Blackstone’s 90%-owned Ta Khoa Nickel Project is located 160km west of Hanoi in the Son La Province of Vietnam. It includes an existing modern nickel mine built to Australian Standards, currently under care and maintenance. The Ban Phuc nickel mine successfully operated as a mechanised underground nickel mine from 2013 to 2016.
Previous project owners invested more than US$136m in capital and generated US$213m in revenue during a 3.5-year period of falling nickel prices. The project was placed into care and maintenance in mid-2016 during some of the lowest nickel prices in the past 10 years.
Existing infrastructure associated with the project includes an internationally-designed 450ktpa processing plant connected to local hydro grid power with a fully-permitted tailings facility and a modern 250- person camp.
Blackstone commenced maiden drilling at the Ta Khoa Nickel Project in August 2019 with the initial phase one diamond drilling program focused on shallow targets within the Ban Phuc disseminated zone. Drilling intersected substantial disseminated nickel sulfide mineralisation within the first three drill holes, followed by significant platinum, palladium and gold assay results, including:
|Hole No||From (m)||Width (m)||Ni (%)||Cu (%)||Pt (g/t)||Pd (g/t)||Au (g/t)||Pt+Pd+Au (g/t)|
Peak assays delivered up to 3.4% nickel and 2.0g/t PGE – the previously unrecognised PGE grades associated with the Ban Phuc DSS suggest a potential by-product credit could significantly enhance the future economics of the Ta Khoa Nickel Project.
An Induced Polarisation survey over the Ban Phuc DSS in August 2019 to define higher grade zones to target in the second phase of drilling indicated a strong correlation between high chargeability and high-grade disseminated sulfide and massive sulfide vein mineralisation. Drilling is continuing to test high-impact targets generated by this survey.
A third phase of drilling will target massive sulfide vein prospects generated from historic and upcoming electromagnetic surveys over MSV targets located outside of the main Ban Phuc orebody. Initial IP survey test line indicates a strong correlation exists between high chargeability, low resistivity and high grade MSV and DSS mineralisation. IP chargeability targets suggest significant potential to delineate further high-grade mineralisation throughout the Ta Khoa Nickel Project.
Previous project owners focused mining and exploration efforts primarily on the Massive Sulfide Vein at Ban Phuc while Blackstone will now look to explore both Massive Sulfide Vein targets and Disseminated Sulfide targets throughout the entire Ta Khoa Project. Blackstone will conduct further geophysics on the MSV and DSS deposits and follow up with significant drilling campaigns.
Blackstone will aim to deliver a maiden resource on the Disseminated Sulfide at Ban Phuc over the coming months, and investigate the potential to restart the Ban Phuc concentrator through focused exploration on both MSV and DSS deposits.
Blackstone will commence metallurgical testing on the Ban Phuc Disseminated orebody with an aim to develop a flow sheet for a product suitable for the Lithium Ion battery industry. Blackstone will investigate the potential to develop downstream processing infrastructure in Vietnam to produce a downstream nickel and cobalt product to supply Asia’s growing lithium ion battery industry.
The Ban Phuc deposit was first discovered in 1945 and subsequent early exploration work conducted by Vietnamese geologists in the mid-1950s and early 1960s was initially focused on copper. AMR Nickel Limited was established in 1993 and commenced modern exploration at Ban Phuc in 1996. The licence area, prior to 1993, was entirely owned and administered by the Vietnamese government. Asian Mineral Resources Limited listed on the TSX-V in April 2004 and completed a diamond drilling program soon after, aiming to define a mineral resource at Ban Phuc.
The first phase of mining commenced in 2008 but global market conditions saw this soon cease. Construction recommenced in 2012 and the mine was bought into full-scale production during 2013 and completed in mid-2016. Previous exploration and mining almost entirely focused on the high- grade Massive Sulfide Vein with ~80% of all drilling to date into Ban Phuc. In 2016 when the Ban Phuc Nickel mine was placed into care and maintenance, a total of ~381 holes had been drilled for ~61,894m (with ~ 310 holes for ~49,743m into Ban Phuc).
The existing modern infrastructure at Ban Phuc remains in good condition, in readiness for an improved nickel price. The infrastructure includes an internationally-designed 450ktpa processing facility connected to local hydro grid power, and a fully-permitted tailings facility with excess capacity and expansion options. Other modern infrastructure includes a mechanised underground mine, with established workshops, fabrication and maintenance facilities, an internationally certified laboratory and a 250- person camp.
Previous owners of the Ban Phuc nickel mine completed an extensive engineering study for a downstream nickel smelter which allowed a reduction in tariffs from 20% to 5%. Metallurgical test work indicated favourable metallurgical characteristics for downstream processing with relatively low capital requirements. Blackstone believes Vietnam is an ideal location to establish downstream processing infrastructure to deliver nickel and cobalt sulfide feed into Asia’s growing Lithium Ion battery industry. Blackstone will investigate the potential to develop downstream processing infrastructure to produce nickel and cobalt products for the Lithium Ion battery sector.
Vietnam has an established mining industry with 22 open cut mines and 23 underground mines throughout the country. The government is focused on tax reform and improving the operating environment to entice foreign investment into the mining industry. In July 2018, the Prime Minister approved the Vietnamese Mining Master Plan (2020-2035) which specifically identifies the Ban Phuc Nickel mine as a project of national significance which eliminated key permitting and approval obstacles. The government recently halved the Mining Licence Grant Fee (MLGF) for new nickel mines and recently announced a new-generation Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) attraction and orientation strategy for 2018-2030. Through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the government has committed to eliminating existing export taxes in Vietnam. These initiatives all point to an improved operating environment for multinational mining companies investing in Vietnam.
