A 14-hole drill program completed in 2021 by Vancouver-based Group Ten Metals Inc. (PGE:TSX; PGEZF:OTCQB; 5D32:FSE) continues to deliver wide, high-grade intervals of nickel sulphide containing palladium (Pd), platinum (Pt), rhodium (Rh), cobalt (Co), copper (Cu), and gold (Au) in step-out drilling near the DR and Hybrid deposits at the company’s Stillwater West critical minerals project — its flagship asset in Montana’s Stillwater Igneous Complex. Both deposits were outlined in the junior’s first-ever resource estimate, published in October 2021.
Group Ten is also finding similar mineralization in step-out drill holes in two other areas, roughly 7 kilometers east along trend. These areas are set in large-scale geophysical anomalies, typically indicative of large-scale sulphide mineralization, across the project’s 12-kilometer resource area. Management also sees expansion potential well outside the current resource area across Stillwater West’s 32-kilometer length.
Group Ten’s current inferred mineral resource tallies 2.4 million ounces (2.4 Moz) Pd, Pt, Rh and Au, plus 1.1 billion lb nickel, copper, and cobalt in a constrained model totaling 157 million tonnes at an average grade of 0.45% nickel-equivalent (Ni eq), using a 0.20% Ni eq cutoff grade. The project hosts eight metals that are listed as “critical minerals” by the U.S. government, which is always looking to secure domestic supply.
The resource consists of five deposits of sulphide mineralization hosted in 9 kilometers of strike length in the central area of Stillwater West. Eighty-three drill holes were used to calculate the resource, including all the holes drilled during Group Ten's 2019 and 2020 campaigns.
These holes, in addition to the 14 expansion holes drilled in 2021 and a further 133 holes drilled outside the current deposit areas, will provide targeting insight for Group Ten’s deep geological bench.
The team has decades of experience in the Stillwater Complex and now includes the recent additions of Dr. Danie Grobler and Albie Brits, who both bring further insight gained from years of work at Ivanhoe Mines Ltd.'s (IVN:TSX; IVPAF:OTCQX) Platreef project in South Africa.
Their world-class expertise is timely because Group Ten’s discoveries are drawing parallels with South Africa’s Bushveld Complex, with a particular focus on the giant mines of the northern Bushveld, or Platreef, including Ivanhoe’s mine of the same name.
The 2021 exploration program was designed by Group Ten to expand the 2021 resource at Stillwater West, which sits directly adjacent to Sibanye-Stillwater Ltd.'s (SBSW:NYSE) high-grade PGE mines in the Stillwater Complex.
Group Ten President and CEO Michael Rowley says hole CM2021-05, announced in early May, was the highlight in the most recent tranche of drill results and is one of the widest high-grade intercepts ever recorded in the Stillwater district — a region that has been mined for more than 100 years.
Hole CM2021-05, which sits outside the current modelled resource, returned 13.2 meters of 3.33% Ni eq (or 8.88 g/t palladium-equivalent) as 2.31% Ni, 1.51 g/t Pd+Pt+Rh+Au, 0.35% Cu, and 0.115% Co), starting at about 38 meters downhole. This intercept occurs within a broader width of 96 meters of 0.60% Ni eq (1.56 g/t Pd eq) and within 400.8 meters grading 0.30% Ni eq (0.8 g/t Pd eq).
Some 125 meters west, hole CM2020-04 encountered the same distinctive high-grade nickel sulphide, platinum group metals, and gold, suggesting potential continuity. It returned 8.5 meters of 1.74% Ni eq (or 4.65 g/t Pd eq), and the zone remains open to expansion with more drilling.
Rowley says drilling step-out holes on the new target area is a priority for the next exploration campaign.
Meanwhile, hole CM2021-06 at Chrome Mountain returned 0.26% Ni eq (0.71 g/t Pd eq) over 345 meters, including 75.4 meters of 0.37% Ni eq, or 0.99 g/t Pd eq, and another lower interval with 148.4 meters of 0.3% Ni eq (0.79 g/t Pd eq).
All three holes also demonstrate noteworthy rhodium values of up to 0.36 g/t Rh. The spot price for rhodium has been elevated for years, hovering around $16,000/oz, or about eight times the value of palladium and roughly 16 times the spot price for platinum in mid-May.
Sibanye-Stillwater, which mines the J-M Reef next door, is the primary U.S.-based producer of rhodium.
Critical Minerals Add Value
Nickel, platinum, palladium, rhodium, and cobalt — all metals contained in the Stillwater West resource — are among the U.S. Geological Survey’s 2022 list of critical minerals, as are iridium and ruthenium, two of the lesser known platinum group elements. The survey looks at U.S. imports, as well as the source of that supply, for a range of metals and minerals to determine potential supply shortages and potential vulnerabilities to national security and the economy.
Chromium also makes the list, and the U.S. government once mined high-grade chrome in the district in the 1940s for use in things like tank armor and bombs.
“The U.S. is moving to secure domestic supplies of our commodities. … We've worked with the U.S. Geological Survey for over four years at Stillwater West,” Rowley told Streetwise Reports. “So far, government initiatives have been aimed more at processing capacity and advanced-stage projects. With our inaugural resources out, we are now looking to advance to that status as we de-risk. We also believe the U.S. will look to supporting mine supply as well, as part of the move to securing domestic sources of critical minerals.”
