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Veteran Team Behind Some Of The Biggest Mining Sector Mergers Of The Last Decade

The sheer volume of lithium claystone being developed by Ioneer helped the company secure a $700 million federal loan to develop its project.

American Battery Technology has received 4 Department of Energy (DOE) grants totaling nearly $70 million for its project, with $50 million coming from an institutional investor, and another $20 million awarded as part of the U.S. Department Of Energy (DOE) grant.3

Then there’s Lithium America’s Thacker Pass. The DOE is currently weighing a massive $1 billion federal grant,4 alongside a substantial investment from GM to the tune of $650 million.5

There is an enormous push to develop these resources, and not only because we need more domestic production. We need more production, period.

A Supply Crisis Years in the Making

When Robert Craig looked up from reading the mining news in 2008 and told his wife, “We’re getting into lithium,” he saw what was coming.

He could see the enormous growth in lithium use — in everything from laptops to EVs.

And he also could see that supply was not going to ramp up in time to meet demand.

That’s exactly what happened:

  • Demand is projected to hit 1.5 million tonnes by 2025 — or three times production in 2021.
  • And demand will double again by 2030 — reaching 3 million tonnes, or six times 2021 production.
  • In fact, it’s possible that demand will outpace even those predictions, with EV growth outpacing expectations in 2023 at 40%.

Given the need for new extraction technologies to bring lithium claystone projects to commercial scale — we simply don’t have time to develop enough new lithium sources to keep up with demand.

This supply crunch’s early effects are being felt today — with the price of lithium shooting up nearly 6x at one point last year.

That spike has calmed somewhat, with lithium production expanding in an attempt to keep up with demand.

Nonetheless, this is merely a respite.

Many analysts see the world hitting a lithium shortfall by 2025 — and that is with lower assumed EV growth than we are actually seeing.6

When we hit that inflection point — a virtual certainty, given how long it takes for new resources to come online — the price of lithium will likely resume its rapid ascent.

And that could put America in a bind.

A Massive Hydrologically Closed Field That Holds 30 Million Years of Mineral Buildup

When the Craigs first started exploring for lithium, they were looking for alkaline flats.

The reason? The Craigs knew that brine is one of the best sources of lithium. Getting it out of the playas is as easy as drilling a well.

Extracting it from the brine solution is relatively straightforward and economical as well. Given recent advances in extraction methods, they are even cleaner and more efficient than before.

Lithium brine has been found and developed in South America — where the famed Lithium Triangle spans Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile8

Those resources have been found in salt flats throughout the Andes — where brine has concentrated, washing millions of years of lithium and other metals out of the ancient volcanic rock.

The exact same sort of geologic foundation we see at Rhyolite Ridge.

The only difference? While the Lithium Triangle has been fairly well explored, before 2008, only Albemarle had thought to look for lithium here in the US.

It just wasn’t a valuable enough mineral to warrant exploration, before the Craigs started their search.

By seeking out similar geology, the Craigs found Rhyolite Ridge.

But the Columbus Basin — while fed by Rhyolite Ridge and other similar volcanic ranges like the other areas — is unique in a very important way.

It is a hydrologically closed system.

That means that any water that enters the basin remains.  Over eons, the lithium-bearing rocks immersed here continued to enrich the waters with lithium, through millions of cycles of precipitation and evaporation.

It has a deep basement — estimated to reach 12,000 feet, providing layers upon layers of sediment basin-fill that is the right environment to host lithium-enriched brines.

At 23,000 acres, a discovery at the Columbus Project has ample room to grow.

While there hasn’t been proper exploration of the Columbus Basin yet, one early drill hole went down 2,200 feet.

In that span, it encountered a network of aquifers, and clay samples that averaged 500 ppm lithium from top-to-bottom, with highs up to 1,600 ppm.

Those levels are consistent with the drill results of the surrounding projects and indicate the potential for an economically viable resource.

However, to date, there has been no sampling of the subsurface lithium brines within the highly prospective target area itself.

That makes this one of the most promising projects in North America.

Now, securing water rights is one of the biggest challenges for companies hoping to advance a project from discovery to a successful mining operation in the arid regions of the western USA. In many areas, securing new water rights from state run water divisions is becoming near impossible. Farmers and ranchers holding legacy water rights have made small fortunes selling portions of their existing water rights to mining companies in need of the scarce resource to develop and operate their projects.

Craig’s newest project won’t have that problem developing a Columbus Basin lithium discovery, as they have struck a deal to secure water rights before drilling their first drill hole. This marks a key early milestone for the company and de-risks the project’s potential development path in the future, when water will only be harder to comeby.

And that’s one of the draws that has brought the best in the business.

