Syrah Resources (ASX: SYR) has produced a high grade 96.6% graphite concentrate through simple processing of a bulk sample from its highly prospective Balama East graphite and vanadium project in Mozambique.
The recovery of the concentrate, 25% of which was abundant coarse to very coarse material, was achieved by crushing to 2mm followed by four stages of floatation.
In separate tests, a potential customer achieved a 99.3% grade using simple flotation processes
Metallurgical tests have also shown that Balama graphite can be easily upgraded to 99.9% total graphitic content using chemical wash operating at low temperatures.
Balama graphite has also been shown to be expandable based on customer testwork and hence can be sold into the expandable graphite market, which is about 40,000 tonnes per annum.
It has been micronized down to 1 micron size and can be sold in the micronized graphite market.
Coarse Flake Graphite
Zones of coarse flake graphite have been identified across the Balama deposit. These zones are mainly associated with rock units XGS2 and XGS4.
These zones were identified during drilling at Balama East and West and mapped at surface at Balama West and East.
Syrah believes the heat from the granite intrusion at Balama East has upgraded significantly the flake size and flake purity.
XGS2 has been mapped around the perimeter of the granite. Syrah believes that XGS 2 continues for a further 3.5 kilometres to the east and likely connects between Balama East and Balama West in the undrilled 3 kilometre area between the two zones.
In addition there are zones of coarse grained graphite in the XGS1 unit at both Balama West and Balama East.
Syrah added that while the market perception that very coarse flake graphite is the desired product from a buyer's perspective, the reality is that the graphite market is relatively evenly divided by buyers requiring coarse, medium and fine flake graphite.
Different size fractions sell at different prices. Many buyers choose to use finer flake due to the lower price.
The company has graphite that ranges in size from jumbo to very fine and its assemblage broadly represents the market demand across the different categories of flake graphite.
High Purity Graphite
Syrah also debunked the belief that it is difficult to upgrade graphite to a 99.9%TGC concentrate using chemical wash, noting that graphite is inert whereas certain acids can dissolve almost all other minerals impurities.
The consumables required for the purification process has been found to be very low due to the composition of the impurities combined with the graphite concentrate being very high grade.
It added that while the market for high purity natural graphite is quite small - at less than 20,000 tonnes per annum, it could sell for up to US$5,000 per tonne.
Based on customer testwork, Balama graphite can be expanded. The potential customer noted that the Balama graphite was superior due to expansion qualities being 20% greater than their existing supplies of expandable graphite.
Expanded graphite has use in areas such as fire retardants, graphite foil, sealing material and others. The market for expandable graphite is relatively small market (about 40,000 tonnes per annum) but it sells for US$1,500 to US$5,000 per tonne.
Micronized Graphite Powder
Syrah's testwork has also shown that Balama graphite can be micronized down to 0.25 micron size material through a proprietary milling process.
Given the high purity of Balama graphite, the micronised powder can be used in a number of specialised applications such as carbon brushes, lamp carbon, specific lubricants and possibly as a substitute for some battery graphite applications.
High quality (low sulphur content) micronised graphite can sell for up to $3,000 per tonne.
Preliminary testwork is ongoing as to the suitability of Balama graphite in battery anode (spherical graphite) for lithium ion battery applications.
Balama Graphite Project
Syrah was in December granted a 25 year Mining Licence for the project and expects to start construction after the wet season ends in April 2014.
It recently defined a Measured Resource of 11.6 million tonnes grading 19.9%TGC and 0.4% V2O5 at the Ativa Zone of Balama West that is defined to be sufficient for 11 to 12 years of production.
The company has indicated that Balama could become a mine well before the first hole was drilled given the extremely high grades of graphite and excellent grades of vanadium.
The encouraging metallurgical testwork carried out on samples from Balama East is another feather in Syrah's cap as it moves towards development of its Balama Graphite and Vanadium Project.
These show the suitability of Balama graphite to meet multiple graphite markets.
Syrah has been in discussions with potential debt financiers and off-take partners for several months with an outcome expected in the first quarter of 2014.
The company said it anticipates debt financing the remaining amount required to develop the project, and is confident that the project can be developed for under US$100 million.
Syrah is also in a position to begin construction of Balama as soon as the wet season ends in about April 2014.
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