Tungsten is considered a critical material in many world markets due to its economic importance and few substitution options – and as a result, the commodity has regained the interest of many ASX mineral stocks.
Though, in recent years other commodities have attracted more attention as society continues to modernise and technology evolves.
Old-fashioned tungsten lighting filaments are being increasingly replaced by light emitting diode (LED) lights and the electric vehicle (EV) trend has market experts warning of reduced demand for some tungsten-based tooling in the automotive industry.
Despite this potential threat, demand is so far stable in the automotive industry and continues to rise in sectors like energy (particularly oil and gas) and defence.
Other market dynamics include government regulations in China threatening supply and ageing mines closing down throughout Europe.
These multiple factors at play have resulted in analysts forecasting higher tungsten prices in the near-term with a potential supply deficit on the cards and a dire need to develop new mines outside of China.
What is tungsten?
Tungsten is a hard, brittle, steel-grey metal with many outstanding properties including having the second highest melting point (at 3,422° Celsius) of all elements, after carbon.
A temperature of about 5,700° C is required to bring tungsten to boil, which is equivalent to the temperature of the sun’s surface.
It has the highest tensile strength of any metal and is also highly conductive and dense (heavy).
Tungsten has been categorised by the US Department of Defence, the British Geological Survey and the European Commission as a “critical” and “strategic” raw material due to its economic importance, supply risk and little potential substitutions.
While there are more than 30 known tungsten-bearing minerals, wolframite and scheelite are the most important ores for extraction. Other main ones include ferberite, hubnerite, pinalite, raspite, russellite and stolzite.
Tungsten comes from the Swedish words “tung” and “sten”, meaning “heavy stone”.
It is also referred to as “wolfram” throughout Europe and wasn’t originally considered the critical material that it is today.
In the Middle Ages, German tin miners noticed how the mineral interfered with the smelting process by absorbing much of the valuable tin, likening it to how a “wolf eats sheep”.
Although the metal was officially “discovered” in 1783 by Spanish chemist Juan Jose D’Elhuyar, its value went largely unnoticed until the mid-late 19th Century when tungsten salts began to be used to make textiles flame retardant and the first tungsten steels were produced in Austria.
In the early 1900s, incandescent light bulbs using a thin tungsten filament were known to be seven times more energy efficient than the carbon filament bulbs they replaced and had a longer working life.
The metal then made its breakthrough into the tooling industry in the 1920s, when it was discovered that tungsten could be alloyed with iron to produce high quality tools for metal working.
Interestingly, the Germans during World War II were said to have mined the slag of their medieval tin mines to collect the once-considered impurity they had previously worked so hard to get rid of.
They then developed tungsten carbide armour-piercing projectiles and loaded them into the Luftwaffe aircraft Stuka JU-87G (known as the ‘tank killer’) and the Panther tank, which were notorious for their ability to “virtually melt” the British tanks.
Tungsten end uses
Tungsten is generally an industrial metal, with its high melting point and tensile strength making it particularly useful as a tool material, commonly used in metal cutting tools and equipment such as drill bits.
Although modern low-energy lighting solutions have near eliminated the use of light bulbs with tungsten filaments, the metal still has many other applications in energy, with 85% of the sector’s consumption coming from the oil and gas industry.
For example, tungsten carbide products are used in drill bits, cutting tools, well completion wear parts and production equipment such as flow control components.
It is used in thermal power generation technology such as gas turbines, engines and generators and nuclear power reactors, and to make cutting tools for the machining of wind and hydro power components in the renewable energy sector.
Tungsten also has many applications in other industries such as transport (including aircraft manufacturing and railways), mining, construction, defence (armour-piercing ammunition), medical (X-ray tubes and radiation shields) and chemical products.
In addition, tungsten is used in consumer durables such as jewellery and golf clubs and personal electronics – when combined with cobalt and neodymium, it’s what makes mobile phones vibrate.
More recently, tungsten-based materials have received attention as promising anode materials for lithium-ion batteries, with new research finding that niobium tungsten oxides could be used to make the batteries much faster charging.
According to a report analysing tungsten end uses, published late last year by Steel & Metals Market Research (SMR), tungsten end use demand is expected to grow by more than 25,000 tonnes to 130,000t by 2027.
The largest growing sectors are predicted to be construction and industrial applications, with cemented carbide tool materials remaining the largest market for the metal.
Consumer durables (electronics like smartphones), defence and energy have also been topping the growth charts.
China dominates world consumption, accounting for more than 55% of tungsten use in 2017, according to research firm Roskill.
Other major consuming regions are Europe, the US, Japan and Russia.
Potential threats to demand
According to SMR, technological advancement and constant improvement in production methods will have a negative effect on the volume of tungsten needed in the future. Climate change will also considerably influence traditional industries.
