Santa Fe Gold acquired the Black Canyon mica project in 1999 and spent $15 million in establishing mining and processing facilities at the mine site north of Phoenix, Arizona, and at a separate processing plant in Glendale, Arizona. In 2002, we commissioned the processing facilities at the mine site and in Glendale, operated for several months on a test basis and achieved limited production and commercial sales. However, design capacity of the processing facilities was not achieved due to undercapitalization. In November 2002, after unsuccessful attempts to raise the additional capital necessary to expand plant capacity in order to reach design capacity and to provide working capital, we suspended crushing and concentrating activities at the Black Canyon mica mine. After the suspension of operations, limited production, marketing and sales continued through 2005 at the Glendale mica processing facility using inventoried mica. Subsequently, we removed the processing equipment from the Glendale plant and Black Canyon mine and placed it into storage.
While it operated on a test basis in 2002, the project achieved limited production and commercial sales. The operation was successful in achieving two important objectives. First, it demonstrated the facilities were capable of producing the planned range of products. Second, it validated the high quality and market acceptability of the two main product lines, namely high-end wet-ground mica, targeted for high value applications in the plastics and cosmetic industries; and feldspathic sand, targeted for the Phoenix construction and recreational markets.
In 2003-2005, Santa Fe Gold sold, from inventory, limited quantities of its engineered mica-filled plastic pellets and mica powders to a number of companies, including Dupont Canada and Revlon. The commercial orders to Dupont followed a program of testing and product development conducted jointly with Dupont. Dupont used Santa Fe Gold’s plastic pellets in its own formulations to produce plastic end products that it supplied to the automotive industry. Santa Fe Gold also supplied its high quality mica powder to the cosmetic industry through distributors, with Revlon as one of the important customers.
In 2003, we sold our entire inventory of feldspathic sand to customers in the Phoenix area.
Santa Fe Gold is seeking a joint venture partner to contribute new funding in the amount of $10.0 million to reinstall the mica processing equipment at a new location, to upgrade and expand the mining facilities in order to reach planned capacity and to provide working capital. These expansions are required in order to achieve the higher throughput necessary for sustained economic operation.
Location and Access
The Black Canyon mine is located about 30 miles north of Phoenix, Arizona, 3.5 miles west-southwest of Black Canyon City. It can be reached via U.S. Interstate 17, which connects Phoenix with Flagstaff, and by a connecting dirt road for the last eight miles. The Glendale processing plant was located in an industrial area on the west side of Phoenix, Arizona, 47 miles to the south of the mine site.
Our property holdings at and around the Black Canyon mine consist of 67 Federal unpatented mining claims in Yavapai County, Arizona, and 9 Federal unpatented mill site claims in Maricopa County, Arizona, which in total cover approximately 1,385 acres. The claims are located on public land and held pursuant to the General Mining Law of 1872. We fully own the mining rights and believe the claims to be in good standing in accordance with the mining laws of the United States.
Mining and Processing Facilities
The Black Canyon project formerly consisted of two integrated operating facilities. The mine site west-southwest of Black Canyon City contains the ore reserves. The crusher, the concentrator and the feldspathic sand plant were located at the mine site. These facilities depend on diesel generators for power. Our plans call for mining to be carried out by conventional open pit methods. The ore would be trucked from the pit and delivered to a nearby stockpile located adjacent to the crusher and concentrator. Mica flakes would be separated from the pegmatite host rock in a process that involves multi-stage crushing and screening to -3/16” size. Mica would be concentrated from the crushed material utilizing air classifiers. The resulting concentrate, containing 95% mica, would be trucked to the processing plant for further processing.
In the mica concentrating process at the mine site, the majority of the crushed host rock, which otherwise would be discarded as waste, would be converted into feldspathic sand for sale into the local Phoenix market. Processing of the feldspathic sand would involve screening and magnetic separation to yield sand fractions of various sizes. The sand products would be either bagged for shipment or trucked in bulk to customers.
During 2002-2004, we processed mica concentrate at the 5-acre Glendale plant and office site on the west side of Phoenix. The processing was designed to achieve the desired product sizes and meet the quality requirements of the market place. The plant was housed in an 18,000 square foot steel framed building, where equipment was installed for wet grinding, dewatering, drying, and air classification and bagging. The final products were placed into 50-pound bags or into 1000-pound supersacks ready for shipment to customers.
