Troy Nazarewicz: Growing sources of demand for rechargeable batteries will drive North American cobalt market
----Interview with Troy Nazarewicz, Investor Relations Manager of Fortune Minerals Ltd.
Fortune Minerals Limited is a diversified North American resource company. The Company operates the Revenue Silver Mine in Colorado and is developing the Arctos Anthracite Project in British Columbia as well as the NICO gold-cobalt-bismuth-copper project. NICO is to be comprised of a mine and mill in the Northwest Territories that will produce a ...
Asian Metal: Good Morning Troy, thank you for granting us this interview. Could you please give us an introduction to Fortune Minerals and yourself?
Troy: Fortune Minerals is a diversified North American mining company with an established platform for growth through development and acquisitions. We are focused on mining friendly jurisdictions in North America and have successfully transitioned the Company to a producer in 2014 with the acquisition of the Revenue Silver Mine - a historical producer of 15 million ounces of silver in Colorado. This transaction has expanded our team to 180 employees with experience in acquiring, financing, developing and operating mines.
I feel privileged to be the Investor Relations Manager at Fortune at this point in the Company’s history. It has been a challenging few years in the resource sector, but even during difficult times, we have successfully transitioned the Company into a producing mining company with the acquisition of the Revenue Silver Mine,and have also advanced two outstanding organic growth development assets –our vertically integrated NICO Gold-Cobalt-Bismuth-Copper Project and the Arctos Anthracite Metallurgical Coal Project – both in Canada.
NICO is attracting significant attention as a shovel-ready development project containing gold and two strategic metals that have significant supply concerns. This vertically integrated project consists of a proposed mine and concentrator in Canada’s Northwest Territories and a refinery in Saskatchewan that will produce value added products that include battery grade cobalt sulphate, bismuth metals and oxide and gold.
Battery consumption is driving cobalt demand due to the use of lithium ion and nickel metal hydride batteries in portable electronic devices and electric vehicles. Cobalt’s usage in these batteries now accounts for 42% of global consumption.Looking forward, the efforts by leading economies to diversify from carbon-based energy systems continues to expandthe use of rechargeable batteries into electric vehicles and stationary storage applications for solar and wind power will further support the demand. Some have forecast that by 2020 cobalt's use in battery applications alone will be greater than the entire world market for refined cobalt in 2013.
The NICO deposit also contains significant gold reserves that provides a countercyclical hedge. It is also the largest deposit of bismuth in the world with 12% of global reserves.Bismuth is an environmentally friendly metal used primarily in the automotive sector and medicines like Pepto-Bismol (R). But new markets are developing for bismuth as a non-toxic replacement for lead and this usage is supported by legislation restricting lead in electronics and potable drinking water sources.
Both cobalt and bismuth are critical metals needed to support our high standard of living - but have significant supply concerns. Bismuth has a crustal abundance similar to silver but approximately 80% of its supply is from China. The Congo accounts for 61% of cobalt mine supply with 43% of refinery supply from China. As such, NICO is a compelling opportunity and is uniquely positioned to become a reliable North American supplier of both metals with cost advantages under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and European trade agreements.
Arctos, our other organic growth project, contains very large resources and reserves of high rank anthracite metallurgical coal and is an international collaboration with South Korea’s POSCO and Fortune Mineraland is one of the world’s premier metallurgical coal projects. Arctos is currently in the British Columbia Environmental Assessment process and has a positive feasibility study indicating an attractive rate of return for the development.
Asian Metal: With the more recent acquisition of the Revenue Silver Mine, Fortune Minerals has even further diversified its production capacity and lineup. What type of opportunities does Revenue provide both in the silver market and for Fortune Minerals?
Troy: The materials sector has been in a bear market for a few years and the current environment presents opportunities to those with a proven management team and access to alternative funding sources.We secured an innovative financing structure, where Lascaux Resource Capital advanced USD35 million that will be paid back with interest from the mine’s metal production. This structure minimized share dilution in an otherwise weak capital market and allowed us to capitalize on the opportunity to bring near-term production into the company.The transition to a producer makes Fortune more appealing to a wider investor base as an operator with two advanced development assets and lower risk profile than a pure exploration play.
The Revenue Silver Mine is a high grade narrow vein deposit. In fact, it’s one of the highest grade silver deposits in North America. Approximately 80% of mine revenue is derived from silver, the rest is from gold, lead and zinc. The mine operated between 1876 and 1912, producing approximately 15 million ounces of silver. Our silver production is currently un-hedged and we believe there is good potential to identify additional resources on the mine property and the district generally.
