Yarmouth County lithium deposit draws Chinese company

There is an increased demand for the rare mineral used in electric car batteries and smart phones.

There is an increased demand for the rare mineral used in electric car batteries and smart phones

John Wightman standing in front of crushed pegmatite which holds spodumene, a mineral containing lithium. (CBC)

A Yarmouth County lithium deposit first staked nearly two decades ago is attracting new interest as demand increases for the rare mineral used in electric car batteries and smart phones.

The deposit — the only one in the Maritimes — triggered a huge bulk sample order from an unidentified Chinese mining company, and hundreds of mineral exploration claims filed in just two days in April.

"It's the hot commodity now," veteran prospector John Wightman said. 

Wightman, who is with Champlain Mineral Ventures, said he and his partners staked the original 1,500 hectare claim near the hamlet of Carleton in 1997. Now they're watching others jump into the area.

"There's been a big price push and that draws interest," the Bridgetown geologist said.

Large sudden land claim in April

In late April, 900 claims were marked, covering 14,666 hectares, by the Vancouver-based junior mining company Clean Commodities Corporation — completely surrounding Wightman's original stake.

"We are very receptive. I congratulated the guy for picking up some good ground," Wightman said.

Clean Commodities CEO Ryan Kalt said his company was attracted by soaring prices, a known deposit and access to roads, ports and power lines.

"If you can identify high grade deposits in that region, they have a far better chance of development than one that is more isolated," Kalt said in an interview from Vancouver. 

The target deposit is a rock called pegmatite which holds spodumene, a mineral containing lithium.

Kalt said he is betting there are other pegmatite ore bodies outside those staked by Wightman.

"We know this area historically has held lithium potential that was identified quite a while ago," he said. "The change in the marketplace is a byproduct of the step change in the underlying commodity price."

He said the price has gone from $5,000 a tonne up to $30,000 per 1,000 kilograms in Asia.

Chinese miner already in Canada

The Chinese were in ahead of his company. Three years ago, Wightman said he began discussions with a Chinese mining company interested in his property. He said that company had contacted the mineral testing laboratory at Dalhousie University, seeking known pegmatite sites in Nova Scotia. That led to a relationship that saw Champlain Mineral Ventures crush and ship 30,000 kg of ore to China in the fall of 2015.

"They had this amount, and they said, 'this is pretty good stuff,' send us 10,000 tonnes," Wightman said. "That would be 340 containers. I told them that was probably not economic, so we are trying to arrange for a bulk carrier to stop in at Shelburne."

Wightman declined to identify the company from China, but said he hopes to ship out of Shelburne by the end of October.

Wightman claim

The Clean Commodities project, known as Brazil Lake, still is in the very early "boulder hunting" stage with basic prospecting and soil sampling, Kalt said. The company has yet to drill its own samples, but junior mining companies are nothing if not optimistic. 

Nova Scotia's Minister of Natural Resources Lloyd Hines said he welcomed interest from Clean Commodities and was pitching the deposits at an annual national prospectors conference in Toronto earlier in the year.

"We're excited we have the kind of interest in Nova Scotia," Hines said. "You don't know until you look. The process is there to pay your money and take your chances."

The Champlain Mineral Ventures stake, while still undeveloped, is further ahead. Wightman said his company has done 50 diamond drill holes, identifying pegmatite with variable zones ranging from five per cent to 20 per cent of lithium-bearing spodumen.

"If we were in Northern Quebec, it would not be economic, but here we are a half an hour rough drive from here to Shelburne — a good port," he said. 

The bulk sample going to China will undergo advanced metallurgical testing, which could lead to a so-called flotation mill that would separate the minerals. Wightman said a surface mine could be in operation in as little as two years.

The deposit is another legacy of Avard Hudgins, the Nova Scotia prospector who died at age 78 earlier this month. Wightman credits his former business partner with moving the claim forward.

About the Author

Paul Withers

Reporter

Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.