As SMR states, decarbonisation will create major changes in the transport and energy segments, with the move to e-mobility and renewable energies representing a threat to tungsten consumption.
“The increase in some sub-segments, eg wind energy, cannot compensate the overall loss to the tungsten market,” the research firm said.
However, this is being offset by population and wealth growth in emerging markets, as well as the rapid advancement of urbanisation, which will push the need for tungsten in segments like construction, railways, energy and consumer durables.
Roskill’s research backs up this claim with the firm saying the transport sector faces a “great deal of uncertainty in the period to 2028” with tooling rates for automotives likely to be impacted by the higher penetration of EVs, which have fewer components and hence require less tooling.
“There is a mixed outlook for tungsten in the next decade, with uncertainty around how rapidly the EV market could disrupt the automotive sector and how quickly tungsten-containing lightbulbs will be phased out in favour of more environmentally-friendly LED lamps,” Roskill stated.
“However, with several major mines set to reach their end of life during the outlook period [from now to 2028] new mine supply will be required to ensure stable supply of primary material,” the firm added.
Tungsten is quite a scarce mineral with total global reserves estimated at about 7 million tonnes – equivalent to about 100 years of consumption.
About 57% of the world’s total tungsten resources lie in China, with Russia, Austria and Portugal also hosting major deposits.
China is the largest producer globally, currently accounting for more than 80% of supply. This presents a few limitations for the commodity, with supply and prices depending on the country’s mining sector.
According to a recent report by Roskill, global tungsten mine production slipped from 82,100t in 2017 to 82,000t in 2018, despite demand growing by 5% year-on-year.
This decline is attributed to the Chinese Government’s environmental crackdown, which temporarily forced some producers offline until their projects were deemed compliant, coupled with depleting supply from maturing mines.
As Roskill warns, there are only a few countries ready to ramp up production to offset a shortage should output be cut or reduced in China, with a potential tungsten deficit on the horizon if new mines and projects aren’t brought online in the coming years.
According to Roskill copper and technology metals manager Jessica Roberts, tungsten production in Vietnam (the world’s second largest tungsten producer behind China) was 9% lower in 2018 at 6,000t and is considered unlikely to grow.
“Vietnam’s leading tungsten producer Masan Resources is already at full capacity and is increasingly buying in concentrate from third parties to enable it to raise output from its tungsten chemicals plant,” she told media.
Trailing behind Vietnam as leading global tungsten producers are Russia, Bolivia and Austria.
“We expect Russian production to increase in the short term,” Ms Roberts said.
“Although, ultimately, many of the country’s established tungsten mines have the same issue as the older Chinese mines in that they face depleting ore grades and will likely come offline, meaning new mines will need to be developed over the next several years,” she added.
Canada was previously a leading western supplier, but all output ceased in 2015 when the Cantung operation was mothballed.
The United Kingdom also closed its Drakelands mine in 2018, taking an estimated 1,250t of annual tungsten production off the market.
Other mine curtailments in the last five years include Wolfram Camp in Australia in 2016, Hydrometallurg in Russia in 2015, plus several others in Brazil, China, Peru and Thailand.
Tungsten pricing and influencing factors
Unlike most metals, tungsten is not traded on a metal exchange and due to its high melting point, it is not usually smelted to form metal but rather extracted from crushed ore using a series of chemical reactions.
The internationally accepted benchmark price for tungsten products is based on ammonium paratungstate (APT), which is an intermediate product containing 88.5% tungsten oxide.
However, the high capital cost associated with constructing a chemical processing plant to produce APT has meant most junior miners produce a tungsten concentrate, typically containing 65-70% tungsten trioxide.
These concentrates are then purchased by secondary processors that convert them into APT and other tungsten powders.
According to investment banker Northland Capital Partners, concentrate vendors typically receive about 70-80% of the value of the tungsten in the concentrate based on the prevailing APT price.
There are a multitude of factors that can influence the APT’s price trend.
China’s environmental crackdown
With China currently supplying about 80% of the global tungsten demand, its output levels are a strong determinant of the metal’s price.
In recent years, the Chinese Government has begun cracking down on local miners to clean up their operations and adhere to strict environmental regulations, which has effectively curtailed supply and pushed tungsten’s price upwards.
The higher costs related to this environmental compliance are also expected to prop up prices for Chinese tungsten products in the near-term, according to a recent market outlook by Roskill.
Market data from Roskill has shown rising demand is another factor in the predicted rebound of the APT price over the coming years.
“Tungsten market fundamentals have changed as demand from defence, industrial, and oil and gas applications has picked up, just as environmental policies in China have curbed supply and added cost pressures for producers,” the firm stated.
