Mining is a technical field and requires a comprehension of many complex factors.
This includes everything from the characteristics of an orebody to the actual extraction method envisioned and used—and the devil is often found in these technical details.
Part 4: Evaluating Technical Risks and Project Quality
We’ve partnered with Eclipse Gold Mining on an infographic series to show you how to avoid common mistakes when evaluating and investing in mining exploration stocks.
Here is a basic introduction to some technical and project quality characteristics to consider when looking at your next mining investment.
View the three other parts of this series so far:
- Mistakes made when choosing a team
- Mistakes made with the business plan
- Mistakes with project jurisdiction
Part 4: Technical Risks and Project Quality
So what must investors evaluate when it comes to technical risks and project quality?
Let’s take a look at four different factors.
1. Grade: Reliable Hen Vs. Golden Goose
Once mining starts, studies have to be adapted to reality. A mine needs to have the flexibility and robustness to adjust pre-mine plans to the reality of execution.
A “Golden Goose” will just blunder ahead and result in failure after failure due to lack of flexibility and hoping it will one day produce a golden egg.
Many mining projects can come into operation quickly based on complex and detailed studies of a mineral deposit. However, it requires actual mining to prove these studies.
Some mining projects fail to achieve nameplate tonnes and grade once production begins. However, a team response to varying grades and conditions can still make a mine into a profitable mine or a “Reliable Hen.”
2. Money: Piggy Bank vs. Money Pit
The degree of insight into a mineral deposit and the appropriate density of data to support the understanding is what leads to a piggy bank or money pit.
Making a project decision on poor understanding of the geology and limited information leads to the money pit of just making things work.
Just like compound interest, success across many technical aspects increases revenue exponentially, but it can easily go the other way if not enough data is used to make a decision to put a project into production.
3. Environment: Responsible vs. Reckless
Not all projects are situated in an ideal landscape for mining. There are environmental and social factors to consider. A mining company that takes into account these facts has a higher chance of going into production.
Mineral deposits do not occur in convenient locations and require the disruption of the natural environment. Understanding how a mining project will impact its surroundings goes a long way to see whether the project is viable.
4. Team: Orchestra vs. One-Man Band
Mining is a complex and technical industry that relies on many skilled professionals with clear leadership, not just one person doing all the work.
Geologists, accountants, laborers, engineers, and investor relations officers are just some of the roles that a CEO or management team needs to deliver a profitable mine. A good leader will be the conductor of the varying technical teams allowing each to play their best at the right time.
Mining 101: Mining Valuation and Methods
In order to further consider a mining project’s quality, it is important to understand how the company is valued and how it plans to mine a mineral resource.
There are two ways to look at the value of a mining project:
- The Discounted Cash Flow method estimates the present value of the cash that will come from a mining project over its life.
- In-situ Resource Value is a metric that values all the metal in the ground to give an estimate of the dollar value of those resources.
The location of the ore deposit and the quantity of its grade will determine what mining method a company will choose to extract the valuable ore.
- Open-pit mining removes valuable ore that is relatively near the surface of the Earth’s crust using power trucks and shovels to move large volumes of rock. Typically, it is a lower cost mining method, meaning lower grades of ore are economic to mine.
- Underground mining occurs when the ore body is too deep to mine profitably by open-pit. In other words, the quality of the orebody is high enough to cover the costs of complex engineering underneath the Earth’s crust.
When Technicals and Quality Align
This is a brief overview of where to begin a technical look at a mining project, but typically helps to form some questions for the average investor to consider.
Everything from the characteristics of an orebody to the actual extraction method will determine whether a project can deliver a healthy return to the investor.
More Than Precious: Silver’s Role in the New Energy Era (Part 3 of 3)
Long known as a precious metal, silver in solar and EV technologies will redefine its role and importance to a greener economy.
Silver’s Role in the New Energy Era (Part 3 of 3)
Silver is one of the first metals that humans discovered and used. Its extensive use throughout history has linked its name to its monetary value. However, as we have advanced technologically, so have our uses for silver. In the future, silver will see a surge in demand from solar and electric vehicle (EV) technologies.
Part 3 of the Silver Series comes to us from Endeavour Silver, and it outlines silver’s role in the new energy era and how it is more than just a precious metal.
A Sterling Reputation: Silver’s History in Technologies
Silver along with gold, copper, lead and iron, was one of the first metals known to humankind. Archaeologists have uncovered silver coins and objects dating from before 4,000 BC in Greece and Turkey. Since then, governments and jewelers embraced its properties to mint currency and craft jewelry.
This historical association between silver and money is recorded across multiple languages. The word silver itself comes from the Anglo-Saxon language, seolfor, which itself comes from ancient Germanic silabar.
Silver’s chemical symbol, “Ag”, is an abbreviation of the Latin word for silver, argentum. The Latin word originates from argunas, a Sanskrit word which means shining. The French use argent as the word for money and silver. Romans bankers and silver traders carried the name argentarius.
While silver’s monetary meanings still stand today, there have been hints of its use beyond money throughout history. For centuries, many cultures used silver containers and wares to store wine, water, and food to prevent spoilage.
During bouts of bubonic plague in Europe, children of wealthy families sucked on silver spoons to preserve their health, which gave birth to the phrase “born with a silver spoon in your mouth.”
