Corriente Resources’ mining camp in Ecuador set on fire

The Esperanza camp, which is part of the San Carlos Panantza mining complex in Ecuador, was intentionally set on fire and destroyed this weekend, according to information made public by the Ministry of  Energy and Natural Non-Renewable Resources.

The copper project, located in the southeastern province of Morona Santiago, is operated by Explorcobres S.A.(EXSA), a subsidiary of Chinese-owned, Canada-based Corriente Resources.

According to the ministry, the arsonists also stole valuable objects from the camp.

San Carlos Panantza has seen its fair share of conflict since the early 2000s, as it is opposed by the Shuar First Nation, in whose ancestral territory the project sits

“We reject these acts of vandalism and the destruction of the property that belongs to the San Carlos Panantza mining project,” the department said in a statement. “We also reject the fact that the decree of state of emergency was violated.”

Two weeks ago, Ecuador declared a state of emergency to deal with the growing number of COVID-19 infections. As of Sunday, the country had registered 1,835 confirmed cases and 48 deaths.

Besides pointing out the fact that the vandals violated the mandatory curfew that goes from 2 p.m. to 5 a.m., the Ministry of Energy also insinuated that police didn’t do their job as they are mandated to guarantee the safety of mining operations.

“We demand that authorities investigate this incident so that those responsible for the fire can be held accountable,” the communiqué reads.

San Carlos Panantza is an advanced-stage project whose reserves have been estimated at 6.6 million tonnes of copper. The 41.760- hectare property is set to host an open-pit operation expected to be active for at least 25 years. 

Tiny electronics can still rely on gold

A research paper published in Physical Review Letters reveals that gold can stand up to the strain of the next-generation data processing in electronic devices.

The study was carried out because engineers were starting to worry about the possibility of the tiny gold wires that are used in electronics behaving more like a liquid than a solid as circuits shrink to the nanoscale. 

To run this experiment, the researchers figured out how to pressurize gold particles just 4 nanometers in length — the smallest particles ever measured

Thus, a research team at Stanford University, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and Trinity College conducted an experiment in which they used a device known as a diamond anvil cell, normally employed to compress gold. The idea was to put tiny gold particles under extreme pressure, while simultaneously measuring how much that pressure damaged gold’s atomic structure.

The anvil’s pressure dislodged some atoms from the crystal and created tiny defects in the gold. According to the study’s lead scientist, Wendy Gu, such a reaction was expected because a nanoparticle of gold is built like a skyscraper with atoms forming a crystalline lattice of neat rows and columns.

Since the gold particles were only four nanometers in length, to detect the defects Gu and her team shined X-rays through the diamond onto the gold. Defects in the crystal caused the X-rays to reflect at different angles than they would on uncompressed gold.

By measuring variations in the angles at which the X-rays bounced off the particles before and after pressure was applied, the team was able to tell whether the particles retained the deformations or reverted to their original state when pressure was lifted.

“The defects remain after pressure was removed, which told us that gold behaves like a solid even at such scales,” Gu said in a media statement. “For the foreseeable future, gold’s luster will not fade.” 

In summary, the findings mean that chipmakers can know with certainty that they’ll be able to design stable nanodevices using gold for years to come.

Germany wants to mass produce large-format lithium-ion cells

Researchers from Germany’s Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg, known by its initials ZSW, just launched the ZellkoBatt, a project aimed at optimizing large-format lithium-ion cells for automotive applications, while cutting the costs of components as well as manufacturing processes.

In a press release, the scientists said they will apply the results of their efforts to ZSW’s pilot production line, a research lab that has been up and running since 2014 under factory-like conditions. The resultant machines and processes will then be ramped up for mass manufacturing. 

 The German Ministry of Education and Research is funding the project with €12.7 million over two years

The idea is to build bridges between working prototypes and industrial mass manufacturing in domestic factories.

“Electric mobility is going to significantly change the automotive supplier industry,” Margret Wohlfahrt-Mehrens, who heads accumulator research at ZSW, said in a statement. “We have to do everything in our power to fast-track the development and production of battery systems to future-proof Germany as an auto-making nation.

With the ZellkoBatt project, we are extending our technological infrastructure to accelerate the transfer of innovative battery cells to industrial mass manufacturing.”

According to Wohlfahrt-Mehrens, the project should help the country move beyond pilot manufacturing lines and small production runs, establish manufacturing capacity and meet the growing demand for batteries, particularly taking into account that the government has set the goal of increasing the electric vehicle count to up to 10 million by 2030. 