In addition to recent mine closures like Drakelands in the UK, Ms Roberts said in a video interview that China’s mines were suffering from “quite high ore grade depletion”.
“There’s also mines that look like they’re probably going to come offline in Russia as well,” she added.
“If that does play out in the way we see it happening, then mine supply from existing operations is going to drop back and demand will increase – if that happens, prices are going to go up,” Ms Roberts said.
Fanya Metals stockpiles
On the other hand, one factor that could push prices back down is the potential release of tungsten stockpiles from the Fanya Metal Exchange fraud case.
The Fanya Metal Exchange was established in 2011 and promoted by Chinese Government officials as a global trading platform for rare and precious metals. Tungsten was one of the traded metals, along with indium, antimony, gallium and germanium.
However, it was outed as a financial scam in 2015 when it rejected the withdrawal of funds and froze accounts, sparking nationwide protests by investors in China. Up to 20 executives from China’s Yunnan province were charged with embezzlement and the trial is still ongoing.
Before Fanya’s website was shut down in November 2015, its inventory showed some stockpiles were particularly high compared to a metal’s global annual production.
These stocks were seized by police in 2016 and in January 2019, a court ruling permitted indium stockpiles to be put up for auction on the Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao.
According to Roskill, Fanya’s tungsten stocks were equivalent to “just over 30% of China’s production of APT in 2018”.
“Should a similar auction follow for APT stocks, this could potentially bring prices back down to lows seen during 2016 when large producer inventories were overhanging the market,” the firm said.
APT price outlook
In June 2018, APT prices hit a four-year high of US$350 per metric tonne unit as a result of Chinese smelters coming offline. These prices were not seen since September 2014 when the Fanya Metal Exchange was still active.
“Fanya is widely believed to have contributed to the last tungsten price spike in 2012-2014, as a result of APT purchasing that ultimately led to the accumulation of large stocks – and during which time tungsten prices largely detached from macroeconomic trends,” Roskill stated.
Following restarts in China, the price trended lower for the remainder of 2018 before hitting US$275/mtu in January 2019.
Over the last few months, the APT price has stabilised and is currently in the range of US$265-290/mtu with some market analysts forecasting a price at around US$275-300/mtu in the near future.
Although based on demand and production base cases, Northland has forecast the APT price rising to US$350/mtu in 2019 and then continuing to reach US$445/mtu by 2023.
Ms Roberts said some factors that could drive the tungsten price higher in 2019 include how quickly new mine projects at La Parilla and Barruecopardo in Spain can ramp up and whether any of the APT stocks in Fanya are released to the market during the year.
In addition, a potential resolution to trade discussions between China and the US in the coming months could impact prices going forward.
“Assuming the new mines in Spain come online as planned and there is a positive outcome between China and the US, we would expect to see a slight increase in the APT price towards the end of Q2 and into Q3, before a decrease again in Q4 as seasonal factors come into play,” Ms Roberts said.
Spanish mining company Saloro’s Barruecopardo tungsten project in the country’s Salamanca region is the latest project to come on stream, with open pit mining having commenced in January and processing of the first ore to produce tungsten concentrates starting in February.
This new mine is based on an initial nine-year open pit mining operation and following a one-year ramp-up period, it is expected to produce 260,000mtu of tungsten trioxide per year (about 2,060t of tungsten metal contained in a concentrate).
This followed UK-listed W Resources’ (LON: WRES) La Parrilla tungsten and tin mine, also in Spain, which began production in December 2018.
The open pit project is currently ramping up and is expected to produce about 2,700t of tungsten concentrate and 500t of tin concentrate per annum from the 2019 second quarter.
W Resources is also developing an underground tungsten mine at Regua in Portugal, targeting first ore in 2019.
Toronto-listed Almonty Industries (TSE: AII) commenced drift development at its Sangdong tungsten and molybdenum project in South Korea late last year with full-scale mining anticipated in early 2020.
In Australia, King Island Scheelite (ASX: KIS) off Tasmania is aiming to redevelop and restart production at the historical Dolphin tungsten mine by the end of 2020 and Tungsten Mining (ASX: TGN) just commenced a pre-feasibility study at its Mt Mulgine tungsten project in Western Australia.
According to Ms Roberts, the biggest hurdle at the moment for aspiring tungsten producers is getting financing.
“Looking at the mines that are currently in operation, we do expect quite a few of these to come offline in the next few years, so the mine supply is going to be required,” she said.
“If these guys can get financing, it’s a brilliant time to have a tungsten project,” Ms Roberts added.
Tungsten stocks on the ASX
Let’s take a look at the ASX-listed companies that have an interest in the hardy metal.
