An Antidote to Horror: Solid Resources Affords ‘Conflict-Free’ Source of Critical Metals

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International repugnance over ‘conflict minerals,’ inflamed by a harrowing expose in the prestigious National Geographic Magazine, is impacting the market for tantalum, one of the rarest and most costly minerals in the world.

International repugnance over ‘conflict minerals,’ inflamed by a harrowing expose in the prestigious National Geographic Magazine, is impacting the market for tantalum, one of the rarest and most costly minerals in the world.

Management at Solid Resources, a Canadian junior with a tantalum prospect in Spain, says the controversy stirred by the NG article has stimulated interest in its future potential as a source of the mineral among European buyers.

Major processors of tantalum, a crucial element in the manufacture of such high-tech gadgets as smartphones, digital cameras and laptops, are coming under increasing pressure to ensure their supplies originate from ‘conflict-free’ sources.

An unknown quantity of the mineral, possibly as much as 50 per cent of all global production, is believed to originate in Africa, particularly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire.

The October issue of National Geographic describes in horrific detail how rebel armies running amok in the DRC control some of the most productive mines on the continent, forcing young children to toil from dawn to dusk in slave-like conditions.

Tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold are among a host of ‘conflict minerals’ whose illegal sale funds weapons purchases by the rebels and perpetuates a savage war estimated to have caused 5.4 million deaths over the past 15 years.

And the article shows conclusively that the illegal trade in minerals continues — sometimes even aided by covert government collusion — despite a U.S. law that took effect in 2011 aimed at stopping the trade.

The trade in tantalum attracts particular attention, mainly due to its association with popular consumer goods — nobody wants to find out they are using a smartphone with parts procured by means of slavery, rape and murder.

H.C. Starck, one of the world’s largest tantalum processors, — concerned about responsible corporate behavior — has gone so far as to publicly declare they will not buy tantalum, either from the DRC or from any adjoining country, whether it has been certified as ‘conflict-free’ or not.

Some major processors of the mineral, concerned about responsible corporate behavior, have gone so far as to publicly declare they will not buy tantalum, either from the DRC or from any adjoining country, whether it has been certified as ‘conflict-free’ or not.

That opens up the market for the handful of companies with access to tantalum reserves operating in jurisdictions indisputably free of the taint of corruption and transparently ‘conflict-free.’

With global demand for tantalum currently outstripping supply, and with limited new known sources of the mineral, the opportunities for these few companies are considerable.

Among those poised to take strategic advantage of these shifting dynamics is a Vancouver-based junior exploration company, Solid Resources, which is currently awaiting final mining permits for its Alberta-1 tantalum, tin and lithium property in north-western Spain.

Solid Resources has operated in Spain since 2000, when the revolution in electrical technologies first highlighted the potential for tantalum.

The 3,690-hectare Alberta-1 concession, which was a former tin mine, has been shown to contain vast amounts of this rare metal, currently fetching near-historical highs of around $250 per kg.

Four drill programs — in 2003, 2005, 2011 and 2012 — have proved out average grades of 800 ppm of tin, 110 ppm of tantalum and 0.5 percent lithium.

Rick Gliege, Solid’s COO, says production at Alberta-1 could begin within two years, once permits are secured. "In the mining world, that’s almost immediate," he says. "We are on track to become Europe’s first producing tantalum mine and one of the very few tin and lithium mines. This has definitely caught the attention of several major European critical metal processing and trading companies."

Spanish authorities, wrestling with a dire economic recession and eager to rejuvenate the country’s centuries-old mining industry, have embraced Solid’s projects and are "thrilled and eager to expedite our plans for production," says Gliege.

Recruiting skilled workers for Alberta-1 will present little difficulty. Gliege met a fellow-Vancouverite working for a Spanish mining company "that advertised for 200 miners and received 11,500 applications" — reflecting the fact that almost half of all male Spaniards under 30 are unemployed.

Another positive for the company is Alberta-1’s excellent infrastructure. The property is steps from a paved highway leading 40 kms to the deep-sea port of Vigo on the Galician coast. Water is on tap and power lines cross the claims. A benign climate is conducive to year-round production.

Greg Pendura, CEO and President of Solid Resources, has described Spain as the "ground zero" of a European mining revival, where foreign companies such as Solid Resources have been made welcome.

As importantly, says Pendura, Spain is seen as the "anti-Congo" — the antithesis of the DRC, the poverty-stricken, failed state where crimes barely imaginable in civilized western societies are a daily fact of life.

As writer Jeffrey Gettleman describes the DRC in the October 125th Anniversary issue of National Geographic: "Because of never ending war, it is one of the poorest and most traumatized nations in the world. It doesn’t make any sense, until you understand that militia-controlled mines in eastern Congo have been feeding raw materials into the world’s biggest electronics and jewelry companies and at the same time feeding chaos. Turns out your laptop — or camera or gaming system or gold necklace — may have a smidgen of Congo’s pain somewhere in it."

Gettleman’s account of the horror of the DRC mines has been the subject of commentaries in dozens of publications, and quoted on websites, across the globe — fomenting a reaction that could finally resolve the outrage of "conflict minerals" once and for all.

The Price of Precious - Oct 2013 - National Geographic

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