Sovereign Metal’s (ASX: SVM) hopes of developing a “world-class” graphite operation at its Malingunde project in Malawi have been given a boost after re-assaying work demonstrated potential for high-grade rutile mineralisation near surface.
The potential to produce rutile from the soft saprolite via a simple process flowsheet using typical mineral sands separation methods was demonstrated during laboratory test work last year.
According to the company, a broad spread of 125 historical hand-auger drill holes were selected for re-assaying to assess the overall rutile potential across its tenement holding.
Highlights of the work include 9m at 3.29% titanium dioxide, 10m at 3.02% titanium dioxide, 12m at 2.39% titanium dioxide and 10m at 2.94% titanium dioxide.
Sovereign said that 26 holes had a weighted average grade of 2.34% titanium dioxide, while 96 of the holes had a weighted average grade of 1.98%.
All intercepts are from surface and remain open at depth.
Sovereign managing director Dr Julian Stephens said the discovery of large areas of high-grade titanium dioxide highlighted the potential for significant rutile deposits within its large ground holding.
“Given the currently strong fundamentals of the titanium feedstock market, the company intends to undertake further exploration and metallurgical studies to advance this potential rutile opportunity,” he said.
Sovereign holds a substantial 3,993 square kilometres of ground in central Malawi.
Further rutile exploration and a test-work program will run in parallel with a definitive feasibility study (DFS) on its Malingunde graphite project.
Graphite ambitions progressing
The company is focused on developing its “world-class”, low-cost flake graphite operation at Malingunde, with the 50-tonne pilot plant work set to kick off shortly in line with the DFS.
A pre-feasibility study (PFS) for the project released last year placed a US$49 million capital cost on the project with a three-year payback period.
The PFS focused on an ore reserve of 9.5Mt at 9.5% total graphite carbon for a 16-year life of mine with an average of 52,000t of concentrate produced per annum.
Due to the advantages of the soft saprolite-hosted deposit, the proposed operation could bear low operating costs of US$323/t concentrate, moving to a low of US$284/t after year seven.
The company has frequently communicated its confidence in the project, previously declaring Malingunde the “world’s best flake graphite project.”
“Malingunde is an unparalleled, low technical risk, high margin project that provides significant cashflows with substantial upside scalability into a growing graphite market,” the company said back in November.
In addition to the battery market, the company believes its graphite could potentially be used in pebble bed modular reactors with the nuclear science sector, which needs an ultra-high purity graphite feedstock.
Sovereign’s shares gained 14.2% to $0.08 in afternoon trade.