Project of the Week: Firefinch Ltd

7th February 2022

 

The green transition is anything but green, and renewable energy does not come from renewable resources, as noted in a recent episode of the Geoscience Futures podcast by Scott Tinker (Geoscience Futures Podcast). In fact, every single electric vehicle (EV) contains about 10 kg of lithium - and many countries are committing to a full transition to EVs in the next 10-30 years. That adds up to...a lot of lithium!

So where is it coming from? We could talk about las salares, the salt flats in the South American highlands, which host up to 75% of the world’s lithium resources (Harvard International Review, 2020). But these deposits are well-known, and extraction is taking place at record levels. This week’s project is all about undiscovered, untapped resources!

Firefinch Ltd (ASX:FFX) agree, as they look to expand and exploit their lithium project at Goulamina in southern Mali. Leo Lithium will take over operations and exploration following a demerger from Firefinch in March with a release on the ASX market in the plans for early Q2 2022(Aug. 2021 press release). While the demerger is being finalized, funding (up to $ 190 M USD) from joint-venture partner and lithium giant, Jiangxi Ganfeng Lithium Co. is in place to have Leo Lithium roaring from the start.

Figure 1. A. Map of gold and Li deposits in southern Mali. Granitic bodies outlined in pink. B. Zoom in map of the LCT pegmatite distribution at the Goulamine deposit. They are entirely contained within the Goulamina Granite defined by its magnetic anomaly. C. Cross section of drilling which intercepted several of the pegmatite ore bodies at Goulamina. (Wilde et al., 2021).

So, what’s going on at Goulamina? Goulamina, located 150 km south of Bamako, Mali, is a lithium pegmatite project containing an estimated 1.6 Mt of Li2O making it one of the largest hard-rock lithium projects in the world. The pegmatite dikes (coarse-grained igneous intrusions) span an area of 3 km2 along a NW-SE trend, and they are hosted in the Proterozoic Goulamina Granite of the Baoulé-Mossi domain of the West African Craton (Fig.1B-C). The dikes are considered LCT pegmatites, meaning they contain Lithium - Cesium - Tantalum, and the Li ore mineral, spodumene (LiAlSi2O6), a lithium rich pyroxene.

These LCT pegmatites form in the core of metamorphic orogens, and are attributed to pluton-sized magmatic bodies of melted crust which form peraluminous granites (Bradley et al., 2017). As these melts fractionate, fluids and incompatible elements collect and intrude the local rock along planes of weakness, such as fold axes (Fig. 2). All the pegmatite dikes at Goulamina are oriented the same way, along ancient Proterozoic structures.

Figure 2. Idealized model for LCT pegmatite formation during intrusion of the peraluminous granite body during, or just after, mountain building. (Bradley et al., 2017)

The pegmatite dikes at Goulamina are composed of coarse-grained quartz, sodic and potassic feldspar, muscovite and spodumene (Fig. 3). The average grade of the entire deposit is 1.45 % Li2O, with an estimated 109 Mt of ore, making Goulamina one of the biggest hard-rock Li deposits known (October 2020 Presentation). The impurities in the ore are low, with iron averaging around 1%, meaning that processing is easier and higher recovery rates are possible. Even better, new processing technology from the Chinese lithium giant Ganfeng have yielded up to 80% lithium recovery at Goulamina already.

Figure 3. Pegmatite core from Goulamina. Spodumene is the elongate white mineral you can see in the sample, quartz is gray, and the purplish stuff is mica.

The project is massive, with low cost and high recovery rates, and the extent of the ore field is still undefined. Currently, Firefinch is planning open pit mine development with one large pit in the northern part of the project, and a smaller subsidiary put in the south. The life of mine is estimated to be a minimum of 23 years, with considerable room for mine growth via expansion drilling. Firefinch will install processing facilities directly adjacent to the pit, capable of producing lithium concentrate using flotation. Development of infrastructure is important, but the nearby Sankarani River will provide a stable water source for all the mining operations. Production is set for 2023 in the company’s recent proposals.

While Goulamina has funding in place, a well-established management team, and fully permitted clearance for exploration and extraction from the Mali government, there are still concerns with the Goulamina project. Geopolitics is ever at play in the mining industry, and on February 4th, the European Union put new sanctions on the government leaders who took over by military coup in May 2021 (Al Jazeera News, Feb 4, 2022). This follows sanctions by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), who have tried to curb military takeovers in their economic block of 15 West African nations (Al Jazeera News, Feb 3, 2022). Political and economic unrest in Mali remain a primary concern that Firefinch is keeping an eye on, though Goulamina is not their only concern. In 2020, Firefinch purchased the Morila gold deposit about 100 km to the east of Goulamina, which contains an estimated 2.4 Moz of gold. They have maintained operations there throughout the coup and the international sanctions.

As the world shifts toward new technologies like Li batteries, EVs, and renewable energy, our team at Spotlight Mining will keep our eyes on companies like Firefinch Ltd (and soon, Leo Lithium) as they begin to develop new mines. As long as I’m writing, I’ll be looking at hard rock mines, but as an economic geologist, it’s important to note the salar deposits of the Lithium triangle and other “soft rock” mining. For now, keep an eye on the Goulamina project as one of the best potential lithium mines in the near future.

 


References
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/2/3/ecowas-emergency-summit-coups-west-africa
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/2/4/eu-imposes-sanctions-on-malis-pm-coup-leaders
https://geosciencefutures.org/2022/01/24/scott-tinker/
https://hir.harvard.edu/lithium-triangle/
Firefinch Ltd - News Release - Aug 16, 2021. https://www.investi.com.au/api/announcements/ffx/f630aae1-97f.pdf
Firefinch Ltd - Goulamina DFS Update - Corporate presentation, December, 2021. https://www.investi.com.au/api/announcements/ffx/049fd017-3a7.pdf
Bradley, D.C., McCauley, A.D. and Stillings, L.L., 2017. Mineral-deposit model for lithium-cesium-tantalum pegmatites (No. 2010-5070-O). US Geological Survey.
Wilde, A., Otto, A. and McCracken, S., 2021. Geology of the Goulamina spodumene pegmatite field, Mali. Ore Geology Reviews134, p.104162.

Aaron Hantsche

View posts by Aaron Hantsche
Aaron Hantsche recently obtained his PhD in Geology from the University of Geneva in Switzerland, where he studied distal Pb-Zn skarn deposits in southern Bulgaria. Magmatic-hydrothermal deposits are his primary focus, with a bent towards geochemical vectoring tools and field geology. In addition to his work as a geologist, Aaron is a director for the science communication platform, Ore Deposits Hub. His passion for mineral deposits and geo-communication led him to join the Spotlight Mining writing team in October 2021.