NRG taps consultants for lithium mine economic analysis in Argentina

31 January 2019

Canadian Exploration company NRG Metals has hired consultancy firm Knight Piésold Consulting alongside JDS Energy & Mining to conduct a preliminary economic assessment on the company’s exploration plans in Hombre Muerto Salar, an area of active lithium production in north-western Argentina. 

Lithium has in recent years become one of the globe’s most in-demand energy metals. For decades, the metal serves as the backbone of everyday lives – lithium is a raw material for a wide range of products, from electronics and batteries to the glass in windows. However, the boom in electronics and more importantly electric vehicles and solar panels has meant that the need for lithium is exploding. According to one estimate, lithium production now stands at over 44 thousand metric tons, up from just 28 thousand metric tons in 2010. 

Going forward, the role of lithium – the lightest metal known – to society and economy will only increase. Every smartphone and fully electric car in the world is powered by lithium-ion technology, and the exponential growth of these two segments will in their slipstream lead the future demand and production boom for lithium.

Following Australia (18,700 tons of lithium ore production) and Chile (14,100 tons), Argentina (5,500 tons) is a heavyweight in the global lithium exploration chain. The country’s ‘Salar del Hombre Muerto’ region, located in the Salta and Catamarca provinces, is one of Argentina’s most active and promising areas for lithium production, comprising of several concessions (an area allocated by the government for minerals extraction).

Argentina’s Hombre Muerto Salar region is a large deposit of lithium

The Hombre Muerto North Lithium Project

After acquiring the ‘Hombre Muerto North Lithium Project’ in June 2017, a property package of 3,287 hectares comprised of six concessions*, NRG Metals has now commenced more detailed economic analysis on potential exploration. Adrian Hobkirk, President and CEO of NRG’s chief executive explained: “the grades we are seeing at the Hombre Muerto Project are some of the highest reported grades for any of the lithium-bearing brine deposits in Argentina. The combination of high grades, excellent chemistry and good pumping rates are very positive indicators that we hope will allow us to advance the project through feasibility studies to production should the economic viability and technical feasibility of the project be established.”

Vancouver, Canada-based NRG Metals aims at mining 5,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate per year, with the potential for expansion. According to an audit commissioned by Hobkirk last year, the Hombre Muerto North Lithium Project houses 571,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate of good to high-quality (a lithium carbonate equivalent grade of 756 parts per million lithium). 

To underpin the firm’s strategy for the project, NRG Metals has tapped two external expert firms to conduct a preliminary economic assessment. Canadian company JDS Energy & Mining is an expert in delivering mining and construction projects. The Vancouver-based firm recently completed work at the Minto Mine in the Yukon, the Gahcho Kue Mine in the Northwest Territories, and the Silvertip Mine in northern British Columbia – all three mines are located in Canada. 

Knight Piésold Consulting is a consulting firm that provides specialized services to the mining, power, water resources, infrastructure, and oil and gas industries. Established in South Africa in 1921, Knight Piésold Consulting has over 800 professionals across the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania. The engagement with NRG Metals will be delivered from the firm’s Latin American offices in Argentina, based in Mendoza, San Juan and Neuquen.

The report by JDS Energy & Mining and Knight Piésold Consulting is expected to be delivered in the first quarter of this year.

NRG Metals’s endeavors come shortly after Galaxy Resources, an Australian based producer, announced it is moving its operation in the Hombre Muerto Salar, the Sal de Vida Project, to lithium production.

* The Hombre Muerto North Lithium Project consists of the Alba Sabrina, Tramo, Natalia Maria, Gaston Enrique, Viamonte and Norma Edit concessions.

Avianca Brasil needs major restructuring effort to stay flying

18 February 2019

Brazilian airline Avianca Brasil will need to sell 14 of its 50 aircraft and improve its operational efficiency, if it wants to continue flying while being able to repay its creditors, according to an analysis by Galeazzi & Associados. 

The São Paulo based management consultancy was hired by Avianca Brasil in December shortly after the airline filed for bankruptcy protection. Consultants of the firm have since assessed the financial performance of the company and crafted restructuring plans in a bid to turn Avianca’s fortunes. Galeazzi & Associados is also exploring future options for the airline, which include finding a partner, a buyer, or even filing for bankruptcy.

Following a number of payment defaults, Avianca’s main creditors, aircraft lessors Aircastle and General Electric Capital Aviation Services, sounded the alarm bells on the company’s financial position. The two creditors have in the meantime been seeking to repossess their planes, however, their attempts have so far been successfully fended off by Avianca, allowing the company to maintain its current flight schedule. According to Reuters, consultants from Galeazzi & Associados have visited the carrier’s creditors to discuss scenario’s and potential measures. Concrete results have though not materialised.Avianca Brasil needs restructuring effort to stay flying

In the background, Avianca is negotiating with Elliott Management, a hedge fund, about a 250 million real ($69 million) loan, sources close to the matter disclosed. As part of bankruptcy protection process, any investment would need to happen within the regulatory guidelines, likely in the form of debtor-in-possession financing. Brazil’s fourth-largest airline plans to ask the judge overseeing its bankruptcy for more time to reach a final deal, pointing at the progressive loan talks held with Elliott Management. 

In the analysis by Galeazzi & Associados, the advisors conclude that a major restructuring effort is required for Avianca Brasil to continue its operations. Around 14 of the 50 aircraft would need to be disposed, in order to optimise the capacity usage of the fleet. As per the plan, 36 aircraft would combined be capable of achieving 235 flights per day. The sale of the aircraft would provide a needed buffer to repay creditors.

On top of this, the airline will need to reduce its operational expenses and attract investments to the tune of $75 million to stay afloat.

Last year, another Latin American airline, Aerolíneas Argentina called in the help of an external consulting firm to reshape its loyalty program.