By Diana Haecker
After an unintentional hiatus last year due to the COVID pandemic, Graphite One continues this summer with a basic environmental study and exploration drilling program at Graphite Creek on the north slope of the Kigluaik Mountains.
According to Stan Foo, COO of Graphite One, this year’s field season aims to collect more data that will feed into the preliminary feasibility study, which will be released by the end of the year. .
“We are resuming our studies to advance our understanding of the deposit, how we would mine it and how we would process the graphite for export to a manufacturing facility in the Pacific Northwest,” said Foo. “There will still be a year or two of drilling required and a lot of engineering studies, a lot of environmental studies.” Foo estimates that the project is two to three years away from the start of the licensing process. The authorization would take another year or 18 months. “We’re still, I would say, four or five years before the mine becomes a reality,” Foo said.
Graphite One aims to become a US producer of high quality coated spherical graphite for use in lithium-ion electric car batteries and other energy storage systems. Currently all graphite is imported from China.
Although plans have yet to materialize, Foo said they are considering a crusher and flotation processing facility at the mine site that will produce graphite concentrate. “The rock containing the graphite would be crushed and ground to a fine size, then a ‘flotation’ process would separate the graphite from the other rock materials, producing a 95% graphite concentrate,” Foo said. The flotation process, he said, is a standard process used in the mining industry to separate minerals from other types of rock. This process uses chemicals called “reactants” to create a foam to which the graphite particles adhere and float to the surface, where they can be skimmed off and dried. The final composition of these reagents has yet to be determined, but they are generally some of the more benign reagents used in the mining industry, Foo said. The concentrate would be loaded at the mine in standard sea containers in sealed one tonne bags. The containers would be trucked to the port of Nome and loaded onto barges for transport to a secondary processing plant. Foo said an average of ten trucks would make the round trip from the mine to the port of Nome. The secondary processing plant would be located in the Pacific Northwest and its location is currently under consideration. There, the graphite concentrate would be converted to coated spherical graphite used in anodes for the lithium-ion electric vehicle battery market and energy storage systems as well as other value-added products, Foo said.
When asked about the access road, Foo said it is still under consideration where it will be built. “We are continuing to study this. At this point, we see a lot of benefits in using the Kougarok road and building an access road from the staging area. [at mile 28] going north to the project site, via Mosquito Pass. He added that it will be up to the permitting agencies to determine what might be the environmentally preferred alternative for the access road.
During the 2021 drilling program, they plan to launch a helicopter-assisted drilling program in July with two drills active throughout the summer. They set up a camp near the drilling activity. “We will have a staging area near mile 28 on Kougarok Road to supply the camp,” Foo said. The camp will house up to 24 people for the drilling activity and there will be 10 to 12 people involved in geology, engineering and environmental studies based in Nome. “This will be one of Graphite One’s busiest years working in the region and we continue to be encouraged by people’s interest in the project and the support provided by local businesses,” said Foo. He added that the company plans to address local and regional concerns by sharing information on specific technical and environmental plans as they become available.
Ed Fogel, formerly of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, is the permit manager for Graphite One. He said in an interview with the Nome Nugget that the next few years will be spent understanding the deposit better and figuring out what mining and engineering will look like. Once authorization has started, the US Army Corps of Engineers will determine if an environmental assessment is sufficient to study its environmental impacts, or if a more comprehensive environmental impact study needs to be carried out.
When asked about the impacts of a flotation plant, Fogel said, “In my career with MNR and mining regulation, almost all of the major mines in Alaska have a flotation process. And as regulators, we’ve never, ever seen a problem with the flotation process. He said the reagents are not unloaded and do not leave the contained system. “I don’t think there has ever been an incident of any kind with the flotation process or any of the mines in Alaska.”
However, he said, tailings facilities are more of a problem. “It’s probably a place that regulators are spending more time looking at,” he said. The tailings treatment facilities contain the leftover material after it has been subjected to the flotation process and are stored long term. He said Graphite One was still working to understand the chemistry of the rock and what the tailings facility would look like.
Stan Foo added that they are currently planning to store the tailings in what is called a dry tailings storage facility. “The tailings are collected and as much moisture as possible is squeezed out, squeezed out of them and a filter cake is produced. It is then stored in a facility that protects the environment from any potential contamination, ”said Foo.
Foo said they plan to reach out to neighboring communities to keep them updated and informed of Graphite One’s activities. “We will also come together with our Livelihoods Advisory Council to continue to incorporate the best ways to protect the region’s important livelihood resources. “