The Ta Khoa Nickel Project is located within the northwest to southeast-trending Song Da Rift zone of northern Vietnam. The Song Da Rift is a major crustal suture zone which forms part of a greater system of deep continental rifting. This major structure continues north into China where it is associated with a series of comparable magmatic Ni-Cu-PGE deposits e.g. Baimazhai, Qingquanshan, Limahe and Yangliuping.
The Song Da Rift zone has a tectonic and structural setting analogous to major Ni-Cu deposits such as Norilsk (Russia) and Jinchuan (China). The project lies entirely within the Ta Khoa anticline which is a domal feature within the Song Da Rift Zone. The geological setting and the 25 advanced stage massive sulfide vein targets combined with a number of broader disseminated sulfide targets indicates significant potential exists for multiple Ni-Cu-Co-PGE deposits within the Ta Khoa Nickel Project.
A number of types of mineralisation are recognised in the intrusive and surrounding metamorphic rocks throughout the Ta Khoa Project:
Most Ni-Cu-Co mineralisation, with or without platinum group elements (PGEs), is both spatially and temporally associated with ultramafic intrusions including:
Above: The Ta Khoa Nickel Project is located within a significant magmatic nickel sulfide district
The massive sulfide vein constituting the recently-mined Ban Phuc underground resource, is a body of Ni-Cu-Co-PGE sulfide considered to be magmatic in origin rather than a hydrothermal vein. The vein is 640m in length and continues to at least 450m below surface with an average width of 1.3m. Country rocks are hornfelsed Ban Phuc Horizon calcareous sediments and tremolite-altered ultramafics. Quartz vein material typically brecciated and infilled with remobilised sulfide is also present within the host shear. More than 25 mapped Massive Sulfide Vein targets exist throughout the project with only minimal drilling by previous owners outside of the main Ban Phuc MSV deposit.
Significant historic intersections of the massive sulfide vein at Ban Phuc include:
|BP04-63||2.02m @ 4.64% Ni, 3.59% Cu & 0.15% Co from 258.7m|
|BP13-06||2.25m @ 3.88% Ni, 1.59% Cu & 0.12% Co from 322.9m|
|LK03||2.50m @ 3.98% Ni & 0.96% Cu from 167.9m|
|LK11||2.05m @ 4.33% Ni & 1.14% Cu from 189.7m|
|BP301-18||9.2m @ 4.15% Ni, 1.33% Cu & 0.13% Co from 48.3m Incl.
4.9m @ 6.49% Ni, 1.19% Cu & 0.20% Co
Significant historic drilling and trenching results from unmined massive sulfide vein targets at Ta Khoa include:
|Suoi Phang||1.0m @ 5.96% Ni, 3.53% Cu, 0.02% Co & 0.2g/t PGE;|
|1.0m @ 5.98% Ni, 0.24% Cu, 0.19% Co & 0.17g/t PGE;
2.1m @ 4.19% Ni, 0.36% Cu & 0.14% Co.
|Kingsnake||1.6m @ 3.27% Ni, 1.30% Cu, 0.11% Co & 2.22g/t PGE;
1.7m @ 3.30% Ni, 1.02% Cu, 0.11% Co & 2.16g/t PGE;
0.8m @ 3.08% Ni, 1.59% Cu, 0.17% Co.
|Ban Chang||1.6m @ 2.19% Ni & 1.54% Cu;|
|1.0m @ 2.65% Ni & 1.04% Cu;
1.7m @ 1.89% Ni & 0.91% Cu.
|Ban Khang||2.5m @ 1.76% Ni, 0.25% Cu & 0.19% Co;
2.6m @ 1.59% Ni, 0.71% Cu & 0.08% Co;
|Ban Mong||1.8m @ 1.51% Ni, 0.35% Cu & 0.17% Co.
0.5m @ 6.11% Ni, 0.11% Cu & 0.2% Co
0.5m @ 4.56% Ni, 0.15% Cu & 0.15% Co
0.5m @ 4.61% Ni, 1.20% Cu, 0.13% Co & 4.33g/t PGE
Above: Ta Khoa dome geology prospective for multiple magmatic nickel sulfide deposits
Considerable potential exists within the Project for unmined bulk-tonnage, lower-grade deposits of disseminated sulfides within ultramafic intrusions. Regional exploration in the Ta Khoa corridor has identified an extensive system of mafic-ultramafic intrusives, a remarkable number of which have associated Ni-Cu massive or disseminated sulfide mineralisation. Bulk-tonnage disseminated sulfide targets exist at Ban Phuc, Ban Khang, Ban Chang and Ban Khoa.
Significant historic intersections of unmined disseminated sulfide at Ban Phuc include:
|BP04-68||74.0m @ 1.02% Ni & 0.20% Cufrom 73.0m Incl.
51.0m @ 1.19% Ni & 0.24% Cu from 91.0m
|BP9706||71.3m @ 0.94% Ni & 0.13% Cu from 122.0m Incl.
32.0m @ 1.54% Ni & 0.26% Cu from 130.0m
|LK46||90.2m @ 1.10% Ni from 140.2m Incl.
54.2m @ 1.50% Ni from 162.9m
|LK50||83.0m @ 1.12% Ni from 96.5m Incl.
60.3m @ 1.35% Ni from 117.1m
|BP14-03||71.2m @ 0.98% Ni & 0.18% Cu from 90.5m|
Above: Ban Phuc disseminated sulfide