This past September, a large hexagon suspended from a helicopter was spotted around Arrow Park. The contraption was part of an expedition by Vancouver-based Noram, a mineral exploration company on the lookout for graphite near Whatshan Lake.
What the company saw thanks to their airborne equipment was “just the beginning,” according to president Dave Rees. Once the magnetic resonance survey by helicopter was completed, a ground crew went in and confirmed there was graphite in the sample.
“It’s quite accessible,” said Rees, who said the logging roads that crisscross the 144 square-kilometre area northeast of Whatshan Lake are a boon to exploration efforts.
In a recent update about the company’s exploration of the Nakusp Flake-Graphite Property published on equities.com, it was stated that Noram has an option to earn a 100 per cent interest in the Property, which is 14,435 hectares in size.
What’s all the fuss about graphite?
Graphite isn’t just for pencils anymore. It’s found in refractories (substances that are heat-resistant), metallurgy, lubricants brake pads as well as pencils. It’s also found in Lithium-ion batteries which power cell phones, laptops and power tools, and which are the heart of electric car technology.
Graphite is a very stable form of carbon that conducts electricity and is hard to ignite. For that reason, it has been used in steelmaking and foundry facings. One particular use, according to Wikipedia, was in the manufacturing of superior cannon balls, and thereby contributing to the strength of the English navy. It has also historically been used to mark sheep, a much less lofty but also necessary use.
In 2012, Canada was the fifth largest producer of flake graphite, running behind China, Brazil, India and North Korea, according to a pamphlet from the Natural Graphite Report 2012 (NGR) from Industrial Minerals. China is far and away the largest producer of the stuff, mining 79 per cent of the global graphite available in 2011.
According to the NGR pamphlet, due to the increase in demand for electric cars and to China’s changing focus to exporting finished goods rather than raw materials, and looking to its own domestic needs, the world graphite market is changing. The price of the mineral has increased 140 per cent over the last two years, and graphite sources that were once seen as unprofitable are now being reconsidered.
The cost of the NGR may itself be an indicator of the increasing importance and value of graphite. The Industrial Minerals report, which details up-to-date data about the mineral and the market, sells for $6,000 a copy.
Graphene is the real potential mineral wunderkind, however. A sheet of single layer-carbon atoms, graphene is a two-dimensional material that is lightweight but extremely strong with a breaking strength 200 times that of steel, according to Wikipedia. Not only is it able to be rolled, wrapped and stacked, it is recyclable.
According to a 2007 article from the University of Manchester, “graphene is a rapidly rising star on the horizon of materials science and condensed-matter physics.” The authors of the article, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, also state in their article that “the graphene ‘gold rush’ has begun.” Geim and Novoselov won the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work with two-dimensional graphene.
The potential uses for graphene are vast in number, with several being actively developed and many more being dreamed up. Solar cells, integrated circuits, flexible screens, desalination, and medical screening devices are just a few of the possibilities for the stuff.
Noram’s Dave Rees is as excited as the researchers and technologists by the possibilities for the stuff. Graphene is pretty much the strongest stuff in the whole world, he told the Arrow Lakes News.
The results of the company’s surveys have also been exciting so far, and more testing will take place in the spring to see if the Whatshan deposit would be economical to mine. If all the results continue to look promising, the next steps will be to raise the millions of dollars needed to open a mine, a long-term prospect particularly in these economic times.
Even if the deposit is a rich one, it will be at least five years until a mine is up and running, the Noram president said. But so far, it’s looking good.
“We’re quite happy with the results,” said Rees, “and we’ll be back.”