The silver market itself is quite interesting right now. After peaking near USD49/oz in 2011 it is currently trading at USD17/oz, making it quite undervalued relative to historical price ratios to gold. Silver consumption is growing from demand in industrial applications that include electronics, the automotive sector, batteries and the solar industry. There are forecasts that industrial silver consumption will grow by 27%, adding 142 million ounces of silver demand through 2018 compared to 2013 levels. If these fundamentals support a higher silver price, our shareholders will be well positioned to benefit through exposure to a high grade silver mine operating in a stable mining jurisdiction.
Asian Metal: The NICO project is definitely an interesting deposit. It would bring online a healthy resource of bismuth in an otherwise dominated market by China. What are your thoughts on this and perhaps where Fortune fits in the bismuth market.
Troy: Bismuth is replacing lead in solders and alloys used in the electronics industry as well as solders and brasses used in the plumbing industries because it is a non-toxic and environmentally friendly replacement for lead. Bismuth consumption is increasing due to growing environmental awareness about the use of toxic metals and new legislation that is restricting the use of lead. But the largest use of bismuth is the automotive sector. It is one of the very few metals that expand when it cools, and is therefore used in automobile anti-corrosion coatings, castings, pearlescent paints and windshield frit – the little black dots that surround your windshield to protect the seal from changing temperatures and sunlight. In fact, most of the 80 million vehicles produced annually contain about 2 ounces of bismuth in the windshield frit.
With 12% of global bismuth reserves and cost advantages from trade agreements as well as proximity to North American consumers, NICO’s production will be attractive to manufacturers based in North America and Europe seeking to diversify their supply base from China’s dominant 80% share of global production. NICO is anticipated to produce 1,750 tonnes of bismuth on an average annual basis in the form of ingots, needles and oxide.
Asian Metal: With healthy signs of demand such as Telsa’s gigafactory in the future spotlight for cobalt, what type of position does Fortune plan to have in that market? Furthermore, what are Fortune’s projections in that market especially as they relate to North America?
Troy: Fortune is positioned to stand out as a reliable North American supplier of battery grade cobalt chemicals such as cobalt sulphate. NICO will have cost advantages from lower transportation costs and exemptions from duties under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The global cobalt market is now greater than 100,000 tonnes and we anticipate NICO will have average annual cobalt production of 1,615 tonnes contained in cobalt sulphate heptahydrate.
Tesla’s proposed Gigafactory is expected to double 2013 global lithium-ion battery production by 2020 and NICO would only be able to service a portion of Tesla’s total anticipated cobalt demand at the currently projected production rate. Although Tesla is attracting the most attention it is worth noting that companies ranging from BMW to Harley-Davidson are also developing electric vehicles and supportive government actions, like that considered by the Chinese to invest USD16 billion to establish more charging facilities to spur electric vehicle demand, will further support the market. In fact, two additional battery super plants targeting the electric vehicle market are being constructed by LG Chem and Foxconn (the producer of Apple’s iPhones and iPads).
Asian Metal: Going forward, what are your thoughts on the development of demand and market shares in North America for such products as cobalt and bismuth? Both materials have wide ranging applications at the moment, do you hope to tap into some markets as they grow or avoid others as they shrink?
Troy: NICO is positioned to become a reliable, vertically integrated North American producer of battery grade cobalt sulphate and bismuth metals and oxide. As a proposed North American vertically integrated producer, NICO will benefit by selling into the North American and European Union markets where it has advantages from lower transportation costs and exemptions from paying excise duties and tariffs under trade agreements.The growth of the cobalt market is being driven by the demand from the rechargeable battery sector. Our early recognition of the opportunity to develop our project as a cobalt sulphate source led to successful pilot plant studies to produce a product needed by companies such as Tesla for their gigafactory now under construction in Nevada. NICO is now the most advanced development project in North America focused on battery grade cobalt chemicals from a vertically integrated source. The company’s proposed refinery in Saskatchewan will also be able to process materials from other mines and has the potential to expand to the metal and battery recycling business.
The concentration of current bismuth production along with the significance of our deposit will allow us to help strengthen the supply chain by providing an alternative source. Our refinery will have the flexibility to produce bismuth ingots, needles and oxide and we will optimize the production of these to meet the markets need and maximize the premiums received from the more valuable products.
Asian Metal: Finally, what is the timeline for Fortune in 2015? What kind of developments can market participants look ahead to for NICO or Revenue?
Troy: We are currently ramping the Revenue Silver Mine to its targeted production rate and anticipate news on related milestones. With respect to NICO, we are focused on completing the rezoning in Saskatchewan and securing off-take agreements and financing solutions with the objective of commencing construction upon receipt of the project financing.
Asian Metal: Thank you very much Troy, we wish you and your business the best of luck!