A study by San Antonio, Texas-based US Global Investors says that demand for nickel is expected to increase by a factor of more than 15 as nickel use in lithium-ion battery cathodes explodes. Some estimates peg the amount of nickel in one electric vehicle (EV) at more than 80 lb.
Copper is one component of the Stillwater West resource that has not been classified as ‘critical,’ but the outlook is similar; one EV requires five times more copper than a car with an internal combustion engine. Copper prices reached all-time highs in early March and show few signs of weakness.
Cobalt is also in the mix.
EV manufacturing currently uses about 39,000 tonnes cobalt annually but London-based international markets consultant CRU expects that number to reach 120,000 tonnes by 2025. The dominant global source for cobalt is the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Group Ten Adds Bushveld Experience
Grobler is now Group Ten’s Vice-President of Exploration, while Brits is senior geologist. Both helped advance Ivanhoe’s Platreef mine, which shares remarkably similar geology with Stillwater West.
Grobler and Brits each bring some 20 years’ experience with major deposits in the Bushveld — perhaps the world’s richest mining camp.
The Bushveld and Stillwater complexes are both layered magmatic systems with two primary deposit models; narrow, higher-grade “reef-type” deposits, and “Platreef-style” deposits that include higher levels of battery metals and are amenable to bulk mining methods. Production from reef deposits is ongoing in both districts but the advancement of Platreef-style deposits at Stillwater has only recently been introduced by Group Ten, despite the known parallels.
“Reef” deposits are narrow, high-grade magmatic deposits. They can be massive, with reefs at both Bushveld and Stillwater running tens of kilometers. The J-M Reef in the Stillwater complex covers 40 kilometers on surface and averages about 1.8 meters thick. It is the largest platinum group element deposit in the western hemisphere, and the highest-grade in the world, containing 26.9 Moz (at 14.4 g/t Pd-Pt) in Proven and Probable reserves, another 39 Moz (at 14.7 g/t Pd-Pt) in the Measured and Indicated category, and 47.9 Moz (at 15.5 g/t Pd-Pt) in the Inferred category. More than 14 Moz have already been mined at grades greater than 14 g/t Pd-Pt.
Rowley says Stillwater West’s location beside the J-M Reef is correct for the “Platreef-style” mineralization outlined in the initial resource estimate, bringing a larger deposit model with a more balanced suite of commodities, and also more metal, to the table.
“We've got longer widths at bulk mining grades that add the battery metals to the mix,” Rowley told Streetwise Reports. “So it’s a different mining model but one that ultimately contains more metal on a grade-thickness basis.”
Rowley says there hasn’t been a formal study involving mining methods at Stillwater West but suggests the different deposits could be mined by mechanized underground block caving, which can be as or more economical than an open pit if gravity can be used to move the mineralized ore more efficiently than giant trucks.
Right People, Right Time
A bear market is rarely kind to junior exploration companies, and in early 2017 Rowley was doing all he could to keep his property claims in good standing in Ontario and Yukon when he received an email from Justin Modroo, a geophysicist who now works for Group Ten.
The cagey Modroo had watched as claims were dropped in and around the Stillwater complex, mostly due to junior exploration companies entering bankruptcy protection between 2011 and 2013.
Modroo not only staked some of the best claims; he bought some of the exploration data from a now defunct company that had done considerable exploration work before ultimately throwing the keys on the table.
The connection with Modroo allowed Group Ten to consolidate not only the land position next to the Stillwater mines, but also a database.
A second bit of serendipity is due to the antiquated nature of U.S. state laws and the mineral claims system.
Rowley says the outmoded database creates opportunity for people with local insight because without that knowledge the system's ham-fisted design makes it too difficult to determine claim holdings and consolidate the essential data necessary to advance a project.
Nonetheless, in 2017 Group Ten completed a small placement which enabled the company to secure a district-scale land package as the market for junior explorers bumped along a lengthy bottom.
A January 2022 research report by Vancouver-based Couloir Capital projected a $132.73 million enterprise value for the junior explorer. It seems Rowley’s gamble is starting to see some upside.
Funding Further Development
Group Ten is focused on expanding the inaugural resource estimate at Stillwater West. The results from the 2021 expansion drill campaign continue to come in, and a similar campaign in 2022 is funded and fully permitted.
Group Ten is also monetizing its other district-scale assets, as part of its focus on Stillwater. Late in November, Heritage Mining Ltd. optioned up to 90% of Group Ten’s Black Lake-Drayton gold project in northwestern Ontario, representing the first in what Group Ten expects will be a series of deals.
Heritage can earn up to a 90% stake in the project once it completes certain cash payments and exploration spending milestones. Rowley says the money, and any upside in Heritage’s share price, will help fund Stillwater West development.
He adds that the company is talking to other companies about optioning its Kluane PGE-Ni-Cu project in northern British Columbia.
Couloir Capital gives Group Ten a “buy” rating and a “fair value” price of CA$0.61 per share.
Group Ten has about 170 million shares outstanding and trades in a 52-week range of CA$0.48 and CA$0.27.
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1) Brian Sylvester compiled this article for Streetwise Reports LLC and provides services to Streetwise Reports as an employee. They or members of their household own securities of the following companies mentioned in the article: None. They or members of their household are paid by the following companies mentioned in this article: None. Their company has a financial relationship with the following companies referred to in this article: None.
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