Nova Scotia companies in need of feedstock to produce renewable fuel

Two Canadian companies are looking for sources of waste feedstock in Nova Scotia to produce transportation diesel, jet fuel and naphtha fuel.

Cielo Waste Solutions (CSE: CMC) and Renewable U Halifax put out a call for expressions of interest for their planned Joint Venture Renewable Fuel Facility that will be located in or within 150 kilometres of the provincial capital, Halifax.

Cielo uses a refining process referred to as Thermal Catalytic Depolymerization, which blends waste with a chemical catalyst and low heat to change the composition of the material, producing renewable transportation diesel, jet fuel and naphtha fuel

The idea is that companies and organizations that generate industrial, commercial and municipal waste in Nova Scotia submit their proposals so that they can provide the feedstock needed to put in motion Cielo’s facility. The plant is being engineered to convert eight tonnes of dried waste per hour into approximately 32.7 million litres a year of high-grade renewable fuel.

“We are very optimistic that this EOI for Nova Scotia will provide multiple feedstock sources and help us select the right location for our green waste-to-energy facility,” Don Allan, Cielo’s President and CEO, said in a media statement. “Our technology can convert multiple different waste streams into high-grade renewable fuel without having to sort the feedstock,” Don Allan, Cielo’s President and CEO, said in a media statement.

According to Allan, the company is in advanced discussions with an industry buyer who is interested in entering into a long-term agreement to purchase the fuel and who doesn’t need the producer to remove the sulfur from it. 

“Although reduced fuel prices will impact Cielo’s cash flow, it’s expected that Cielo’s highly efficient production costs will help insulate the company from current low fuel prices and allow for solid margins on the sale of product,” the executive said.

Sibanye-Stillwater refutes COVID-19 social media hoax

Sibanye-Stillwater (JSE: SGL) (NYSE: SBGL) refuted allegations spread out on social media, which stated that there was a confirmed case of COVID-19 at its Marikana platinum group metal mine in the North West province of South Africa.

In a media statement, the company called the allegations a “social media hoax” and emphasized that there have been no confirmed cases of novel coronavirus infections at its operations.

According to Sibanye-Stillwater, a screenshot of a breaking news story from a prominent South African news agency regarding a purported confirmed case of COVID-19 at Marikana was being shared on a number of social media platforms. The false information was also picked up by a broadcast channel without verification.

“We have prepared and implemented detailed measures to prevent infection among employees and restrict the spread of the COVID-19 virus”

Sibanye-Stillwater management

Once it was made aware of the situation, the miner reached out to the agency and confirmed that the information was fake. 

“This a malicious and disingenuous hoax and could potentially have far-reaching and damaging consequences for the company, the mining industry and the country,” the media brief states. “Sibanye-Stillwater views this in an extremely serious light and will pursue legal action when the source of the hoax is traced. The relevant regulatory authorities have also been informed and will no doubt pursue their own course of action.”

The Weltevreden Park-based firm urged stakeholders and the public to question any information from sources other than its official releases, the Minerals Council or the South African regulatory authorities.

In response to this situation, the Minerals Council South Africa also issued a communiqué condemning the false report and asking the media to avoid misrepresentations. 

“The Minerals Council recognises that the accessibility of information and transparency is critical in its efforts to prevent and contain the spread of COVID-19; to support the rapid detection and isolation of individuals who may have been affected, and to ensure that employees and their families have the understanding and support they need in this challenging time,” the release reads. “At the same time, it is important that other stakeholders, such as shareholders and the media, are equally well informed.”

Earlier this week, the group said the country’s mining industry is well-prepared to deal with the emergency as risk-management principles are being implemented and amended as the situation evolves. 

As of Sunday, South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases had confirmed a total of 240 cases of COVID-19 in the country.

Companies operating in Peru evacuate personnel from mine sites

Peru’s National Association of Mining, Petroleum and Energy -known in Spanish by its initials SNMPE- announced that most of its 60 member companies have evacuated 75% of their personnel from mining sites.

The measure followed the declaration of a state of emergency in the South American country amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. At the moment this story was written, Peru had confirmed over 300 novel coronavirus infections and was under a 15-day mandatory quarantine and an evening curfew.

Mining companies operating in Peru have been asked to send a daily report of activities to the Ministry of Energy and Mines

According to the Ministry of Energy and Mines, however, for safety reasons and to prevent disasters such as the overflowing of tailings ponds or the generation of acid drainage from concentrates, mining operations cannot be completely halted. Thus, the instruction given to mining companies is to keep the minimum required staff at their sites.

