Sovereign Metals steps on the accelerator at Kasiya graphite development

Go to Colin Hay author's page
By Colin Hay - 
Sovereign Metals ASX SVM Kasiya graphite development Malawi

Sovereign Metals (ASX: SVM) has stepped up key activities at its world-class Kasiya project in Malawi as it prepares to demonstrate the commercial viability of its graphite product to the world.

Backed by strategic development partner Rio Tinto (ASX: RIO) and a highly supportive local government, Sovereign is fast-tracking a number of aspects in its plan to supply a rapidly-growing lithium-ion battery market with high-grade graphite.

Sovereign has recently commenced a bulk sampling program that will extract over 100 tonnes of ore from Kasiya.

The graphite produced from the bulk sampling program will then be shared with prospective end-users in addition to being used for upscaled downstream test-work.

This is an important component of an initiative that will allow the company to proceed to customer qualification, downstream testwork and product development.

Major graphite market developments

Rio Tinto’s recent decision to invest $40.4 million into Kasiya is a significant acknowledgement that Kasiya is considered one of the world’s largest natural graphite deposits outside of China with the potential to become a key source of strategic supply to the US, UK, EU, Japan and South Korea.

That was further confirmed with a recently released pre-feasibility study (PFS) identified Kasiya as a major critical minerals opportunity which has the potential to deliver significant long-term volumes of natural rutile and graphite.

The PFS forecast that Kasiya is capable of achieving one of the lowest cash operating costs globally at $630 per tonne and the lowest CO2-footprint.

Sovereign’s managing director Frank Eager said the acceleration of activities in the Kasiya program comes as China, which currently produces 61% of all flake graphite used in the production of lithium-ion battery anodes and accounts for 93% of all graphite anode production globally, implements curbs on exports of natural graphite under “national security” concerns.

This is expected to lead to a global shortfall in product supply and a potential uptick in graphite prices.

Bulk sampling activities

As part of the acceleration of activities at Kasiya, Sovereign and Rio Tinto have agreed to collaborate to qualify graphite from the project with a particular focus on supplying the spherical purified graphite (SPG) segment of the lithium-ion battery anode market.

Sovereign has acquired a custom-made 300mm diameter spiral auger to extract over 100 tonnes of material from across Kasiya’s planned future pits with sampling to a maximum 20m depth as part of the mechanised drill program for the bulk sampling activities.

The 1000 kilogram bulk sample will then be processed at the company’s laboratory in Lilongwe, Malawi.

High-grade results tipped

The graphite pre-concentrate is expected to grade at between 4 to 5% carbon total whilst the heavy mineral concentrate is expected to grade ~30% contained rutile.

The sample will then be shipped to Australia for final processing at commercial metallurgical laboratories in Canada.

The graphite pre-concentrate will undergo traditional flotation and polishing processes to target >96% carbon total product for lithium-ion battery anode feedstock.

The heavy mineral concentrate will undergo gravity spiral cleaner stages followed by electrostatic and magnetic separation stages to produce a +95% TiO2 natural rutile product.

Recent initial graphite characterisation testwork conducted by an independent German industrial minerals specialist demonstrated superior qualities and excellent suitability for its use in lithium-ion batteries.

Further downstream testwork is planned that will use the graphite concentrate produced from this current bulk sampling program.