Interview: Blair Way of Strike Graphite
On January 25, 2012, Strike Gold changed its name to Strike Graphite (Stock Profile - TSXV: SRK). In doing so, the company communicated quite clearly to the investment community that Strike had found its focus. Strike was an early-mover in the graphite sector and was able to secure three projects, two in Saskatchewan and one in Quebec, before a flood of junior miners arrived on the scene.
With three projects on the books Strike Graphite was still missing something - a Chief Executive Officer - but in early April the upstart company found their man when Blair Way was appointed to the position.
Blair Way is not a serial entrepreneur. On the contrary, he has held senior management positions at major and mid-tier mining companies. Most recently he served as Vice President Project Development for Ventana Gold - a Vancouver-based gold mining company advancing projects in Colombia that was acquired by Brazilian billionaire Eike Batista for $1.4 billion. Prior to Ventana, he served as President and Project Director, Oceanagold Philippines, overseeing the construction of the Didipio gold copper project; and, earlier in his career served as Project Director for BHP Nickel projects.
We connected with Mr. Way this morning after the release of another encouraging drill hole from Strike's Simon Lake graphite project in Saskatchewan to get his take on Strike Graphite and the graphite sector now that he's had a few months to find his footing.
Blair, thanks for joining us, you are relatively new to Strike Graphite - what drew you to an early stage company?
I was attracted to Strike Graphite because of the brownfield nature of these projects and the opportunity to utilize my development skill-set to fast track the projects and grow the company rapidly. I see graphite as a race to production and that is the environment I thrive in.
For those who are not familiar with graphite - please tell our readers about the sector and some of the key drivers.
The main drivers for graphite are grain, grade and metallurgy. These are the key aspects of a graphite deposit. It must be large flake and high-grade to command the best pricing in the market. The metallurgy must be straight forward. There are some deposits that have more complicated metallurgical processes, not to say any are as complicated as a nickel or zinc deposit, but the more straight forward the process the lower the cost of production.
The current graphite market, primarily for steel, refractory, lubricants and auto parts consumes in the order of 1.2 million tons per annum with the majority of the production from China and India. The largest mine is under 40,000 tons per annum which is quite a small operation in terms of an open pit mine with grades in excess of 10%.
The estimated demand growth over the next 8 years is in excess of a further 800,000 tons per annum. At 40,000 tons per mine that is 20 mines coming on stream in the next 8 years. That is a tall order. So additional high-grade production must come online to meet this growing demand and command the best market pricing.
Graphite emerged as the new "belle of the ball" of the junior resource markets - some say taking the place of Rare Earths - what do you make of this comparison?
I can see how people make this comparison, but it is only partially true. The graphite space is getting a lot of attention these days which is similar to the Rare Earths of a few years back as the market sees it as a new emerging metal, but that's not true. Graphite has been around for decades and has only just recently commanded attention due to some of the emerging uses for graphite. This attention is really where the similarity ends.
Graphite is a much better understood market with strong current and emerging uses. It is much easier to find in large quantities and, metallurgically speaking, it is immensely more simplistic. Graphite tends to be relatively shallow occurring so it is amenable to very simple open pit mining. Processing is by known floatation technology to achieve the most effective concentration. Further concentration is also achieved by existing technology to tailor it to the end user as required.
All this lends itself to a very cost effective mine and plant. For example, a billion dollar gold deposit would be lucky to develop a mine and processing facility for under $300 million after spending in the order of $30 million to get it to feasibility stage. In comparison a billion dollar graphite deposit and associated mine and processing facility could get through feasibility study and in production for under $100 million. If you compared this to rare earth, nickel or zinc deposits the numbers are even more favorable for a graphite business model.
Today you announced the second drill results from Strike's Simon Lake project in Saskatchewan - tell us about the project and the recent results.
We are very pleased with our preliminary drill results. Our historical data indicated to us that we could encounter the grain, grade and metallurgical attributes required for a graphite discovery. The base metal exploration drilling undertaken on the property in the 70's and the associated drill logs enabled us to focus our EM survey which identified a 24 kilometer long conductor which we are currently drilling key targets on. The preliminary data from our drill holes continue to reinforce our theory and we are very excited to see our lab test results in the coming weeks.
You have two other projects, Deep Bay East in Saskatchewan and the Wagon property in Quebec - are you equally excited about the potential of these projects?
These projects are equally exciting and we are undertaking ground work on these properties also. We will work towards defining focused drill programs for the fall on all our properties and depending on the results from this summer's work we will then focus our resources on those that have the greatest potential with the aim to achieve an NI43101 resource by early 2013.
You recently announced a $3 million financing at $0.30, what milestones do you hope to reach with the proceeds once closed?
These proceeds will enable us to continue on our aggressive exploration programs on our three properties to move them toward a resource. Our next milestone is our NI 43-101 resource. It is a great time to be in this sector and we believe our brownfield projects enable us to be a front runner in this race to production.
Disclosure: at publication date Matthew Earle, Editor of MiningFeeds, owns shares of Strike Graphite and Strike Graphite is a client of MiningFeeds.