Medieval doctors invented silver nitrate used to treat ulcers and burns, a practice that continues to this day. In the 1900s, silver found further application in healthcare. Doctors used to administer eye drops containing silver to newborns in the United States. During World War I, combat medics, doctors, and nurses would apply silver sutures to cover deep wounds.
Silver’s shimmer also made an important material in photography up until the 1970s. Silver’s reflectivity of light made it popular in mirror and building windows.
Now, a new era is rediscovering silver’s properties for the next generation of technology, making the metal more than precious.
Silver in the New Energy Era: Solar and EVs
Silver’s shimmering qualities foreshadowed its use in renewable technologies. Among all metals, silver has the highest electrical conductivity, making it an ideal metal for use in solar cells and the electronic components of electric vehicles.
Silver in Solar Photovoltaics
Conductive layers of silver paste within the cells of a solar photovoltaic (PV) cell help to conduct the electricity within the cell. When light strikes a PV, the conductors absorb the energy and electrons are set free.
Silver’s conductivity carries and stores the free electrons efficiently, maximizing the energy output of a solar cell. According to one study from the University of Kent, a typical solar panel can contain as much as 20 grams of silver.
As the world adopts solar photovoltaics, silver could see dramatic demand coming from this form of renewable energy.
Silver in Electric Vehicles
Silver’s conductivity and corrosion resistance makes its use in electronics critical, and electric vehicles are no exception. Virtually every electrical connection in a vehicle uses silver.
Silver is a critical material in the automotive sector, which uses over 55 million ounces of the metal annually. Auto manufacturers apply silver to the electrical contacts in powered seats and windows and other automotive electronics to improve conductivity.
A Silver Intensive Future
A green future will require metals and will redefine the role for many of them. Silver is no exception. Long known as a precious metal, silver also has industrial applications metal for an eco-friendly future.
Visualizing China’s Dominance in Rare Earth Metals
Rare earth deposits exist all over the planet, but the majority of the world’s rare earth metals are produced and refined in China.
China’s Dominance in Rare Earth Metals
Did you know that a single iPhone contains eight different rare earth metals?
From smartphones and electric vehicles to x-rays and guided-missiles, several modern technologies wouldn’t be what they are without rare earth metals. Also known as rare earth elements or simply “rare earths”, this group of 17 elements is critical to a number of wide-ranging industries.
Although deposits of rare earth metals exist all over the world, the majority of both mining and refining occurs in China. The above graphic from CSIS China Power Project tracks China’s exports of rare earth metals in 2019, providing a glimpse of the country’s dominating presence in the global supply chain.
China’s Top Rare Earth Export Destinations
Around 88% of China’s 2019 rare earth exports went to just five countries, which are among the world’s technological and economic powerhouses.
|Export Destination||Share of China's Rare Earth Exports||Top Rare Earth Import (tons)|
|Rest of the World||12.1%||Cerium|
Japan and the U.S. are by far the largest importers, collectively accounting for more than two-thirds of China’s rare earth metals exports.
Lanthanum, found in hybrid vehicles and smartphones, was China’s largest rare earth export by volume, followed by cerium. In dollar terms, terbium was the most expensive—generating $57.9 million from just 115 metric tons of exports.
Why China’s Dominance Matters
As the world transitions to a cleaner future, the demand for rare earth metals is expected to nearly double by 2030, and countries are in need of a reliable supply chain.
China’s virtual monopoly in rare earth metals not only gives it a strategic upper hand over heavily dependent countries like the U.S.—which imports 80% of its rare earths from China—but also makes the supply chain anything but reliable.
“China will not rule out using rare earth exports as leverage to deal with the [Trade War] situation.”
—Gao Fengping et al., 2019, in a report funded by the Chinese government via Horizon Advisory.
A case in point comes from 2010 when China reduced its rare earth export quotas by 37%, which in part resulted in skyrocketing rare earth prices worldwide.
The resulting supply chain disruption was significant enough to push the EU, the U.S., and Japan to jointly launch a dispute settlement case through the World Trade Organization, which was ruled against China in 2014.
On the brighter side, the increase in prices led to an influx of capital in the rare earth mining industry, financing more than 200 projects outside China. While this exploration boom was short-lived, it was successful in kick-starting production in other parts of the world.
Breaking China’s Rare Earth Monopoly
China’s dominance in rare earths is the result of years of evolving industrial policies since the 1980s, ranging from tax rebates to export restrictions. In order to reduce dependence on China, the U.S. and Japan have made it a priority to diversify their sources of rare earth metals.
For starters, the U.S. has added rare earth metals to its list of critical minerals, and President Donald Trump recently issued an executive order to encourage local production. On the other side of the world, Japan is making efforts to reduce China’s share of its total rare earth imports to less than 50% by 2025.
Increasing rare earth mining outside of China has reduced China’s global share of mining, down from 97.7% in 2010 to 62.9% in 2019. But mining is merely one piece of the puzzle.
Ultimately, the large majority of rare earth refining, 80%, resides in China. Therefore, even rare earths mined overseas are sent to China for final processing. New North American refining facilities are being set up to tackle this, but the challenge lies in managing the environmental impacts of processing rare earths.
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