Sovereign Metals appoints new CEO, advances massive rutile-graphite project with Rio Tinto

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By Robin Bromby - 
Sovereign Metals ASX SVM management changes Malawi rutile graphite

Experienced Africa-based mining executive Frank Eager has been promoted to chief executive officer at Sovereign Metals (ASX: SVM) as the company moves forward with its massive Kasiya rutile-graphite project in the southern African state of Malawi.

This comes on the heels of the decision in July by Rio Tinto (ASX: RIO) to back what is claimed to be the biggest source of rutile ever discovered by investing $40.4 million to give the global miner an “initial” 15% stake in Sovereign Metals.

In addition, options issued as part of the deal will allow Rio to move to 19.99% of Sovereign within 12 months.

Over 20 years’ experience

Mr Eager has had more than 20 years’ experience in the financing, permitting, development and operation of mining projects, mainly in southern Africa.

He joined Perth-based Sovereign last December as General Manager, Malawi, and his new role will also include being Managing Director

The existing managing director, Julian Stephens, is to transition to non-executive director and will remain as a consultant to the company.

The company said that since joining the company he has already expanded the in-country team with a focus on employing Malawian nationals.

Furthermore, he has developed strong relationships with the Malawi government and has developed a clear understanding of the Kasiya project

“These management changes come at an important time for the company as it transitions from the pre-feasibility study into the next phase of project optimisation,” the company said.

Rutile supply ‘genuinely scarce’

Apart from being one of the largest flake graphite deposits in the world with a contained 23.4 million tonnes of that commodity, Kasiya is the globe’s single largest rutile deposit with a contained 18Mt, enough for 50 years’ supply.

Sovereign, in its most recent presentation, said the natural rutile market is completely constrained and is “a genuinely scarce commodity”.

Its uses include being a feedstock for titanium dioxide pigments, welding flux and titanium metal.

There have been no other major discoveries in the past 50 years, the company notes.

Moreover, there is no pipeline containing other significant projects.

Rio deal will focus on graphite for batteries

Under the agreement, Rio Tinto will provide advice on technical and marketing matters regarding Kasiya, with a primary focus on spherical purified graphite for the lithium-ion battery anode market.

Rio Tinto will be involved in further debt financing and the global miner will have the option to become the operator of Kasiya on commercial arms length terms.

It will also have first refusal rights on any future capital raisings apart from shareholder entitlement offers.

Moreover, Rio when operator will also have exclusive marketing rights to 40% of all Kasiya’s production.