Historically, the European Union (EU) has relied on countries like China for its supply of critical raw materials, but companies like Leading Edge Materials are moving to shift the focus back on its own soil.
Case in point, the EU proposed the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA) in March 2023, which aims to boost supply of strategic raw materials that are crucial in advancing the EU’s move towards a sustainable, digital and sovereign future.
This comes as a move to shift supply away from China, which currently processes almost all rare earth elements. It is estimated that the country currently produces roughly 70 per cent of global production of rare earth elements, however there are three facilities in Europe that are and will be able to produce the materials – in Sweden, France and Estonia – which will effectively reduce China’s overwhelming grip on the permanent magnet industry.
Thanks to the act, Leading Edge Materials is in an opportune position to focus its efforts on critical materials in the EU and become a game-changer in the space. On that note, the company has a portfolio of critical raw material projects located in the European Union, including:
The built and permitted Woxna graphite mine in central Sweden (only one in the EU), of which it has 100 per cent ownership
Its 100 per cent Nora Karr rare earth element deposit in south-central Sweden
The Bihor Sud nickel and cobalt project in Romania, in which it has a 51 per cent interest (with potential to increase to 90%) through a joint venture with a Romanian partner
Because of low graphite prices, the Woxna graphite mine has been under care and maintenance since 2015. This has allowed the company to focus on the Nora Karr project, and Bihor Sud projects, which will no doubt have a massive impact on bringing critical materials supply back to the EU.
Shifting the critical materials focus back to Europe
In an interview with The Market Herald Canada, Eric Krafft, CEO of Leading Edge Materials, said that Europe has until recently been comfortable outsourcing the mining and processing of materials from other countries such as China.
However, with the continent’s impressive geology, Krafft said there has been “a renewed interest” and strong sentiment for mining in Europe. With the CRMA proposed legislation, it also means that companies such as Leading Edge Materials have been able to plant their roots in Europe and explore and mine for materials “to a higher standard.”
The Norra Karr Project
Located in Sweden, the Norra Karr project had a PEA done in 2021, indicating it has a life of mine span of 26 years. The company stated the PEA indicates the value of the Norra Karr project vastly greater than its market capitalization (returning US$1.026 billion pre-tax 10 per cent NPV and 30.8 per cent pre-tax IRR)
The PEA also indicates that more than 60 per cent of total mined material is planned to be sold as products compared with less than 1 per cent in previously published PFS.
Some highlights of the Norra Karr project include the company initiating a Natura 2000 permit application process and a new mining lease application, the focus is currently on permitting with the project economics very robust.
Over in Romania, Leading Edge Materials has been actively working on the Bihor Sud project. In 2018, the company entered into a joint venture agreement where it has 51 per cent ownership, with the potential to increase it to 90 per cent.
The project is in the upper Cretaceous metallogenic belt, part of the Tethyan Belt in a historic mining area with a number of historic mines, one being a significant uranium mine.
In June, the company released assay results from the project, highlighting assays of 30 per cent nickel and 4.7 per cent cobalt. At the time of the announcement, Krafft said the initial exploration results highlight the scale and high-grade potential of the project’s exploration license.
Krafft explained that the company notched an exclusive five-year exploration license for the project in 2022, which it has been actively exploring since, where there is extremely high cobalt and nickel mineralization.
“As far as nickel and cobalt go, I don’t think there’s anything like this, certainly in Europe,” he told The Market Herald Canada. Adding to this, Lara said the last time the company sent samples to the lab, it thought Leading Edge Materials was sending concentrates because the nickel samples were more than 30 per cent (nickel concentrate is usually around 20 per cent, Krafft explained).
Perhaps the most interesting aspect about the project is that several decades ago it had been previously mined for uranium although nickel and cobalt had been present on the property the whole time. Lara said the nickel and cobalt had been overlooked because it was only uranium that was being looked for.
In other words, the discovery of nickel and cobalt on the property has been beneficial for Leading Edge Materials as the shift to supply critical materials in the EU has become more pressing.
Krafft said that assays from line sampling are expected shortly. He also said another channel sampling program is underway, which means plenty of news flow will be coming from the project in the near-term that will keep investors engaged and interested.
“We will be doing a surface drill program and an underground drill program,” he said, but explained that there has not been a decision on which will be done first.