The demand drivers for REEs are gaining momentum, primarily where our push toward carbon neutrality is concerned. Even outside the energy transition demand formula, REE usage continues to evolve due to their unique optical, electrical, and magnetic properties.
Defense Metals is systematically de-risking its mothership Wicheeda Rare-Earth Project where current resources stand at 5,031,000 tonnes averaging 2.95% total rare-earth oxide (TREO) Indicated and 29,467,000 tonnes averaging 1.83% TREO Inferred.
Recent drill results
Defense continues to confirm the robust grade and scale of its flagship asset via an infill drilling campaign that wrapped up on August 9. Designed to upgrade Inferred rock to the higher confidence M&I categories, this recently concluded 5,000-meter program also probed Wicheeda’s potential at depth.
On October 11, the company dropped two solid hits via the following headline:
Defense Metals Drills High-Grades at Wicheeda including 124 metres of 3.58% Total Rare Earth Oxide
Hole WI22-68, the deepest hole drilled to date at Wicheeda (to 324 meters vertical depth), tagged an impressive 3.58% total rare earth oxide (“TREO”) over 124 meters. This broad interval, targeting the northern area of the deposit, included an exceptionally high-grade zone of 6.70% TREO over 18 meters which also carried a 3-meter hit yielding 8.58% TREO within.
Hole WI22-68 extends Wicheeda’s mineralization beyond the 2021 PEA pit shell and opens the door to a (potentially) larger resource base.
(click on the images below to amplify)
Hole WI22-63, collared from the same pad as WI22-68, also tagged high-grade REEs below the 2021 PEA pit shell returning 2.29% TREO over 39 meters, including 5.08% TREO over 9 meters.
These high-grade hits at depth (below the 2021 PEA pit shell) may positively impact the project’s economics (a PFS is due in H2 2023) and future mining scenarios (via an extended mine life).
Luisa Moreno, President, and Director: “These two core drill holes, in particular WI22-68, once again demonstrate the potential for high REE grades over significant widths within the northern Wicheeda Deposit. Assays for WI22-68 were prioritized based on readily visible, coarse-grained REE mineralization. We look forward to receiving additional assay results of other resource infill drill holes from the northern and central Wicheeda Deposit that appear similar in terms of visually estimated REE mineralization percentage.”
Then, on October 13, the company dropped assay values for another infill hole drilled within the same area of the deposit:
Defense Metals Continues to Drill High-Grades at Wicheeda with 106 metres of 2.53% Total Rare Earth Oxide; Including 59 metres of 3.42%; Participate in the 18th International Rare Earths Conference
Hole WI22-67 tagged 2.53% TREO over 106 meters, including a high-grade zone of 3.42% TREO over 59 meters. The assays reported for WI22-67 are only partial, from surface to a downhole depth of 155 meters. Assay results for the remaining 165 meters—to the end of the hole at 320 meters—are expected shortly.
Craig Taylor, CEO: “With the release of this additional drill hole, we continue to establish excellent continuity of mineralization in sectional infill drilling. As we advance the Wicheeda Project we know these kinds of results will contribute significantly to our goal of upgraded resource categories necessary to support a future Preliminary Feasibility Study (PFS).”
On October 17, Defense released results from its (flotation) metallurgical test program with the following headline:
Defense Metals Flotation Results Yields High Grade Mineral Concentrate at Various Grades and Lithologies
These initial flotation results from ongoing testwork at SGS Lakefield demonstrate the potential to produce a high-grade concentrate at high recovery rates via conventional flotation from a range of lithologies and grades.
The Company is currently performing flotation tests on samples of different lithologies. The Wicheeda deposit is characterized by three main rare earths bearing lithologies, dolomite carbonatite (DC) which is the dominant lithology, xenolithic carbonatite (XE), and syenite (SYN). Limestone is the major waste rock lithology. The predominant rare earths minerals are, synchysite/parisite, bastnäsite, and monazite.
- The results to date indicate that high grade mineral concentrate containing more than 40% total rare earths oxides (TREO) at a recovery rate exceeding 80% has been produced from all fully tested DC samples and a Master Composite (MC) containing all lithologies, from material with a head grade of >2% TREO;
- The XE material, representing about 24% of the deposit and encountered late in the mine life, can deliver a 38% TREO concentrate at ~70% recovery rate at feed grades ~1.4%TREO;
- SYN material, which represents about 3% of the deposit and is only encountered late in the mine life, has the lowest grade but shows ~14x upgrade ratio (from 1.1% to 14.6%TREO) at recovery rates ~79%;
- Approximately 70 flotation tests have been performed. Several assay results are pending, and additional tests are continuing on variability samples of DC, XE, SYN, and mixed samples.
Table 1, shows selected flotation results on samples from different lithologies. The Composite samples contain a mixture of intervals from different drill cores taken from different areas of the deposit and different depths and represent the different lithologies. The master composite sample (MC in Table 1) includes the three lithologies (DC (73.4%), XE (22.5%), SYN (3.8%)). The variability samples in Table 1 are just two of the seventeen such samples being tested.
The DC lithology accounts for more than 70% of PEA mill feed (Figure 1), and in the first 8 years of the expected mine life, over 90% of the flotation plant feed will be DC material, with higher rare earths grade, with the later years being mostly DC and XE material at relatively lower grades.
Craig Taylor, CEO: “Flotation results from the on-going program of testwork at SGS Lakefield confirm the basis of the Preliminary Economic Assessment and show that the Wicheeda deposit can produce a high-grade rare earths mineral concentrate at high recovery rates with conventional flotation from a range of lithologies and grades. These are some of the best flotation results among rare earths development projects. We are encouraged with the exploration and metallurgy results to date, and confident that the pre-feasibility study, which we anticipate will commence shortly, will show that Wicheeda is well positioned to become one of the next rare earths producers in North America.”
A first-pass economic study of the Wicheeda deposit via a November 2021 PEA demonstrates the following values:
It’s important to note that the REE price inputs used in this study were conservative. According to slide #8 on the company’s deck, current Neodymium and Praseodymium spot prices are 50% higher than those used in the study.
Location Location Location
Located roughly 80 kilometers northeast of Prince George, Wicheeda’s 4,244 hectares are accessible by all-weather gravel roads and are near power, gas, rail, and a major highway.
Potential catalysts include:
- Continued assay flow from the recently concluded 5,000-meter drill campaign;
- Additional metallurgical test results;
- News regarding progress on the company’s Pilot Plant;
- Initiation of a PFS;
- An updated resource estimate;
- News regarding potential suitors or JV partners that have Wicheeda in their crosshairs.
Full disclosure: Defense Metals is a Highballer client (the author has been compensated for the above content). The author owns Defense stock (the author recently added to his position on the open market). For these reasons, though he approaches the material as objectively as possible, the author should be considered biased where Defense Metals is concerned. Do your own due diligence.Disclaimer - Legal Notice
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