When the word “flakes” is mentioned in Ontario at this time of year, most people think about the heavy snow that’s been covering the roads and ski hills across much of the province.
Weather reports describe the flakes as everything from “heavy” to “wet,” to “light and fluffy,” but never “large and silvery-grey,” which is the way Ontario Graphite describes the flake graphite it’s about to start producing from its new mine near Kearney.
Located between Huntsville and North Bay, about 250 km north of Toronto, the Kearney Graphite Mine is neatly tucked away on 445 hectares of Crown land adjacent to Graphite Lake.
Its closest neighbour, Algonquin Park, is a little over 4 km away, but visitors to the park would never know there’s a graphite mine just over the hill thanks to the mine’s conscientious effort to run a clean and quiet operation.
In fact, the only thing that gives away the mine’s location is a small “Kearney Mine” sign on the main road, 15 km from the site. Its tranquil setting, amidst rolling hills and dense forests, makes the site almost resort-like because of the carefully maintained property and surrounding area.
In actual fact, the Kearney Graphite Mine is a full-scale, open-pit operation with an inventory of 51.5 million tonnes of Measured and Indicated Resources at an average grade of 2.14 per cent Cg (carbon graphite), with an additional 47.8 million tonnes of Inferred Resources at an average grade of 2.0 per cent Cg.
That’s enough material for a 50-year mine life, but right now Ontario Graphite’s focus is getting the place up and running to full capacity and producing more than 20,000 tonnes of high-quality (92% to 97%) flake graphite mineral concentrate.
Like most mines, the Kearney Graphite Mine is not a new discovery. In fact, flake graphite was first identified in rocks outside the town of Kearney in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until 1989 when Cal Graphite started milling ore that word of the mine got out.
Cal Graphite worked the pit until 1994, producing almost 100,000 tonnes, until production and management problems led to the company shuttering the operation.
The Kearney Mine site remained closed until 2006 when Ontario Graphite saw the value in the remaining resources and moved in with the vision of making the mine one of only three producers of natural flake graphite in North America and, most likely, the sole producer by 2016.
The Kearney Mine is currently the largest confirmed graphite mineral resource project in North America, and one of the larger individual deposits in the world, and it’s well on its way to bringing actual product to market.
By doing so, it will be the first to provide new graphite supply to customers in North America and around the globe.Those customers are understandably anxious and awaiting the re-start of the Kearney Mine later this year.
Local businesses and residents in the community and surrounding area are also eagerly anticipating the impending boost to the local economy. The project promises to create 80 direct, full-time jobs and up to three times that amount in spin-off positions.
The company has been working diligently to reactivate the mine and mill and to start processing approximately one million tonnes of ore per year while producing more than 20,000 tonnes of natural, large-flake, high-carbon graphite concentrate.
It’s on schedule to begin production by fall of 2014.
Jerry Janik, General Manager of the Kearney Mine says, “We’ve worked hard to build a strong management team and we’re confident that, with new mine and mill managers in place and about 20 other employees already on-site, we’ll be in production as planned in 2014.”
Firing up an operation like the Kearney Mine takes more than flipping a switch. One of the first challenges the Ontario Graphite team faced was getting power to the site. Being an off-the-grid facility, the answer proved to be the installation of three – with a fourth on standby – 1.24-megawatt diesel generators for plant operations.
In keeping with a new approach, Janik says the company’s engineers designed the power system so that waste heat from the generators will be used in the drying process and to heat the mill building.
Inside the mill, all of the major pieces of equipment needed to re-commission the mine were either refurbished or replaced, while one of the more noteworthy components of the operation was the installation of a new 5.5-metre, hydraulically driven SAG mill.
Janik said that additional flotation circuits on the ball mill were also installed to improve both the recovery and quality of the graphite. Additionally, high-efficiency horizontal screens were put in place for precise sizing and were fully enclosed to contain dust.
Away from the mill, Janik said the company has taken a very serious look at the pit, its location, and the way it was mined by the previous owners.
“Our mine plan has been designed to include minimizing the amount of waste removal,” said Janik. “This includes trying to use our non-bearing graphite rock as an aggregate source to further minimize our footprint and impact.”
The company has also gone to great planning and expense to rebuild the access road to the site in an effort to lower the grade and provide safer entry and exit, particularly during winter operations. While this will have the effect of reducing haul distance and cycle times, it is further indicative of the company’s commitment to health and safety in all aspects of the business.
The non-graphite bearing rock will be used as a source of aggregate for community construction projects, like road maintenance, and to promote ongoing conservation at the mine site.
Janik also pointed out that, “Eighty-five per cent of the water used within the mine will be recycled in the milling stage, reducing the need to use water from the many surrounding lakes.”
As mentioned at the outset, Ontario Graphite’s large-flake deposit at the Kearney Mine is massive and has already been deemed by some to be one of the largest individual deposits in the world.
Janik says the mine holds great promise for the future because of its four types of graphite: Flake Graphite (FG); High-Purity Flake Graphite (HFG); Micronized Flake Graphite (MFG); and High-Purity Micronized Flake Graphite (HMFG), all of which will be used in several markets.
“Graphite is used in everyday life in products as common as pencils, batteries and cell phones,” says Janik. “I’m honoured to be a part of a team that will produce high-quality, competitively priced graphite for customers around the world for years to come.”