“We still have significant room to grow at Falchani and the company is scoping out a scalable, long life project while keeping capital intensity and margins at the forefront."
Can you give a brief update on Plateau Energy Metals’ recent developments, most notably on the updated lithium resource at Falchani?
Plateau went from discovery to first resource on our lithium project in approximately nine months. In September 2018, the company continued drilling activities on Falchani West, and in March 2019, we announced an updated mineral resource estimate. We have increased the total resource estimate by approximately 90%, which puts Falchani as the world’s sixth largest hard rock lithium project with 4.7 million tonnes (mt) of lithium carbonate equivalent (LCE). By our calculations, this means that the ground at Falchani contains approximately US$60 billion of value.
The Falchani project attracted me to join the company as it has the potential to be extremely significant and can have a meaningful impact on Peru becoming part of the world’s electrification story. I believe that as the demand for lithium batteries and electric vehicles continues to grow, the company itself will achieve exponential growth.
In a regional context regarding brine lithium projects, does the market understand Falchani?
Plateau has some work to do in terms of educating the market, and this education will come through additional metallurgical work on the property. The host rocks at our lithium project are volcanic mostly as a lithium-rich tuff (hardened volcanic ash), which is believed to be similar to the lithium source rocks (volcanic rocks) for brine projects. Lithium brine projects are formed from groundwater leaching through volcanic ash and volcanic rocks, and then the lithium-rich aqueous solution ultimately flows into the basins under salars and concentrates over time with solution additions and evaporation. The rocks we are working with are relatively young and have not been leached; the lithium is thought to be locked within the unstable volcanic glass forming the bulk of the tuff matrix. Thus we refer to our lithium project as ‘solid brine.’
In January 2018, Plateau started working with a local Peruvian metallurgical group to test every possible method of recovery. We have tested tank/vat leaching, roasting, baking and heap leaching. We extracted lithium through all the methods, and we are in the process of deciding which will be the ultimate route we take.
In terms of geology, what is the next step for Plateau on the company’s lithium resource?
Plateau will now start to focus on the engineering aspect of the project. By the second half of 2019 and into 2020, the company will be potentially looking to expand the resource, looking at the west and north of the existing property resources. At this stage we are focusing on the economics and ongoing processing optimization. Our aim is to continue improving the value of our project while having a reasonable production profile.
What are your current plans regarding your uranium project?
Our Macusani uranium project has been part of the company for approximately 10 years. We have been waiting on the Peruvian government to finalize the legal framework for the transport and export of uranium in Peru. This is about the secure supply chain of the finished product being transported from mine site to port and port to conversion facility ultimately for use in nuclear energy production. The uranium market itself is also starting to become more and more positive. The price of uranium has been so low for so long that no new supply has been coming online, and even substantial existing supply has been curtailed. Plateau believes that by the end of 2019 and early 2020, we will start to see the demand side of uranium increase significantly. These developments play really well into Macusani becoming a next cycle uranium producer.
What are Plateau’s objectives moving forward?
Even though both uranium and lithium speak well into the green energy market, the equity investors on our two projects are very different. There is currently no crossover between the lithium and uranium investor base, and we are thus considering several strategic options to maximize value for our investors. These options may include a potential spin-off, joint venture with the right strategic partner, or other alternative that sees both projects move forward.
Plateau believes that, especially with our Falchani lithium project, we still have significant room to grow and the company is now in the midst of scoping out a scalable, long life project while keeping capital intensity and margins front of mind. We would like to move the project through PEA, then PFS and then a feasibility study within the near future.
I am excited for the future of Plateau in Peru and our host communities.