The government department also demanded that miners send a daily report by 6:00 p.m. local time, notifying authorities of further closures, critical issues and the activities that are taking place at each site.

El Comercio newspaper reports that one of the few mines that are operative is Newmont Goldcorp’s (NYSE: NEM, TSX: NGT) Yanacocha, where gold ore is still being processed. 

In a media statement, Yanacocha management has said that activities, which also include environmental monitoring, water treatment, security and cleanup, are being carried out by 14% of the usual workforce.

Located in the northern province and department of Cajamarca, Yanacocha is South America’s largest gold mine. The operation is a joint venture between Newmont (51.35%), Minas Buenaventura (43.65%) and the International Finance Corporation (5%).

The mine began commercial production in 1993 and has since produced more than 38 million ounces of gold from open-pit oxide and transitional ores.

ALX encouraged by nickel, copper mineralization at Falcon project in Saskatchewan

ALX Resources (TSXV: AL) intersected nickel and copper mineralization in the second hole of the 2020 drilling program at its Falcon nickel project located in the northern Athabasca region of Saskatchewan, Canada.

In a media statement, ALX explained that its second drill hole on the V-1 conductive target proximal to the historical Currie Lake deposit area completed to a depth of 108 metres intersected sulphide mineralization beginning at a depth of 47.03 metres continuing to 67.89 metres. 

“ALX has intersected sulphide mineralization in a new zone that was never detected by historical exploration” – Warren Stanyer

ALX CEO

“The presence of nickel and copper mineralization in hole FN20-002 has been confirmed by the use of a portable X-ray fluorescence device on the drill core, which is currently being logged and sampled,” the media brief reads. “Preliminary logging describes the mineralized interval as containing disseminated to semi-massive, net-textured sulphides, with visible pyrrhotite and chalcopyrite hosted within noritic rocks. Core samples are being shipped to SRC Geoanalytical Laboratories in Saskatoon, SK for base metals analyses with results expected later in March 2020.”

The Vancouver-based miner explained that the initial FN20-001 hole was drilled to a depth of 165 metres but did not encounter significant sulphide mineralization. However, a borehole electromagnetic survey was immediately carried out upon completion of the hole and it detected a conductive zone at a shallower depth, which was later targeted with hole FN20-002.

At present, a helicopter-supported diamond drilling program is underway at the project.

The 20,002-hectare Falcon property is located within the Tantato Domain, which forms a segment of the Snowbird Tectonic Zone. According to ALX, it hosts a magmatic nickel-sulphide mineralizing system that had been underexplored by modern methods until recently. 

Exploration expenditure flattens in BC – survey

Following two years of continued growth, exploration activities in British Columbia remained steady through 2019, with expenditures down less than a percentage point from 2018.

This, according to the British Columbia Mineral and Coal Exploration Survey carried out by the provincial Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, the Association for Mineral Exploration and Ernst & Young, based on responses provided by 29 prospectors and 171 companies operating in BC, which collectively represent 326 projects across the province.

Prioritization of ores related to project. Graph from the 2020 British Columbia Mineral and Coal Exploration Survey.

“The positive momentum gained between 2016 and 2018 has flattened out, with exploration expenditure shifting across the province’s regions,” the survey’s final report reads. “Investors continued to broaden their focus from gold toward copper, silver and nickel, as noted in the 2018 report. Exploration spend across the province totaled C$329 million, almost unchanged from the previous year of C$330 million but still an increase of 34% from 2017.”

According to the study, the behaviour of miners operating in British Columbia is consistent with the global shift from gold towards base metals. Decreases in gold were offset by increases in copper, whereas declines in coal were balanced by increases in nickel.

Back in 2018, gold accounted for 43% of total exploration expenditures, almost double that of copper. In 2019, however, investors shifted spending across commodities, with gold, copper and coal together contributing 82% to total spending.

Nationally, Canada’s exploration expenditure slid to fourth in global rankings — behind South America, Australia and Europe/Mainland Asia — for the first time since 2001

In detail, base metals comprised 39% of total exploration activity, accounting for C$143 million, an increase of 39% from the previous year. Copper was the leading base metal, contributing 72% of total metal spend, up from C$79 million to C$103 million, an increase of 31% year on year.

