New resource estimates for the Walford Creek copper-cobalt project in north-west Queensland have allowed Aeon Metals to shift its focus to a high-grade development model.
The company is looking at establishing a cobalt roasting plant, with an end product of cobalt oxide, as part of the process flow sheet for the site.
A scoping study last year put the capital cost of starting Walford Creek operations at $668 million with such a plant and highlighted the challenge of finding a market for the 1300ktpa of sulphuric acid which would be produced as a by-product of the proposed 2.5Mtpa throughput.
Aeon managing director Hamish Collins says the high-grade resource established since opens the way for a much smaller throughout – halving the start-up cost and resulting in a more manageable amount of the sulphuric acid by-product.
“We are reassessing all the feasibility parameters for the preliminary economic assessment announced in January (2017) and the study on cobalt roasting released in April,” he said.
The fresh approach comes amid a positive buzz for commodities tied to electric vehicles and battery production, which Mr Collins describes as fantastic for the Walford Creek project.
“The two primary products – copper and cobalt – are both major elements in the electric vehicle market, with copper being used a lot more in electric cars than current standard engines,” he said.
“So we see growth in copper related to the electric vehicle marked and then obviously you have the cobalt related to the lithium-ion batteries.
“We have the two products which are very leveraged towards growth in those markets – which is, quite frankly, very exciting.”
The latest resource estimate for Walford Creek includes a copper lode resource of 15.7 million tonnes at 1.24 per cent copper and 0.15 per cent cobalt.
There is an additional a cobalt peripheral resource of 18 million tonnes at 0.11 per cent cobalt.
“The resource we announced on January 24 was a result of all the 2017 drill holes – putting that into our geological model, which includes historical results,” Mr Collins said.
“We better understand what the geological model is as a result of that and it clearly is high-grade copper-cobalt components.”
Aeon Metals plans a 30,000m drill campaign at Walford Creek from April, with two thirds of that effort within the 3.6km resource strike length and the remainder of the drilling to target up to 18km further strike length on the Fish River Fault.
“In terms of the exploration upside, because of the nature of the geology being linked to the fault, that’s quite exciting,” Mr Collins said.
“We already have a project here, but the probability of increasing the size of that project is quite high and we will be exploring that this year.”
Aeon Metals was recently awarded two government grants under the Collaborative Exploration Initiative which will assist that work, including funding for a tenement-wide seismic survey.
Mr Collins said the company hoped to complete the full process flow sheet for the Walford Creek operation by the end of the year. The Company is also continuing to advance work on all other aspects of the project development including mining design and environmental studies as part of advancing a project feasibility study.
“Once a feasibility study is finished, we’ll be looking at ways to fund the mine development.”
Mr Collins believes Aeon couldn’t be better positioned going into 2018.
“We’re advanced in terms of resource, in terms of metallurgical assessment. We’re in the right commodities, and we have approximately $16 million in cash to implement the works we want to do this year,” he said.
“Things couldn’t get better quite frankly.”