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Perth-based ju­nior Talga Re­sources is look­ing to make its mark in the bat­tery metal space with a ver­ti­cally in­te­grated busi­ness that starts with its large Euro­pean graphite de­posits. El­iz­a­beth Fabri spoke with Talga Re­sources man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and founder Mark Thomp­son about the com­pany’s re­cent suc­cess, new tech­nolo­gies in the works, and outlook for the graphene and graphite mar­kets. Q. You’re a Perth-born, self-taught ge­ol­o­gist. How did your idea for Talga be­gin?

Talga Re­sources was orig­i­nally Talga Gold, which I founded to test a port­fo­lio of high-grade gold projects in WA’s Pil­bara and Yil­garn re­gions in 2010.

Ini­tial gold ex­plo­ration re­sults were en­cour­ag­ing but not rev­o­lu­tion­ary, and in look­ing to grow the com­pany I saw the mega­trend of in­creased elec­tri­fi­ca­tion and bat­tery de­mand. This was in 2011.

In look­ing deeper into the un­der­ly­ing ma­te­ri­als, graphite stood out as hav­ing a large and in­cum­bent role in many bat­tery tech­nolo­gies, while still fly­ing un­der the radar.

The po­ten­tial was to be an early mover, gain­ing a world class as­set that would be im­pos­si­ble in other bat­tery min­er­als. Af­ter re­view­ing de­posits all over the world I found some ex­tremely high-grade de­posits in Swe­den.

We pegged our first graphite de­posits in late 2011 and in early 2012, be­fore mov­ing on the pur­chase of a Teck sub­sidiary, which owned a port­fo­lio of as­sets in north Swe­den in­clud­ing the ul­tra-ho­moge­nous and high-grade Vit­tangi graphite de­posit.

Vit­tangi still re­mains the world’s high­est-grade min­eral re­source of graphite un­der JORC or NI43-101 codes, and along with our other projects there we now con­trol the largest graphite de­posits de­fined in Europe.

Q. Was ver­ti­cal in­te­gra­tion al­ways the end game?

No. When we started it was a straight for­ward raw ma­te­rial play, but a met­al­lur­gi­cal break­through trans­formed the project.

This led us on the path of de­vel­op­ing a new and wholly owned pro­cess­ing tech­nol­ogy, mak­ing graphene along­side graphite but in an in­te­grated way. Quickly there­after we found that po­ten­tial graphene con­sumers need fit-for-pur­pose ma­te­rial, trans­lat­ing into par­ti­cle en­gi­neer­ing and chem­istry fit to match man­u­fac­tur­ing lines.

So, we cre­ated an in-house R&D team and now have a grow­ing port­fo­lio of graphene prod­uct tech­nolo­gies and in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty.

This level of ver­ti­cal in­te­gra­tion is a ma­jor ad­van­tage for us and to large end users, and our IP car­ries over into prod­uct lines and of­fers fur­ther value op­por­tu­ni­ties such as pro­duc­tion roy­al­ties and li­cenc­ing.

Q. Why did you es­tab­lish a sub­sidiary— Talga Bat­tery Met­als AB – for your cobalt projects?

The Teck trans­ac­tion in­cluded what is known as Swe­den’s largest cobalt de­posit, Kiskama.

Being an IOCG sys­tem the de­posit has some at­trac­tions in scale com­pared to other Euro­pean de­posits that tend to be in small veins.

Kiskama also has cop­per and gold co-prod­ucts and ex­tremely high met­al­lur­gi­cal re­cov­er­ies, mak­ing it at­trac­tive on a nu­mer­ous lev­els.

How­ever, our main fo­cus is de­liv­er­ing the graphite-graphene project. As metal projects re­quire ex­tra de­mand for skills, pro­cesses and ways to fi­nance de­vel­op­ment we de­cided to pro­ceed with an in­ter­nal re­struc­ture, split­ting the as­sets to en­able bet­ter re­sourc­ing for ad­vanc­ing the bat­tery met­als projects.

This in­cludes a ded­i­cated man­age­ment team being ap­pointed and ex­plo­ration de­signed so as to in­crease value prior to de­cid­ing on the best path for­ward for Talga Bat­tery Met­als; a de­ci­sion which may in­clude op­tions such as a spin out.