Andromeda Metals (ASX: ADN)
Formerly known as Adelaide Resources, Andromeda Metals owns 100% of the Davenport Ranges project in the Northern Territory.
Tungsten and lithium are the primary exploration focus at the project, although it is thought to also be prospective for several other minerals including tin.
No recent work has been reported for the project with the company focused on its Poochera high-purity alumina and Wudinna gold projects in South Australia.
Antipa Minerals (ASX: AZY)
Junior mineral explorer Antipa Minerals holds three projects in the Paterson Province in Western Australia – Citadel, North Telfer and Paterson – which lie in proximity to what has been considered one of the world’s largest tungsten deposits, O’Callaghans, discovered by Newcrest Mining (ASX: NCM) near its Telfer gold mine.
The Citadel project hosts the Calibre gold-copper-silver-tungsten deposit, which has an inferred mineral resource of 47.7Mt at 0.85 grams per tonne gold, 0.15% copper, 0.48g/t silver and 217ppm tungsten for 1.3 million ounces gold, 69,500t copper, 730,000oz silver and 10,300t tungsten.
Mining giant Rio Tinto (ASX: RIO) has committed to spending $60 million as part of a staged farm-in to earn a 75% stake in Citadel.
In late March, Rio proposed a $3.4 million exploration program over the project for 2019 including drilling existing targets and further target generation work. However, the company is more focused on the project’s gold and copper potential.
Apollo Minerals (ASX: AON)
Tungsten-focused explorer Apollo Minerals is developing the Couflens tungsten and gold project in southern France and progressing the adjacent Aurenere tungsten and gold project in neighbouring Spain.
The Couflens project contains the historic Salau mine, which was one of the highest-grade tungsten mines when operated between the 1970s and 1980s. The mine produced a total of about 930,000t of ore at an average grade of 1.5% tungsten trioxide in its 15-year life, yielding about 11,500t of tungsten trioxide in concentrate.
Rock chip sampling conducted by Apollo across the Couflens licence area has confirmed the presence of widespread tungsten with grades of up to 8.25% tungsten trioxide.
During the March 2019 quarter, Apollo received approval to finalise the reinstallation of services at the historic mine including ventilation infrastructure.
It also announced plans to undertake an underground drilling and channel sampling program over identified tungsten and gold targets within the mine area.
At the Aurenere project, Apollo has planned an initial six-hole diamond drilling program to test an area where high-grade gold and up to 5.49% tungsten trioxide was recovered from rock chip samples.
Arafura Resources (ASX: ARU)
Australian explorer Arafura Resources holds a 60% interest in the Bonya tungsten deposit, located north-east of Alice Springs in the NT.
The licence area is operated by 40% joint venture partner Thor Mining (ASX: THR), with the initial focus of the joint venture being to explore and delineate tungsten and copper resources as potential mill feed for to Thor’s nearby Molyhil tungsten-molybdenum development.
An initial 2,500m reverse circulation (RC) drilling program was conducted at the project at the beginning of the June 2019 quarter.
Drilling results reported in early May include grades of up to 1.43% tungsten trioxide from the White Violet deposit.
Further assay results are expected over the next month.
Asaplus Resources (ASX: AJY)
Singapore-based Asaplus Resources has been developing the Beikeng mine in China’s Fujian Province, which is prospective for iron, zinc, tungsten and lead.
Its 80%-owned project has a resource of 1.058Mt grading 27.52% iron, 1.53% lead, 1.22% zinc and 0.58% tungsten.
The company is aiming to be in production in 2019 and has already commenced stockpiling ore at the mine site.
During the March 2019 quarter, Asaplus reported development works ongoing at Beikeng including the completion of tunnelling at the mine and slope protection works at the Hauyu plant.
ATC Alloys (ASX: ATA)
ATC Alloys is in the process of acquiring 100% ownership of Asia Tungsten Products Co Ltd (ATPHK), which owns a ferrotungsten plant in Vinh Bao, Vietnam.
The acquisition is the resolution to a long-running dispute with 40% joint venture partner Mr George Guangyu Chen that extends back to 2016. Mr Chen still holds his stake in the joint venture until the completion of the transaction.
Since the dispute was resolved, ATC has been working towards recommissioning the plant with plans to undertake third party contract processing operations, where the company will effectively process tungsten concentrate on behalf of third parties for a set fee.
ATC said it considered this to be the “best conservative approach” to adopt until ATPHK has sufficient operating capital to allow for continuous self-processing and smelting.
In early May, the company announced it had recommenced production of ferrotungsten at the ATPHK plant. It plans to carry out a low-risk processing run over the next month to demonstrate the continuing good operating condition of the plant and ensure it remains operational and well maintained.
