Dominion Diamond Corp: Inside the Ekati Diamond Mine
The Ekati Diamond Mine in Canada is the country’s first surface and underground mine. Ekati, a Tlicko word for ‘fat lake,’ began production in October 1998 after over a decade of exploration and development work. It’s located in the Lac de Gras region of the Northwest Territories, and is renowned for its premium gem-quality diamonds.
Dominion Diamond Corp, a Canadian diamond mining company formerly known as Harry Winston Diamond Corporation, acquired the mine in April 2013. It reached an agreement with BHP Billiton in November of 2012 to purchase all of BHP Billiton’s assets, which included controlling interest in Ekati.
Their 80 percent ownership in the mine was $553 million. The other 20 percent of the mine is held by Charles E. Fipke and Stewart Blusson, with 10 percent each. Dominion holds 80 percent of the Core Zone – the current operations and other permitted kimberlite pipes – and 58.8 percent of the Buffer Zone – which consists of the developmental and exploration potential of the region.
Ekati produces around 3 percent of the world’s current rough diamond production by weight; it produces 5 percent by value. Although it’s located in the Canadian sub-arctic – where cold winter conditions are a reality for a majority of the year – mining activities are conducted year-round.
Production was originally focused on six open pits, and current mining is conducted at Panda, Koala, Fox, Beartooth, Pigeon, Sable and Misery orebodies. Major production comes from ore sourced from the Fox open pit, which contains lower-grade but high-carat valued ore. This is supplemented by ore from the Koala and Koala North kimerlite pipes.
As mentioned previously, kimerlite pipes are the main deposit type for the mine. Eight hundred full-time staff is employed on the site, as well as 700 contractors at any given time. An impressive 80 percent of the total production is gem quality; the largest gem mined from the site to date has be the 78-carat Ekati Spirit, which was discovered in 2010. It sold at auction in 2011.
Ekati also hit an impressive goal in 2011, producing 50 million carats over the lifetime of the mine. Although Dominion predicts carat production over the next 2 years is expected to be lower than what had been achieved – on average – over the last 5 years, it is expected to return to a higher carat production after that. The mine will be transitioning its production from the Misery and Pigeon open pits, which offer higher grade ore, but lower carat values.
The current plans for Ekati have the mine producing until 2020. However, it has been mentioned that there might be additional resources that could become profitable if diamond prices increase.
British Lithium Pressured Due To Calls for Electric Cars
The British demand for lithium is set to reach 75,000 tonnes by 2035 as the government works towards their ban on the sale of high-polluting diesel and petrol vehicles within the UK. This comes as automakers worldwide continue to insist on the benefits electric vehicles will have on slowing the rate of climate change.
It is estimated that the UK will require 50,000-60,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year by 2035 for battery production to satisfy government needs. This is assuming production remains at 1.2 million vehicles per year, and the amount of lithium required does not increase.
British Lithium, which hopes to begin constructing a quarry to produce 20,000 MT of lithium carbonate a year in a $400 million investment, are not without competitors, both within the UK and abroad.
Competition For Lithium Rises In Europe
After only five years after its initial launch, Cornish Lithium is setting its sights on becoming a UK powerhouse in mining lithium, aiming to begin commercial production in under four years. Jeremy Wrathall, a former investment banker and current managing director of Cornish Lithium, had the future in mind when founding the company.
“In 2016, I started to think about the electric vehicle revolution and what that would mean for metal demand, and I started to think about lithium,” he said in an interview with AFP. “A friend of mine mentioned lithium being identified in Cornwall, and I just wondered if that was a sort of unrecognised thing in the UK.”
Lithium was first discovered in Cornwall around 1864 and has not been mined again since 1914 when it was produced as an ingredient in fireworks. Now, however, Cornish Lithium is reportedly in the testing stage to see if the metal can be produced commercially to meet the growing demand required for the electric car sector.
Despite Cornwall’s close historic ties to mining lithium, Wrathall insists that the project is purely commercial.
Cornish Mining Revival For Lithium Production
“It’s not a mission that drives me to the point of being emotional or romantic,” he says. “It’s vitally important that we do get this technology otherwise Europe has got no lithium supply.”
The European Commission has also stated their goal to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 to aid the environment. That being said, the majority of lithium extraction currently relies on power provided by environmentally damaging fossil fuels─a slight contradiction.
Alex Keynes, from the Brussels-based lobby group Transport & Environment, is adamant that mining for lithium should be done sustainably.
“Our view is that medium-to-long term, the majority of materials including lithium should come from efficient and clean recycling.
“Europe from a strategic point of view should be looking at securing its own supply of lithium.”
Despite growing competition from abroad, British Lithium Chairman, Roderick Smith, continues to place importance on the mining of lithium within the UK.
“Imagine what the UK economy would look like if we lost our automotive industry,” Smith says. “The stakes are high for the UK.”
Smith expects the UK to compete with other European countries to secure a lithium battery plant in the near future.