In the view of the experts behind the survey, such an increase in exploration for the red metal, particularly in the area known as the Golden Triangle, is likely driven by the global demand for electric vehicles and green energy.

On the other side of the spectrum, coal saw a 20% decline in investment, with all regions except the Northeast experiencing declines.

Grassroots and early-stage exploration accounted for 40% of total exploration in 2019 compared with 44% in 2018 and just 14% in 2014, as exploration spend moved to advanced and mine evaluation stages.

A look from the inside

In terms of the western Canadian province’s status when compared to other regions in the country, the survey found that BC saw a 16.8% decline in exploration expenditures in 2019 year-on-year, while Ontario saw a 9% drop and Quebec a 13% fall.

Internally, BC’s Northwest region continued to attract investment, whereas the Southeast experienced the largest decrease.

“The Golden Triangle of northwestern BC continues to attract exploration activity, as investors capitalize on high-grade discoveries supported by investment from major firms, partnerships with Indigenous groups and continued infrastructure development,” the report states. “Survey results reveal the region incurred C$180 million in exploration expenditure in 2019. That’s a 10% increase over the prior year and more than double 2016 levels.”

The document also shows that the Northwest accounted for 55% of total exploration spend in the province in 2019, despite the fact that gold exploration experienced a 39% decline in spending from 2018. Copper, on the other hand, exceeded gold exploration in the area and posted an increase of more than 150% from the previous year.

“Despite flat exploration figures in 2019, a shift in investments toward copper and other base metals provides reason for optimism in BC,” the study concludes.

Air-metal batteries for EVs get a boost

Researchers from Korea’s Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology and the University of Pennsylvania in the US produced a new catalyst that could boost the performance of metal-air batteries, known as MABs.

These batteries use oxygen from ambient air to store and convert energy. In general, they have large storage capacity and are affordable and lightweight, qualities that have sparked the attention of electric vehicle manufacturers.

The finidings of the research were published in the journal Nano Energy

The batteries are equipped with anodes made up of metals such as lithium, zinc, magnesium and aluminium, and an air cathode that is connected to an inexhaustible source of air. At present, this air cathode is built using platinum, which is rare and expensive.

In the scientists’ view, the use of the precious metal has hindered the massification of MABs. This is why they decided to propose an alternative, using perovskite catalysts that exhibit excellent catalytic performance. The only issue is that these catalysts have low activation barriers.

To counteract such an obstacle, the researchers created a new composite catalyst combining two types of catalysts. A metal catalyst (cobalt oxide), which performs well in charging, is deposited on a very thin layer on top of a manganese-based perovskite catalyst (LSM), which performs well in discharge.

“The synergistic effect of the two catalysts became optimal when the deposition process was repeated 20 times,” the experts said in a media statement.

In other words, the interface naturally formed between the two catalysts enhances the overall performance and stability of the new catalyst and, thus, MABs charge-discharge capabilities.

“Our findings provide the rationale design strategy of self-reconstructed interlayer for efficient electro-catalysts,” Guntae Kim, senior author of the research, said. “Therefore, this work can provide insight into the rational design strategy of metal oxide with perovskite materials.”

IAMGOLD employee tests positive for Covid-19, company shuts down Toronto office

Canada’s IAMGOLD Corp. (TSX IMG) (NYSE: IAG) is closing its Toronto office for one week after one of its employees tested positive for Covid-19.

In a media statement, the miner said that the employee was last in the Toronto office on March 6, 2020, and is now in self-quarantine at home and in stable condition with moderate symptoms.

Kinross and Glencore were also forced to temporarily shut down their headquarters due to the coronavirus outbreak

According to IAMGOLD, the employee attended two private company gatherings and the Northern Ontario Night at the Steam Whistle Brewery, an event that was held on March 2, 2020, and that is related to the Northern Ontario Mining Showcase that takes place within the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s annual conference. The employee, however, did not attend the PDAC convention or other events.

IAMGOLD also said that those who attended the company events have been notified of the situation.

“In addition to closing the Toronto office, we are conducting a deep cleaning and disinfection of the office,” the corporate statement reads. “Toronto office employees have been asked to work from home until the end of the week, March 20th, 2020, at which point the company will reassess.”

Infections caused by the novel coronavirus in Canada added up to 244 as of Saturday, March 14, 2020, with Ontario leading in the number of cases, followed by British Columbia and Alberta.

Health authorities in the country have asked people to avoid travelling abroad unless absolutely necessary, as well as to refrain from large gatherings and to practice continued and proper hand hygiene.