Breaker Resources (ASX: BRB)
Perth-based gold explorer Breaker Resources holds the Ularring Rock project, located 100km east of Perth and covering two gold-copper prospects.
A review of historical data from Ularring during 2017-2018 identified potential for a district-scale mineralisation system with multiple structural and chemical targets including a large bullseye groundwater tungsten anomaly.
During the March 2019 quarter, the company conducted a deep ground penetrating radar survey over the high-tenor tungsten anomaly, as well as the two gold-copper prospects.
Breaker said the exact nature of the anomalies is “at present unknown and warrants further investigation given the strong anomalous dissolved tungsten”.
The company also flew a drone magnetic survey over the project area with the results expected to be combined with the ground survey data to generate a number of targets for drilling.
Corizon (ASX: CIZ)
In March 2018, Corizon entered into a binding term sheet to acquire 100% of the issued share capital of RWG Minerals, which holds four exploration licences in WA prospective for tungsten, gold, molybdenum and other base metals.
The Nardoo Well project in WA’s Gascoyne region contains a number of recorded tungsten and base metal occurrences with rock chip sampling conducted in 2016 by RWG returning significant tungsten mineralisation of up to 3.4% tungsten trioxide.
The Cookes Creek project contains 11 known historical tungsten occurrences/mine workings plus tungsten geochemical anomalies that have been partially tested by modern exploration. The tenement area also adjoins Tungsten Mining’s (ASX: TGN) Bill Hill project, which has a resource estimate of 11.5Mt at 0.15% tungsten trioxide.
Corizon is yet to announce any exploration plans for these new acquisitions.
Chase Mining (ASX: CML)
Formerly TopTung, Chase Mining changed its name and ASX ticker code at the start of 2019 to reflect its expanded exploration focus from topaz and tungsten to other commodities (particularly nickel and copper) across Australia and Canada.
However, it remains dedicated to developing its Torrington topaz-tungsten deposit in northern New South Wales.
The project area was mined for tungsten and tin for about 100 years (and topaz since the 1970s) until tungsten prices fell below sustainable levels in the 1980s.
In 2017, Chase conducted an extensive 400-hole drilling program over the tenements and developed a robust plant flowsheet for the recovery of tungsten and topaz based on metallurgical testwork on a 1t sample.
Unfortunately, the drilling program and subsequent updated resource estimation resulted in the downgrade of tungsten resources, with total contained tungsten metal from the Wild Kate and Mt Everard prospects decreasing from 3,242t to 327.5t.
As a result, Chase is now focused on developing Torrington’s topaz resources to form a high-value oriented mullite fibre. However, the company noted its silexite processing and gravity recovery plant would recover both topaz and tungsten concentrates.
Elementos (ASX: ELT)
Elementos’ flagship asset is its 100%-owned Cleveland tin, tungsten and copper project, which comprises a historic tin mine in Tasmania.
In addition to tin and copper resources, the project has an estimated tungsten mineral resource of 4Mt at 0.3% tungsten trioxide.
While Elementos is largely focused on tin production, it also plans to extract the tungsten and copper that are present.
During the March 2019 quarter, the company presented a revised open cut/tailings retreatment mine plan to Mineral Resources Tasmania. It also commenced work on documentation for the official submission of a new proposal for Cleveland’s development.
European Metals Holdings (ASX: EMH)
A pre-feasibility study completed for European Metals Holdings’ Cinovec lithium-tin project in the Czech Republic determined the potential for tungsten production, as well as potash, as by-products of an underground lithium and tin mine.
The project has been estimated to contain a total indicated and inferred resource of 695.9Mt at 7.17Mt lithium carbonate equivalent, 262,600t tin and 91,910t tungsten.
During the March 2019 quarter, the company reported results from an ongoing drilling program at the Cinovac South deposit. While the campaign focused on the project’s lithium potential, highlights included intersections with grades of up to 0.16% tungsten.
GWR Group (ASX: GWR)
GWR Group holds the Hatches Creek tungsten project, comprised of two exploration licences located 375km north-east of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.
Successful reverse circulation (RC) drilling programs undertaken at the project in 2016 and 2017 confirmed multiple high-grade polymetallic tungsten prospects and demonstrated the potential for a large high-grade polymetallic tungsten deposit.
Last July, the company announced an exploration target across the entire project area of 11.9-16.5Mt at 0.2-0.5% tungsten trioxide.
In May, GWR announced high-grade results from a 13-hole infill and extensional RC drilling program completed at the Hit or Miss prospect during the March 2019 quarter.
Highlights included a 6m intersection grading at 0.42% tungsten trioxide from 35m including 1m at 1.88% tungsten trioxide from 40m; and 3m at 0.82% tungsten trioxide from 100m including 1m at 1.93% tungsten trioxide from 100m.
