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ASX-listed lithium-focused exploration company Force Commodities is aggressively advancing two lithium projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It is currently focussing on advancing its 70%-owned Kitotolo lithium project, and its 51%-owned Kanuka lithium production project.

Chantelle Kotze interviewed MD Jason Brewer during the recent DRC Mining Week conference and exhibition.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 8 2018

Most commonly explored and exploited for its rich tin-containing cassiterite ore, with the likes of Mining Mineral Resources (MMR) SPRL, an established tin, tantalum and tungsten mining company in the DRC, the Manono-Kitotolo region of the DRC is nowadays garnering attention for its pegmatite and spodumene mineralisation.

AUTHOR: Mining Review Africa's senior deputy editor, Chantelle Kotze

The DRC’s lithium resources have remained largely unexplored for many years until the tremendous growth in the battery metals market exponentially increased the global demand for lithium.

The global lithium-ion battery market boom is fuelling the need for a constant feed of high-quality, high-grade lithium sources – the demand of which is expected to outstrip supply in the future owing to the insatiable demand for this commodity by Chinese lithium-ion battery mega factories.

In a bid to feed the growing demand for lithium as a result of the burgeoning electric vehicle market, mega factories are springing up all around the world and are hungry for their share of the lithium pie meaning that new mines need to be built much quicker than anyone thought.

With first-mover ASX-listed AVZ Minerals leading the lithium pack as the forerunner in the country’s lithium sector with its world class Manono project just moments away from releasing a maiden mineral resource and metallurgical test work already underway, many lithium hopefuls have since joined the race to chase pegmatites as prospective as those at the Manono project – having recently drilled a record 341.62 m thick pegmatite intersection grading at 1.54% lithium oxide and 875 ppm tin

Speaking to MINING REVIEW AFRICA on the side lines of the DRC Mining Week expo and conference in Lubumbashi in June, Brewer noted AVZ Minerals’ success as one of the drivers behind the aggressive advancement of its Kitotolo and Kanuka projects, which lie south of AVZ Minerals’ Manono lithium project – currently considered to potentially be one of the world’s largest lithium-rich lithium, caesium and tantalum pegmatite deposits.

Having had a number of geologists on the ground actively exploring for potential lithium finds in the DRC, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia, it quickly became apparent to Force Commodities that the DRC would be the home of its first significant project, says Brewer.

“What we found in the ground and what we were initially able to negotiate in the DRC in terms of joint venture earn in agreements was something we wasted no time on,” Brewer notes.

Kitotolo enters the fold

In a bid to secure its first lithium project in the highly prospective Manono-Kitotolo region, Force Commodities signed a binding heads of agreement with state-owned mining company Cominiere SA for a majority stake in a licence located about 25 km south-west of AVZ Minerals’ Manono project – with known lithium mineralisation.

The completion of a positive due diligence study on the licences, by Force Commodities chief geologist James Sullivan (who previously oversaw AVZ Minerals due diligence study) led to the signing of a JV agreement with Cominiere in August 2017, in which Force Commodities would own a 70% interest in two licences – mining licence PE13247 and exploration licence PR12453, which extends over 400 km2 – and effectively become the manager and operator of these two licences.

Sullivan reported visible pegmatite and spodumene mineralisation across large sections of the project area, later dubbed the Kitotolo project, noting that the pegmatite was observed as being near to surface, and underlying a regional lateritic cover, of between 0 - 6 m in thickness, with pegmatites similar in style and mineralisation to that observed at AVZ’s Manono project.

Moreover, pegmatite occurrences were observed both to the north-east and south-west several hundred metres away from the large artisanally-mined Katamba pit in the north of the project area where rock chip samples were taken during the due diligence study, while assay results from the due diligence study confirmed high-grade lithium mineralisation (up to 2.15% Li2O).

The artisanal miners exploiting the Katamba pit have been a good indication for us on where to focus our initial exploration efforts, says Brewer, noting that the company’s exploration efforts, which have primarily focused around the pit, will now gradually move outward.

In doing so, Force Commodities will shortly commence a 16 000 m maiden exploration drilling programme, spearheaded by DRC-based drilling contractor Equity Drilling, at Kitotolo aimed at better delineating the extent, strike length, depth and grade of the pegmatite and spodumene mineralisation.

Once the extent is better understood, the company will undertake diamond drilling, which will be aimed at delivering a maiden resource estimate for the Katamba pit area of the project.

In parallel to this, Force Commodities will also complete a regional step out drilling project surrounding the Katamba pit to better understand the regional geology and possible pegmatite continuity within the licence.

Based on the exploration results at Kitotolo to date, Sullivan and Brewer believe that the broader geological hypothesis has been demonstrated in that the pegmatite and spodumene mineralisation at Kitotolo is consistent with that of AVZ Minerals’ Manono project.

Kanuka takes the lithium tally up to two

Located 20 km east of the Kitotolo project and only 5 km to the south of Manono, the attractiveness of the Kanuka project was initially discovered by Force Commodities by chance as a ‘large bump in the road’ while en-route to the Kitotolo site, which upon closer inspection  Sullivan and a local geologist confirmed as an exposed pegmatite.

Having excitedly stumbled across the discovery, the team worked out on which licence the pegmatite was located and approached the licence owner – MMR – which operates a series of exploration, mining and processing operations throughout the DRC, including the tin and tantalum mining and processing operation located on part of the Kanuka licence.

Force Commodities then entered into a heads of agreement with MMR in December 2017, which was subsequently finalised in March 2018 and gained the company a 51% stake in the project – responsible for the management and funding of a purely lithium exploration programme across the 194 km2 licence area.

“The reality at Kanuka is that historic and current tin mining had exposed the pegmatites at surface, which we have been able to map and sample relatively quickly having easily been able to identify them,” says Brewer.

The pegmatites observed are located across significant areas of project on a NE-SW trend, including one area where pegmatite exposures were initially seen to extend for over 3 km in length and in places in excess of 200 m in width and where the company has over the past 3 months proven them to now extend to over 5.5 km in length, he adds.

With assays from the rock samples confirming high grade lithium mineralisation up to 2.12% lithium oxide, Force Commodities has been underway with an aggressive exploration programme on new areas of the licenses currently not impacted by mining and which are considered highly prospective for pegmatite hosted lithium mineralisation.

Within 3 months of commencing this program Force identified a number of major parallel pegmatites less than 2km north west of the main area of exploration and current tin mining activities and which have already been identified to extend over 2.5k m in strike length and up to 200 m in width, Brewer added

Force Commodities has contracted Equity Drilling to undertake a 3 000 m aircore and reverse circulation drilling programme and then a subsequent 1 000 m diamond drilling programme targeting the exposed pegmatities at surface.

This drilling programme will continue until the end of 2018, but depending on results, may be expedited if needed.

“We were attracted to Kanuka and continue to actively explore the project as a result of its location on an established mining operation with a mining licence in place, that is fully permitted and which has excellent existing infrastructure including power, water, an airstrip, mine camp and admin functions, which will accelerate exploration activities.

“Our focus at Kanuka now is to take the project to a point where we are able to define a mineral resource and upon achieving that, push forward as a joint venture with MMR on the necessary feasibility study work, additional development work with a view of getting Kanuka up to the point of a development decision in the short term,” says Brewer.

Should the current status quo of the lithium market remain for the long-term, early movers such as AVZ Minerals, with its world class orebody, and Force Commodities, who is targeting first lithium concentrate production by the end of 2019, may become the backbone of the Central African lithium supply market.

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