"By not having diesel underground, we have saved approximately 50% on required ventilation fan power and air heating, as well as realized capital savings on smaller equipment size and have made the system portable."
You came out of retirement to join Rockcliff Metals (CSE:RCLF). What made this opportunity so compelling?
When I joined the Rockcliff, the deposits on their books suggested there was no known way to mine them profitably. I wanted to take on the challenge of creating a mining method that would have the economic capacity to turn pretty rock into a valuable asset. These breakthroughs are important for society at large and that was enough to get me out of my rocking chair.
The approach we took focused on designing a mining method that could fit a succession of ore bodies and allow maximum transfer of capital equipment from one mine to the next.
Mining, like many industries, struggles to accept and implement new technology successfully. Perhaps the most common law Rocklciff tried to break away from is Taylor's Law, which provides a guideline of how many tonnes per day (mt/d) you will be able to take out of a deposit. At Rockciff, according to Taylor’s law, our deposit suggests production of 800 mt/d, peaking at around 1,000 mt/d. We have engineered a design in our PEA that demonstrates the potential to mine 3,000 mt/d by utilizing technology not in use when Taylor's Law was developed.
What are those technologies that helped break Taylor’s Law and what is their capacity to significantly change the way the industry looks at deposits going forward?
In our design there is little diesel equipment going underground. One challenging area is the use of battery trucks for ore/waste haulage up ramp, so Rockcliff selected electricity driven Rail-Veyor, because the size of the opening for Rail-Veyor is small and we could save capital by creating smaller holes, which in turn would offset its more expensive cost.
We also chose dual declines, because all our deposits are close to surface. Rather than having a single large ramp, where traffic is shared with people trying to get material underground, we separated them and now there is nobody in the waste transport drift at all. Having two ramps, sounds like it is more work than one big ramp, but if you do the math, two 4x3.5 m high ramps actually have less rock excavated than one 5.5x5.5 m ramp.
By not having diesel underground, we have saved approximately 50% on required ventilation fan power and air heating, as well as realized capital savings on smaller equipment size and have made the system portable.
On average a diesel fleet costs around US$3.50 per ton kilometer hauled, while Rail-Veyor is in the US$0.20-US$0.30 range. It is 10 times cheaper to move material with a Rail-Veyor. The capital cost goes up, but the operating costs all around it with less excavation, less ventilation, less ventilation heating, and then the actual cost moving it, gives you this tremendous payback.
What has driven the rally in copper prices in 2020 and can it be sustained over the course of the next few years?
All current solutions to resolving GHG emissions and climate change require significant use of copper. In addition to new sources of demand, it is clear that the current uses of copper will hardly diminish. When you add the normal growth rate of copper to that needed for climate change technology, the copper growth rate will be large.
On the supply side, we are not seeing big finds that will add large annual outputs. Ivanhoe’s Kamoa-Kakula is the last big find that is being developed. The rest of the supply of copper will be filled by smaller finds, of which there are many. However, the price will have to support production from smaller volume operations and, if you start putting a base price of US$3/lb, rather than US$2.50, quite a bit of copper can come onto the market. I see copper prices trading in a range between US$3 and US$4 moving forward. That means peaks will now go to US$4.50 or higher and bottoms will be down closer to US$3. I think we are entering a 10 to 15-year period with a new copper price range.
What are the key takeaways from the Preliminary Economic Assessment (PEA) for Rockcliff’s Tower and Rail project in Central Manitoba?
The most favourable finding is the ability to show positive project economics on deposits of our size, shape and grade. This is a major step forward. By gaining this knowledge, we are also now able to understand what size of deposits can attract the financing necessary for a company such as Rockcliff that is looking to transition from an explorer to producer. This is providing clear guidelines to how to develop the next phase of our projects that we will be sharing with the market in early 2021.