norilsk Nickel mine in Siberia, Vale‘s Voisey’s Bay operation in Labrador or Rio Tinto‘s Eagle deposit in Michigan. So far, that goal has proved elusive. But what the Albany Project (aka Arc of Fire) drill results do show, says President/CEO Aubrey Eveleigh, might be equally compelling — the possibility of an exceptionally large deposit containing the exceptionally unusual occurrence of vein-type graphite.
Vein (or lump) graphite is the rarest, hence most expensive, type of natural graphite. At the other end of the scale, amorphous graphite is the type most commonly found and is widely used for steelmaking, auto parts, sports equipment and other applications. Flake graphite is essential to the emerging markets that include solar panels, fuel cells, pebble-bed nuclear reactors and the lithium-ion batteries that are becoming standard for electronic devices and electric vehicles. But little is spoken of vein graphite — likely because there’s so little to speak of.
Currently the world’s supply depends on Sri Lanka, whose mines contain exceptionally pure graphite, often grading over 90%. The product transmits heat and electricity more efficiently than other graphite types and is easier to mould. As a result, it’s in high demand for specialized uses such as the electric brushes used in motors and generators and in powder metallurgy used to manufacture parts for industries that include the automotive, aerospace, energy and medical/dental sectors.
So how did Zenyatta’s aspirations turn from a Voisey’s Bay to a Sri Lankan-type target? “We flew our property with an airborne survey and got a very large conductor that measures 1,400 metres by 800 metres,” explains Eveleigh. “That’s a whopping conductor. We thought it was copper-and-nickel massive sulphides. It’s covered with swamp so we had to drill blindly. But we started to get this graphite-rich breccia zone. Basically, from top to bottom we were getting all this graphite. So it’s pretty large and pretty unique because it’s a hydrothermal graphite deposit unlike what anybody is promoting in North America right now. There is one in Sri Lanka that’s similar to it, and that’s a vein-type graphite.”
Results announced January 19 from one hole show eight separate breccia zones, the first starting at 79.8 metres and the last ending at 522 metres. The following assays were released.
- 4.6% carbon over 9.9 metres
- 4.2% over 67.5 metres
- 3.3% over 7.9 metres
- 2.5% over 48.2 metres
- 3% over 26.4 metres
- 4.2% over 5.5 metres
- 2.1% over 7.5 metres
- 3% over 16 metres
A mineralogical study at Lakehead University found graphite ranging from fine (-270 mesh) to coarse (+40 mesh). The next step is bench-scale testing to better determine the deposit’s purity, flake-size distribution and recoverability. Results from SGS Canada are expected within two to four months.
“This could be exceptional; it could be very valuable; and certainly the market is bullish on graphite right now,” says Eveleigh.
Meanwhile, drilling will resume presently. “We need to determine the size of it. If we judge by the airborne conductor, it looks pretty big, but you still have to prove that. So we’re stepping out quite a ways, like 200-metre step-outs. If it’s still there, we can extrapolate in between and say this looks like a pretty big deposit. If it’s as big as the conductor suggests, it will be one of the biggest graphite deposits in the world.”
About 4,000 metres of drilling is planned. And the company’s still looking for that big nickel-copper find in its 121,000-hectare Albany Project. “We have 28 different claim blocks,” Eveleigh points out. “We found the graphite on one block and we’re advancing that, but we’re also exploring the other 27 blocks.”
The graphite deposit has “good access and good infrastructure,” he adds. It sits four kilometres from an all-weather logging road, 30 from the Trans-Canada Highway and 70 from a rail line.
As a geologist, Eveleigh’s career began with Noranda and includes a seven-year stint as a partner in a consulting firm that worked for around 50 juniors and majors. He also held a highly successful position with Wolfden Resources and is currently president of Eveleigh Geological Consulting, which has provided expertise for companies including Rio Tinto, Goldcorp (TSX:G), Agnico-Eagle (TSX:AEM), Diavik Diamond Mines andBHP Billiton.
Zenyatta’s team includes Barry Allan, an exploration geologist turned Senior Mining Analyst for Mackie Research Capital, and Cliff Davis, who boasts over 40 years’ experience in open-pit and underground mining. Brian Davey, a member of the Moose Cree First Nation, has 28 years’ experience in issues mostly related to First Nations economic development. Some other management and advisory staff include Don Bubar, president of Avalon Rare Metals (TSX:AVL) and Roland Butler, co-founder of Altius Minerals (TSX:ALS), which holds a 10% interest in a 3% Voisey’s Bay net smelter royalty.
The company has an 80% earn-in option with Cliffs Natural Resources (CLF), which calls for $10 million of spending over four years. Zenyatta has already earned 25% by completing its airborne survey. Cliffs holds 11.8% of Zenyatta’s shares.
“Cliffs also helps with technical support, so we’re moving this along together,” Eveleigh says. “They obviously like these projects, and they’re very supportive of us.”
Insiders hold 23.5% of Zenyatta shares while another 35% is institutional. At press time Zenyatta had 39.6 million shares trading at $0.15 for a market cap of $5.9 million.
Eveleigh will make a presentation at OnPage Media’s May 2 Graphite Express-Conference at Toronto’s Sheraton Hotel. Click here for free registration.
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