In 1999, we obtained approval for the Black Canyon Plan of Operations from the Bureau of Land Management and the State of Arizona. An Environmental Assessment, Clean Water Act Permit and Air Quality Procedures were all approved. An Aquifer Protection Permit was not required because processing operations at the mine site did not propose the use of water. We have completed reclamation of the mining site as required under the Plan of Operations.
Geology and Mineralization
The mica deposits occur as pegmatite dikes cutting Precambrian schist and granite. These dikes are steeply dipping tabular bodies, continuous along strike and with depth. The main pegmatite dikes are hosted by the schist and have a northeasterly trend parallel to the structural grain of the schist. Because the light colored pegmatite dikes are more resistant to weathering than is the enclosing schist, the dikes stand out at the surface as elongated light colored ridges relatively easy to discern and to map geologically.
In the area of the drilled ore reserves, a concentration of pegmatite occurs as a dike swarm and as massive irregular bodies of pegmatite. An associated major structure, the Central Pit fault, appears to have created a zone of dilation that provided open space for intrusion of the pegmatite. Drilling has identified seven individual dikes that range from approximately 4 feet to over 20 feet in thickness. At the surface, massive pegmatite crops out over a width exceeding 50 feet.
The minerals of potential economic value are all found associated with the pegmatite dikes, and consist of muscovite mica, feldspar and silica. Muscovite mica, the principal commodity, constitutes a major accessory mineral of the pegmatite dikes and is ubiquitous in the pegmatite. Based on visual estimates of drill core, the content of muscovite in the pegmatite ranges from 5% to 35%. The muscovite is light to whitish green in color and occurs as discrete, coarse-grained inclusions as well as fine-grained disseminations in the pegmatite. Feldspar and silica, by-products of the proposed mining operation, make up most of the remaining component minerals of the pegmatite on about a 1:1 ratio.
Estimation of Mineralized Material
In 1998 and 1999, based on geologic mapping, we drilled 41 inclined core holes and collected 59 samples of pegmatite exposed on the surface, at two central locations. The drill holes and surface samples were spaced approximately 50 feet apart. The holes ranged from 200 to 600 feet in length, and drilling totaled 13,070 feet. The drilling covered only a small portion of the zones of outcropping mica-bearing rocks mapped on our mining claims.
Mintec Inc., an independent geological engineering firm, analyzed our drilling and sampling results, designed the mining plan and calculated an estimation of mineralized material. In-place mineralized material for the pit design was calculated as 2,399,500 tons of material grading 7.54% mica and 1,527,200 tons of additional material grading 7.37% mica, for total mineralized material of 3,926,680 tons grading 7.48% mica, at a cutoff grade of 2.47% mica. Approximately 60% of the mica contained in this mineralized material is expected to be recoverable after losses due to mining and beneficiation.
Our mineralized material contains high quality muscovite or “white mica”. Mica is a mineral characterized by crystals that can be easily split into thin elastic sheets and is valued for its unique combination of chemical, physical, electrical, thermal and mechanical properties. Muscovite exhibits perfect cleavage, flexibility and elasticity, infusibility, low thermal and electrical conductivity, high dielectric strength, light weight, good insulating characteristics, and is stable when exposed to moisture, light and high temperatures. Because of these properties, muscovite has found widespread application in plastics, automotive coatings, cosmetics, paints, catalysis and composite formulations. The project is designed to produce 10,000 tons (20 million pounds) annually of premium wet-ground mica, the sale of which would require penetrating existing markets and establishing our own markets in plastics, cosmetics and ultra-micronized applications.
Our feldspathic sand was produced as a by-product of mica concentration and was screened and sized for sale into the Phoenix construction and recreational markets. Products included golf course bunker sand and sand used in stucco, mortar and other specialized construction applications. The project is designed to produce 180,000 tons of feldspathic sand products annually. The demand for manufactured sand in the Phoenix construction market has decreased significantly in recent years because of the collapse in the housing market.
Sand producers in California and Nevada supply sand to the Phoenix manufactured sand market. Because the material has to be trucked long distances in order to reach Phoenix, trucking costs are significant and constitute a substantial proportion of the final selling price. The location of our Black Canyon mine only 30 miles from Phoenix may provide a transportation cost advantage over competitors who import sand into Arizona.