Cobalt prices have been off their peaks lately but in any sce­nario go­ing for­ward the de­mand is there, and our po­ten­tial sup­ply is strate­gi­cally lo­cated.

Q. Take us through the re­cent quar­ter high­lights.

We an­nounced break­through test re­sults from our fully for­mu­lated Li-ion bat­tery an­ode, find­ing a sub­stan­tial (about 20 per cent) in­crease in power and en­ergy. The an­odes were pre­pared in com­mer­cial scale pouch cells, show­ing we can en­gi­neer a “su­per-graphite” to be an­ode ready.

This of­fers po­ten­tial for us to enter the value chain at a much higher level and cap­ture higher mar­gins.

On the graphene front we found that the ad­di­tion of our Talphene ® could make con­crete sig­nif­i­cantly elec­tri­cally con­duc­tive, open­ing the pos­si­bil­ity for heat­ing ap­pli­ca­tions such as snow/ice free roads, foot­paths and drive­ways.

It could also po­ten­tially play a role in the dy­namic charg­ing of elec­tric ve­hi­cles through in­duc­tion.

Towards the end of the quar­ter we also com­pleted an $8.5 mil­lion place­ment pro­vid­ing funds to ac­cel­er­ate the bat­tery grade graphite de­vel­op­ment, cobalt de­vel­op­ment and strength­en­ing the bal­ance sheet for ad­vanc­ing graphene devel­op­ments.

Q. Talga has formed some strate­gic part­ner­ships and com­mer­cial agree­ments in re­cent years with the likes of Jaguar, Lan­drover, Univer­sity of Cam­bridge, CSIRO, Bosch, BASF, Hei­del­berg Ce­ment, Tata and re­cently Hay­dale for con­duc­tive ink. What has been your strat­egy for col­lab­o­ra­tion?

The graphene prod­ucts strat­egy is to in­vest in peo­ple, our own IP, and tech­nol­ogy to make a pro­to­type of a prod­uct and demon­strate how it per­forms.

This means you bring a lot of know-how and eq­uity to the cus­tomer and of­fer more value in a col­lab­o­ra­tion, and can speed up the prac­ti­cal de­vel­op­ment of ad­vanced ma­te­ri­als di­rectly with brand name end users.

Q. What is your outlook for the graphite and graphene mar­kets, and where does Talga fit in?

The outlook for nat­u­ral graphite de­mand is very strong.

China is crack­ing down on pol­lut­ing graphite pro­duc­ers, but at the same time the world us­ing more graphite in bat­ter­ies, [so the] prices of nat­u­ral graphite have started to rise strongly, depend­ing on the grade.

Some re­port China will go into graphite deficit as soon as next year, as Gov­ern­ment-leg­is­lated elec­tric ve­hi­cle pro­duc­tion cre­ates over­whelm­ing new de­mand, strand­ing much of the rest of world with­out sup­ply.

Talga is well po­si­tioned to take ad­van­tage of this hav­ing de­vel­oped, in ad­di­tion to our graphene ad­di­tives, break­through an­ode-ready graphite prod­ucts.

The graphene mar­ket is in its in­fancy but ac­cel­er­at­ing, as more man­u­fac­tur­ers work di­rectly with cus­tomers rather than chase re­tail sales. No one doubts that it has a bright fu­ture.

Q. Fi­nal thoughts?

Our orig­i­nal thesis in taking Talga into in­dus­trial min­er­als and tech­nol­ogy still holds.

I meet in­dus­trial con­glom­er­ates and global scale au­to­mo­tives reg­u­larly now and there is a tsunami of de­mand com­ing, emerg­ing from the new mar­ket driv­ers and leg­is­la­tion towards cleaner air.

Like­wise in graphene prod­ucts, where it is ear­lier days but com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of new breeds of ma­te­ri­als is un­der­way.

With our strongly in­te­grated min­eral re­sources, process tech­nol­ogy and down­stream ad­vanced ma­te­ri­als, I feel we have built an Aus­tralian busi­ness with a global and po­ten­tially pow­er­ful role in both our com­modi­ties and the en­ergy mo­bil­ity land­scape. It is an ex­cit­ing time.

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