Assembling The A-Team

The flat, desert-like nature of the tundra makes it easy to spot outcroppings.

“They’re the cat’s meow.” That’s what Barbara Craig has to say about the management and field team.

And there’s general agreement: this team is one of the most experienced in the fledgling domestic lithium brine sector.

It starts with the stakers, the Craigs. Barbara and Robert Craig pioneered the lithium movement in the US — getting involved before anyone else, staking out the best claims before potential competitors predicted coming demand, and now developing their best fields.

They can be thought of as the Father and Mother of the US lithium industry.

They’re responsible for over $1 billion in market cap, having found the primary resources for Ioneer, American Battery Technology, Pure Energy, American Lithium, and others.

Barbara Craig in front of the “billion dollar wall” — the projects they’ve staked worth over $1 billion in market cap.

This isn’t just a vocation for the Craigs — it’s a passion.

Robert Craig, who unfortunately passed a couple years ago, was a second-generation prospector and a classically trained mining engineer.

Barbara Craig was one of the first competitive women cross-country skiers in the United States, winning the first nationally sanctioned US event held for female athletes in 1967. She went on to represent the US in the 1972 Olympics as a member of the first Women’s Olympic cross-country ski team.

She’s carried that athletic energy into prospecting. Once she realized prospecting meant exploring, listening to, and interpreting the great outdoors, she was hooked.

Her husband and others knew she also had an “eye for mineral exploration”. Bob would comment, “She can spot lithium driving 40 miles an hour along a bumpy dusty road.”

Her Olympic physical stamina was apparent. “Show me a hill and I’ll climb it,” she’s fond of saying. She knows a bit about hill climbing… she successfully climbed Mt. McKinley/Denali in 1971.

And the Craigs passed that love of exploration onto their children and grandchildren — many of whom now accompany Barbara on her prospecting trips, helping out in exploration and discovery.

That sort of passion is often the secret behind great success — and so it is with the Craigs.

They nearly single-handedly jumpstarted the US lithium industry, pinpointing one of the most promising geological formations yet discovered, Rhyolite Ridge.

But make no mistake — The Craigs aren’t the only heralded names attached to the Columbus Basin project.

With this project being the Craigs’ last major stake fed by Rhyolite Ridge, they wanted to assemble an A-team to develop it.

And that’s exactly what they’ve found.

Perhaps the Greatest Unproven Lithium Resource in North America

We have already talked about how promising the Columbus Basin is.

  • It’s near paved roads and infrastructure — making it easily accessible, without the expense of an infrastructure buildout.
  • Hydrologically enclosed, the Columbus Basin is where a significant portion of all Rhyolite Ridge runoff comes to rest.
  • At 12,000 feet deep or more, and covering 23,000 acres, this is one of the largest potential projects in North America.
  • With 30 million years’ collection waiting, there has been plenty of time for significant concentrations of lithium to gather.

And, while it has never been properly explored for lithium, the company has already discovered lithium in the sediments at Columbus Basin. The only unknown is at what lithium concentrations exist in the subsurface brines.

It’s also known to harbor large quantities of boron. It was a working boron mine in the late 1800s — making good money with a less valuable material, using less advanced extraction methods.

Today, the team has looked over the comprehensive geophysical data available –— and found lithium concentrations up to 1600 ppm, well into the economically viable range. Significant money was previously spent to generate the underlying surveys and technical data that supports this high-priority target.

There is a known multi-tiered system of aquifers on the property, with a strong potential for others to be found.

Brine samples from the Columbus Basin will be assayed for lithium in the first half of 2024 — and given the nature of brine deposits 2-3 successfully drilled wells could fast track the company towards an initial mineral resource estimate.

Perhaps most encouraging, the team is so excited about all the indicators they’ve found — from lithium concentration in surrounding clay, to m-t readings showing the low resistivity indicative of multiple large briny aquifers — that they may save a year of time by drilling a well first, instead of exploration drill holes.

The cost is only moderately more expensive — the well only becomes more expensive when it is fortified for use, after the resource has been defined and proven economical.

The advantage of traditional exploratory drill holes is more precise readings of the surrounding ground.

But for sampling lithium brine, a well hole will do a significantly better job. It will ensure the highest quality brine sampling is completed, with the opportunity to re-access aquifers with a variety of further tests.

And by putting the well in place to start, it could save up to a year of development time — the average length of time it takes to install a well from scratch.

What to do now…

The drive towards clean, renewable energy is clear. 

With the goal of becoming carbon neutral part of a global initiative you could expect this company to stay in the news for years to come.

That’s why now could be the very best time to do your research. Sign up with your email address to receive an exclusive report on this fast-growing opportunity.

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