"We are the first movers in-country in the lithium space. Nobody else has yet gone after brine in Mongolia."
Can you provide an update on ION’s progress over the past year, in particular at Baavhai Uul?
Our 100%-owned flagship site represents the largest exploration license ever granted in Mongolia at +81,000 hectares: Baavhai Uul is five times the size of Vancouver, 60 km wide and as long as 20 km in some areas.
Throughout the pandemic, we were able to conduct a fair bit of drilling, and made an exciting new discovery: the White Wolf lithium discovery with lithium anomalies up to 1,502 ppm. We also made a new copper and nickel discovery, leading to a promising strategic alliance for reciprocal mining rights with Aranjin Resources, an emerging copper explorer in Mongolia. Whatever base metals we find on our assets, ION gets a 20% free carry.
When I finally had a chance to conduct a technical site visit to Mongolia this year, we visited our sites to kick off the next phase of our fully-funded exploration programs, and conducted over 100 km of TEM surveys at Ugrakh Naran. We have advanced this project significantly based on the low resistivity area we see today that shows a volume of 22.7 billion m3 at a very conservative cut off of 6.5 ohm.
Our exploration program continues to progress rapidly, and we are now drilling diamond holes. We are also drilling nested wells, allowing us to collect brine samples at depth that are encapsulated and not contaminated. This work will enable us to come to an average grade across the entire brine body. Multiply that by the volume that we have calculated and that will take us closer to our inferred resource calculation.
To what extent can ION’s proximity to OEM manufacturers in Asia disrupt the lithium supply chain?
If you look at consumption today, China uses over 50% of mined lithium to produce batteries for the world. Most of this lithium is extracted in the lithium triangle, alongside assets in Australia, but people are not accounting for the fact that producers are putting lithium on a ship that has to sail 15,000 nautical miles to China for refinement. This process is extremely carbon intensive. ION’s location 23-150 km from the Chinese border would significantly lower the carbon footprint of the battery manufacturing supply chain. We are not net zero yet, but there is the capacity to get there.
What is the strategy underlying ION’s negotiations with potential strategic partners at this stage?
We are speaking with strategic partners to come in with a farm-in approach, where we would sell 4.99% of ION at a premium to the last raise with no warrants attached. Such a strategic agreement will signal to the market that ION Energy has the world-class assets that we believe we have, and will ultimately validate the work that we have already done on our projects.
How would you explain the valuation discrepancy between ION and its peers in Latin America?
We are the first movers in-country in the lithium space. Nobody else has yet gone after brine in Mongolia. We went public in August 2020, with no access to Mongolia, and unlike other mature lithium jurisdictions, Mongolia lacked the exploration skillset necessary to advance our assets, leaving us with an 18-24 month lag relative to peers. In Latam, you can see proximity plays that have allowed companies that have done little to no work on their licenses to grow their market caps to 10x that of ION’s; a result of being beside or close to a more advanced asset.
Mongolia is still a relatively unknown, undervalued and largely misunderstood investment jurisdiction. Therefore, a Mongolian discount exists, though we continue to make strides in increasing global awareness in how much government modernization has taken place to make Mongolia an investment-friendly jurisdiction. Rio Tinto recently announced that it wants to buy Turquoise Hill's equity index investment in Oyu Tolgoi. That accounts for about US$8 billion going back into Mongolia. That is validation for a jurisdiction that every major should be paying attention to right now.