Graphite traditionally has been regarded as a mundane industrial mineral used in steelmaking, lubricants and pencil lead. Emerging applications such as lithium-ion batteries, fuel cells, and nuclear power generation are placing increasing supply demands on this carbon polymer – a market shift not lost on Graphite One Resources Inc.
“The graphite market is only beginning to open up as green technology takes more precedence in the world today,” according to the Edmonton, Alberta-based explorer. “Graphite is vital for lithium-ion batteries, pebble bed nuclear reactors, and fuel cells among other uses. This has allowed for the price of graphite to rise; in the past seven years, the price has nearly tripled. Graphite is the mineral of tomorrow and as such, cannot continue to be overlooked and undervalued.”
Anticipating the demand for graphite to skyrocket, the explorer which recently changed its name from Cedar Mountain Exploration Inc. is taking a fresh look at the aptly named Graphite Creek project, a vast deposit of the carboniferous material situated some 65 kilometers (40 miles) north of Nome in western Alaska.
At an average of 3-10 percent graphite, some 200 million metric tons of ore that has been traced along the slopes of the Kigluaik Mountains at the Graphite Creek project has historically been estimated to hold 6 to 20 million metric tons of crystalline-flake graphite, according to a technical report written for Graphite One Resources (then Cedar Mountain) in November 2011.
Travis Hudson, author of the report, is not new to the deposit. He has explored the potential of the deposit in the past, including a 1981 investigation for Anaconda Minerals Co.
Hudson said the Graphite Creek project, also known as the Kigluaik deposits, consists of two distinctive graphite-bearing schist intervals – biotite quartz schist and garnet biotite quartz schist.
An 18-hole, 4,248-meter drill program carried out in 2012 focused on producing an initial inferred resource for Graphite Creek.
To fund this program, Graphite One (then Cedar Mountain) closed a C$6.4 million financing in February.
“Our goal for this year is to get enough drilling done to have an inferred resource after this season,” Chebry explained. “Along with that, we want to do a whole lot more mapping and sampling over the whole property, because last year we identified another parallel zone which is just up-mountain from the high-priority zone, and there are other outcrops of high-grade material as well.”
Large flake graphiteNot all graphite is created equal, and the Graphite Creek deposit is believed to hold vast quantities of a higher value variety of the mineral.
The most abundant form of naturally occurring graphite is the fine-grained amorphous variety. This lowest form of graphite is used traditionally in steelmaking – lending its heat resistance to crucibles and furnace bricks, as well as serving as a carbon-boosting additive in the steel itself.
Lithium-ion batteries and other high-technology applications, however, require a higher order of the carbon polymer known as large flake graphite.
Graphite One Resources’ Graphite Creek project has long been regarded as a source of the more desirable large flake graphite, a historical assumption that the company resolved to test.
Laboratory analysis of three 15-kilogram samples collected by Graphite One in 2011 confirms the potential for large flake graphite at the project.
One of the samples taken from a historical stockpile of high-grade material averaged 56.9 percent graphite. The other two samples – one of schist containing disseminated graphite and a second sample of mixed schist and massive graphite – returned 8.2 percent and 14.5 percent graphite, respectively.
To qualify as large flake, graphite particles must be larger than 80 mesh. Mesh size refers to the number of openings per linear inch of mesh, so the larger the mesh size the smaller the material. More than 75 percent of the graphite content of all three of the Graphite Creek samples analyzed by Hazen Laboratories qualified as large flake. The sample of mixed schist and massive graphite, at 93.6 percent, had the highest large flake graphite distribution.
Vast potential confirmedGraphite One kicked off its 2012 exploration program with an airborne electro-magnetic survey over the entire land package. This geophysical program lit up the highly conductive graphite layers beyond the bounds of Graphite One’s property, prompting the explorer to stake an additional 17 claims.
The drill program revealed that the graphite-rich zones ran deeper than first envisioned.
12GC001 cut 411.7 meters of 2.1 percent graphite. This intercept includes 127.9 meters of 4.1 percent and 41.73 meters of 6.7 percent graphite.
12GC002, drilled about 300 meters to the southwest, cut 353 meters of 2.7 percent graphite. This intercept includes 165.3 meters of 4.23 percent, 46.4 meters of 6.6 percent and 21 meters of 10.1 percent graphite.
12GC003, drilled a further 200 meters southwest, cut 234.8 meters averaging 2.18 percent graphite, including 61.9 meters averaging 3.52 percent graphite.
Stepping out 1,700 meters northeast of hole 3, 12GC004 cut 237.8 meters of 2.66 percent graphite, including 136.58 meters of 4 percent and 40.6 meters of 6.35 percent graphite.
An extensive mapping and rock sampling program bolstered Graphite One’s confidence in the property. Focusing on areas where outcrop was exposed along the main trend and the Araujo trend, geologists collected 591 grab samples, 506 of which were mineralized. The best sample, collected along the main trend, returned assays of 63.5 percent graphitic carbon. A sample from Araujo returned 28 percent graphitic carbon.
“These results continue to demonstrate that this will be one of the most significant, coarse flake graphite resources in the world” said Graphite One Resources President Anthony Huston.
A resource calculation is expected by early 2013.