A maiden mineral resource estimate will now be planned for the Hit or Miss prospect. GWR also holds 9.73% and 10.16% respective interests in Tungsten Mining (ASX: TGN) and Corizon (ASX: CIZ), which hold Australian tungsten assets.
In early June, Tungsten Mining made a joint venture and farm-in deal with GWR to buy an initial 20% stake in the project tenements for $1.72 million cash.
Under the agreement, it can increase its interest to 51% by spending a further $3 million on exploration, development and mining activities within five years of the commencement date.
By this stage, Tungsten would manage the joint venture and free carry GWR. Should a decision to mine be made, Tungsten can potentially acquire 100% equity in the Hatches Creek project for a further payment of $7 million to GWR.
King Island Scheelite (ASX: KIS)
King Island Scheelite’s 100%-owned Dolphin project on King Island off Tasmania hosts one of the world’s richest tungsten deposits, with an indicated mineral resource estimate of 9.6 million tonnes at 0.9% tungsten oxide, including mineral reserves of 3Mt grading at 0.73% tungsten oxide.
The project comprises the historical Dolphin mine, which produced tungsten concentrate from 1917 to 1990 before it was closed due to low tungsten prices.
Now King Island is planning to redevelop and restart the mine as an open cut operation, aiming to be in production around the first quarter of 2021 provided project funding is secured later this year.
Its current redevelopment plan proposes an open cut mining operation with an initial mine life of eight years before potentially going underground.
The proposed processing plant will have an annual ore capacity of 400,000 tonnes and is expected to produce about 3,500tpa of tungsten oxide concentrate.
An updated feasibility announced in early June has revealed the project has a base net present value of $146 million and internal rate of return of 47%. Projected operating costs are also among the lowest of global tungsten miners, estimated at $129 per metric tonne of tungsten produced.
In April, the company locked in its first offtake deal with Austria-based Wolfram Berbau und Hutten AG, which will see the European tungsten powder supplier take close to 20% of proposed annual production capacity of the mine over a four-year period.
Lithium Australia (ASX: LIT)
In September 2018, lithium explorer Lithium Australia secured 100% ownership of the Sadisdorf lithium-tin-tungsten project in Germany to shore up its exposure to the advanced European battery and electric vehicle markets.
During the March 2019 quarter, the company commenced a pre-feasibility study at Sadisdorf, which has a lithium mineral resource, to investigate the viability of producing cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries from the project.
According to Lithium Australia, the project may also have the potential for value contributions from tungsten, tin, as well as a range of by-products including potassium sulphate fertiliser and sodium silicate.
Metminco (ASX: MNC)
Metminco is actively advancing the Quinchia gold project in Colombia, which is also prospective for other minerals including tungsten.
Drilling at the Tesorito gold prospect in mid-2018 unearthed 2m at 17.95g/t silver, 1.99g/t tungsten and 1% zinc.
In December 2018, the company entered into a joint venture with AngloGold Ashanti to develop the Chuscal gold prospect, located within the broader Quinchia gold project.
This prospect is yet to be drilled although recent underground channel sampling returned high gold grades and associated tungsten.
In May, Metminco announced it had agreed binding terms to create a merger with unlisted company Andes Resources, which holds a portfolio of gold-silver-copper exploration projects in Colombia.
Concurrent with the merger, a capital raising of up to $2.3 million is planned with funds to be used toward maiden drilling at the Chuscal project.
Peel Mining (ASX: PEX)
Peel Mining holds a 100% interest in the Attunga tungsten deposit in NSW.
A Strachan Corporate review of the company in February 2018 noted an early resource estimate calculated at the project of 1.29Mt at 0.61% tungsten trioxide containing 9,400t of tungsten trioxide equivalent.
Drilling by Peel at the deposit has encountered high-grade tungsten-molybdenum mineralisation with a 42m intersection grading at 2.09% tungsten trioxide including a very high-grade zone of 2m at 24.21% tungsten trioxide.
No recent exploration work has been reported for this project as Peel has focused on exploring for precious and base metals in NSW’s Cobar Basin.
Rafaella Resources (ASX: RFR)
Junior explorer Rafaella Resources has signed a deal to acquire private Spanish company Galicia Tin & Tungsten, which owns the historic Santa Comba tin and tungsten project in north-west Spain.
The Santa Comba underground mine operated for a short period in the 1980s before becoming uneconomic due to low tungsten and tin prices.
The project is fully permitted for both underground and open pit mining with a high-grade underground resource estimated at 234,000t at 0.95% tungsten oxide and 0.28% tin within four primary veins at the historic Mina Carmen mine.
