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Platinum group metals hunter sees 10-year mine life at Thunder Bay-area project

Clean Air Metals releases preliminary economic assessment of its Thunder Bay North Project
Clean Air Metals drilling
(Clean Air Metals photo)

A Thunder Bay-based junior mining company is placing a 10-year underground mine life on its high-grade platinum, palladium, copper and nickel project, located north of the city.

In a Dec. 1 news release, Clean Air Metals issued a preliminary economic assessment (PEA) of its Thunder Bay North Project, located between the city and Impala's Lac des Iles Mine.

The company has two twin high-grade deposits, Current and Escape, on its expansive 29,725-hectare property, 40 kilometres north of the city in the Tartan and Greenwich Lake area.

The PEA places a 10-year mine life based on the current resource at Thunder Bay North estimating at 629,000 ounces of platinum, 618,000 ounces of palladium, 111 million pounds of copper, 57 million pounds of nickel, with some gold and silver in the mix.

The proposed project would also include a milling complex and mine waste storage area.

The initial costs to build it would be $367.17 million, followed by ongoing operating costs of $169 million over the decade-long mine life.

The average of annual revenue generated from the sale of platinum group metal and copper concentrates would be $239.8 million.

Clean Air Metals officials are very confident the property has the potential for more resources, and thus a longer mine life, through more exploration.

But the company cautions that a PEA doesn't necessarily mean there will be production or a construction decision.

As the industry terminology indicates, a PEA is very preliminary in nature. The inferred mineral resources in the calculations are still considered speculative with the available geological data and estimated tonnages.

If the greenlight is given, construction would take place over a two-year period.

Mining would start at the Current deposit with a portal and a decline ramp being constructed to access high-grade material near the surface. It would also provide some initial mineral-generated revenue through the early stages of the mine's operation.

Current is the more advanced of the two deposits. Escape would later be brought into production from a separate portal from the surface.

Working in the project's favour is that Thunder Bay North is so close to key infrastructure.

Highway 567 runs through the western-most part of the company's property and they can easily tap into the East-West Tie Line.

The City of Thunder Bay and mining-related services there are within an hour's drive. Partnering First Nations in the area would provide a "willing workforce for supply and services to a future mining operation at Thunder Bay North," the company said in the release.

"The initial PEA for the Thunder Bay North Project brings together two previously independent deposits into one mining plan which is relatively low risk, low capital, quick to production and generates robust financial metrics," said Jim Gallagher, Clean Air's executive chair, in a statement.

Gallagher is the former CEO of North American Palladium, which owned the nearby Lac des Iles Mine prior to its sale to Impala Platinum in December 2019.

"Given the significant potential upside with continued exploration drilling along the known conduits and with the already identified massive sulphide targets we believe that this PEA is a minimum base case that Clean Air Metals will continue to attempt to de-risk towards prefeasibility."

The proposed underground operation would mine at an average rate of 4450 tonnes per day (tpd) - 3,600 tonne in ore and 850 tonnes in waste rock - with the processing plant running at a matching 3,600 tpd capacity. In a year, the PEA said the mine would produce 1.3 million tonnes. 

The underground equipment would involve a fleet of 10-tonne load-haul-dump loaders (LHD), and hauled with 40-tonne trucks.