Project of the Week: Wildsky Resources Nasawara project (Nb-Ta), Nigeria

9th June 2021

This week’s star project again strays slightly from the typical commodities covered and comes to us from West Africa via the TSX-V listed Wildsky Resources Inc (TSXV:WSK). When one thinks of West African mining ventures, the typical image which comes to mind is gold, gold and more gold. However, Wildsky are heading into Nigeria with the aim of discovering a new source of Niobium and Tantalum - mainly in the form of columbite (a.k.a. coltan, which we will get into later…) and tantalite.

So, let us start by unpacking what we use these obscure elements for anyway, and why new discoveries could be important. Niobium alloys are primarily used to produce high-strength steel, found in everything from bridges and ships to cars and railways. Tantalum is a more refined character, with the bulk of concentrates consumed by the electronics industry. In fact, there are bound to be some tantalum capacitors buzzing away behind the very screen you read this on. It is common knowledge that the need for feedstocks for these industries are growing rapidly (over 100 million smartphone users in China, India and the US combined) and supply chains are dominated by few stakeholders.

Official statistics say that in 2019, 40% of the world’s refined columbite was produced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with much more estimated to have been illegally smuggled over the border to Rwanda to be exported with a far lower government levy.

No doubt our readers will be at least somewhat familiar with the artisanal methods commonly used to extract columbite and the environmental destruction that can occur as a result. Columbite has also often been classified as a ‘conflict mineral’, since in the late 90s-early 2000s the RCD rebel government of the DRC used coltan exports to generate significant income.

More recently however, the issue of child labour as part of the tantalum supply chain has come to the forefront as in 2016 Amnesty international accused tech giants Apple and Samsung of using failing to check the provenance of their components. A later lawsuit was filed against the former as well as Tesla, Google and Microsoft by parents of child ‘garimpeiros’, with claims that the companies “aiding the death and serious injury” of children in mines in their supply chains (figure 1).

Artisanal alluvial workings in the DRC targeting columbite. These mines can be mostly unregulated and can be unsafe for those working in the hand-dug tunnels.
Figure 1. Artisanal alluvial workings in the DRC targeting columbite. These mines can be mostly unregulated and can be unsafe for those working in the hand-dug tunnels. Photo credit: Sylvian Liechti.

The significant problems associated with Nb-Ta mining in the DRC do not necessarily translate into a new venture in Nigeria, which has a significantly higher general state of development, where regulation and government oversight can and should prevent and mitigate the impacts of columbite mining seen in the last 20 years to the south.

Enough of the story elsewhere, let’s move onto the potential of more Nigerian columbite. The geology of Nigeria can be divided into three sub-sections – Precambrian Basement greenstone complex, Jurassic Younger granites, and Cretaceous to recent sedimentary basins (figure 2). The target areas for Wildsky lie at the southern end of the younger Jurassic Granite lithological domain where they have 474 km2 of mineral rights claim.

Figure 2. Generalised geological map of Nigeria including the working area of Wildsky.
Figure 2. Generalised geological map of Nigeria including the working area of Wildsky.

Each REE deposit is different, and individualities in the minerality of hard-rock deposits can pose new problems for the budding metallurgist. In this case, mineralisation is hosted in the younger Jurassic granites, which are typically peraluminous in nature and are enriched with a variety of exotic metallic elements. These granites are typically strongly heterogeneous with strong zonation and Columbite is hosted as a disseminated phase that occurs in the roof of the intrusions where strong albitisation is common in fine-grained regions. It is suggested that the granites originated in the upper mantle as salic (silica and aluminium-rich) melts as a result of partial melting of the mantle and decompression melting during ascent. Enrichment of the magma with REEs is hypothesised to have been the result of later interaction with the Precambrian basement.

Exploration is currently at a very early stage, with the licences in question only being acquired in late 2020. The licences contain most of the land immediately surrounding the Kenyang Nb-Ta mine, which exploits the same mineralisation Wildsky is targeting. Aero magnetic surveys place the operating mine sits on a moderate anomaly, which extends into Wildsky’s licence areas. Using this data surface samples were collected, and their assay results reported both “good” Nb-Ta anomalies, although no quantitative results reported (make of that what you will…) and a strong correlation between Nb and uranium and thorium. This association can be used as vectors for tracing Nb-Ta mineralisation through airborne Radiometric surveys (figure 3).

Figure 3. Airborne radiometrics plot for U over the Wildsky Nb-Ta licence areas. Anomalies used as vectors for NB-Ta mineralisation extend into licences areas.
Figure 3. Airborne radiometrics plot for U over the Wildsky Nb-Ta licence areas. Anomalies used as vectors for NB-Ta mineralisation extend into licences areas.

It is not clear from available source whether any further exploration has been conducted prior to the Nigerian rainy season, but more basic exploration activities are scheduled to take place at the licences to define drill targets.

Do check out Wildsky’s website for reports and the latest news releases to learn more, as I think the opportunity to diversify REE supply chains and reduce the control of near-monopolies is good for the world!

All information in the above article is sourced from Wildsky resources website and materials contained therein, unless stated otherwise.

Further information:
Wildsky Resources: https://wildskyresources.com/
Amnesty International: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2017/11/industry-giants-fail-to-tackle-child-labour-allegations-in-cobalt-battery-supply-chains/