The former owners had completed 7,000m of underground development including decline access and the processing plant is estimated to be about 70% complete.
The project is currently subject to an offtake offer by technology metals supplier HC Starck Tungsten GmbH, which has pre-approval for a $17.7 million loan from the German government to cover pre-production development capital costs.
Rafaella said it planned to complete a $1 million feasibility study as a precursor to accessing the loan.
The company’s other assets in Canada and Western Australia are focused on copper and gold exploration.
Speciality Metals International (ASX: SEI)
Diversified explorer Speciality Metals International holds the Mt Carbine tungsten project, containing a historical tungsten mine, in Far North Queensland.
Historically, Mt Carbine was one of the world’s largest tungsten mines, operating sporadically for more than 90 years and delivering 40% of Australia’s annual tungsten production until low metal prices forced its closure following the 1987 stock market crash and ensuing financial crisis.
The Mt Carbine mining leases have been estimated to hold a total (indicated plus inferred) mineral resource of 59.3Mt, including an indicated hard rock resource of 18Mt at 0.14% tungsten trioxide for 2.52Mmtu of tungsten trioxide, and an indicated resource of 12Mt at 0.07% tungsten trioxide for 840,000mtu tungsten trioxide from its low-grade stockpile.
Speciality Metals is acquiring 100% of Mt Carbine Quarries Pty Ltd, which owns and operates the Mt Carbine quarry and two mining leases. The settlement for this transaction is scheduled for the end of June 2019.
Quarry operations are then expected to commence in July, along with the recommissioning of the retreatment plant.
The company has also entered into a joint venture with Cronimet Asia Pte Ltd (a subsidiary of private German raw materials supplier Cronimet Holding) for the development of the Mt Carbine tungsten tailings retreatment and stockpile project. Production from this tailing retreatment is expected to commence during the 2019 fourth quarter.
Speciality Metals’ stage development plan for Mt Carbine also outlines the start of processing of stockpiled material and work to re-establish open pit mining in 2020.
The company has also indicated exploration upside at the Iron Duke-Petersens Lodge and Mt Holmes prospects further south of the Mt Carbine mine location. An exploration program is scheduled to be developed in 2020.
Strategic Minerals Corp (ASX: SMC)
In early May, final unconditionally binding documentation was executed for Strategic Minerals’ purchase of the remaining 50% interest in Cornwall Resources from New Age Exploration (ASX: NAE).
Cornwall was a joint venture company, previously 50:50 owned by New Age and Strategic, that holds the Redmoor tin and tungsten project in the United Kingdom.
An updated inferred mineral resource was announced for Redmoor in February 2019 of 11.7Mt at 0.56% tungsten trioxide, 0.16% tin and 0.5% copper.
This upgraded estimate now ranks Redmoor as the second highest grade undeveloped tungsten or tin mineral resource in the world (on a grade basis).
Following the resource update, a high-level mining study was completed on the project with results showing that Redmoor is amenable to underground mining using long-hole open stoping with backfilling.
Thomson Resources (ASX: TMZ)
Tin and gold-focused explorer Thomson Resources holds an exploration licence over a significant tin-tungsten occurrence at Mt Paynter, located within the Lachlan Fold Belt in southern NSW.
A small inferred resource was defined on the main lode in 2007, comprising 245,000t at 0.45% tungsten and 0.27% tin; however, this has not been updated since to comply with the JORC Code 2012.
According to Thomson, there are prospects for additional mineralisation on the main lode with potential to extend to the east and west as well as down dip, and there are several other veins in the area that have not been drill tested.
In its 2018 annual report, the company said it was currently seeking access under the rules of exploration on Crown Lands. No further information has been reported on the project.
Thor Mining (ASX: THR)
Thor Mining holds a 100% interest in the Molyhil tungsten-molybdenum project, which is located north-east of Alice Springs in the NT and has an open cut probable ore reserve of 3.5Mt at 0.29% tungsten trioxide.
In September 2018, the company also completed the acquisition of a 40% interest in the Bonya licence area, located close to Molyhil and prospective for tungsten, copper and vanadium. The other 60% stake is held by Arafura Resources (ASX: ARU).
The initial focus of the joint venture is to explore for and delineate tungsten and copper resources as potential mill feed for the nearby Molyhil development.
Last August, Thor announced an upgraded definitive feasibility study for Molyhil, proposing an open cut mining operation and conventional processing facility with a seven-year mine life and first production targeted for early 2020.
The study also showed substantial upside potential from subsequent underground mining at Molyhil and from the nearby Bonya deposits.
During the March 2019 quarter, Thor said it was continuing advanced talks with a number of potential project financiers and offtake partners for both tungsten and molybdenum concentrates.
At Bonya, results from an initial 2,500m RC drilling program were reported in early May, including grades of up to 1.43% tungsten trioxide from the White Violet deposit. Further assay results are expected over the next month.
Thor also holds a 100% interest in the Pilot Mountain tungsten project in Nevada, US, where an upgraded mineral resource estimate for the Desert Scheelite deposit was announced in December.
Desert Scheelite’s mineral resource now totals 10.7Mt at 0.26% tungsten trioxide, 19.38g/t silver, 0.15% copper and 0.38% zinc.
According to Thor, the resource inventory still has considerable growth potential via the Gun Metal and Good Hope deposits, as well as further potential upside at Desert Scheelite and the Garnet deposit.
During the March quarter, Thor said stage two metallurgical testwork to advance Pilot Mountain to pre-feasibility study stage is in progress.
TNT Mines (ASX: TIN)
TNT Mines’ primary asset is the Aberfoyle project in Tasmania, containing the historic Storey’s Creek, Aberfoyle and Lutwyche tin and tungsten mines.
In late 2018, the company completed a diamond exploration drilling program at the greenfield Rifle Range prospect and undertook exploration activities targeting tin-tungsten mineralisation in an unexplored vein system parallel to the historic Lutwyche-Kookaburra prospect.
In its the March quarterly report, TNT said target generation work was continuing around the Aberfoyle and Storey’s Creek mines.
However, the company has recently placed a larger focus on its newly acquired zinc project in Montana, US.
Tungsten Mining (ASX: TGN)
Tungsten Mining is primarily focused on the exploration and development of tungsten projects in Australia.
Its flagship project is Mt Mulgine in Western Australia, where it commenced a pre-feasibility study in April.
Two near-surface mineral resources have been delineated at Mt Mulgine’s Mulgine Trench and Mulgine Hill deposits with a combined estimate of 71 million tonnes at 0.18% tungsten trioxide and 238 parts per million molybdenum.
The pre-feasibility study, which is expected to take 12 months to complete, will evaluate the potential to establish large-scale, long-life mining and processing operations to produce tungsten concentrate and by-products including molybdenum from the two deposits.
In early June, the company entered a joint venture and farm-in deal to acquire an initial 20% stake in GWR Group’s (ASX: GWR) Hatches Creek tungsten project in the NT, where recent RC drilling at the Hit or Miss prospect recovered up to 1.93% tungsten trioxide.
Under the agreement, Tungsten Mining can increase its increase in the project to 51% by providing $3 million of funding toward exploration, development and mining activities in the first five years.
Should a decision to mine be made, the company can then attain 100% equity by paying GWR a further $7 million.
This latest deal follows Tungsten Mining’s 2018 acquisition of the Watershed project, located north of Cairns in Queensland. Former owner Vital Metals (ASX: VML) completed a definitive feasibility study in 2014 and the project has granted mining leases and environmental authority for an open pit development.
Tungsten Mining also holds two tungsten exploration projects in WA – Big Hill in the eastern Pilbara and Kilba in the Ashburton region.
Bill Hill has a mineral resource estimate totalling 11.5Mt at 0.15% tungsten trioxide, while Kilba’s resource has been estimated at 5Mt at 0.24% tungsten trioxide.
The company has not revealed any near-term plans for these projects.
Its two other WA projects, Koolyanobbing and Callie Soak, are considered prospective for tungsten but are still in initial stages of reconnaissance work.
Venture Minerals (ASX: VMS)
Venture Minerals has been progressing work on an underground scoping study for its Mount Lindsay tin-tungsten project in north-western Tasmania, with results expected during the June quarter.
The project’s estimated mineral resource totals 45Mt at 0.2% tin and 0.1% tungsten trioxide for 81,000t contained tin metal and 3.2Mmtu of contained tungsten trioxide.
The underground scoping study will leverage on previously completed feasibility work with Venture looking at a number of strategies to optimise the higher-grade portions of Mount Lindsay.
The company has also defined eight new targets considered prospective for tin-tungsten mineralisation and conducted an airborne electromagnetic survey over the Mount Lindsay project area during the March quarter to generate drill targets.
Vital Metals (ASX: VML)
Exploration at Vital Metals’ wholly-owned Aue project in Germany is mainly focused on cobalt, although the area is also prospective for tungsten, zinc, tin, silver, indium, gold and uranium mineralisation.
The permit is located in one of the most renowned historical mining districts in Germany with an 800-year long history of base metal exploration. In particular, the Jachymov Group of sediments to the south of the permit area is known for skarn mineralisation containing zinc, as well as tungsten, indium and iron.
No exploration activities were reported on this project during the March 2019 quarter.
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