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Titan on the verge

TITAN Resources NL believes it is on the verge of a major metallurgical breakthrough to biologically recover nickel from base metal sulphide ores –a process which is attracting keen international attention from other base metal miners around the world.

Titan, through a 75 per cent owned subsidiary, has sole access to a strain of bacteria with properties that render it extremely suitable for the treatment of base metal sulphide ores with specific amenability to copper (chalcopyrite).

The successful commercial application of this process will enable nickel to be recovered from sulphide ores at a cost below that of existing producers.

Titan became involved in the project through Dr Colin Hunter, a former head of Minerals Engineering at the Gencor process research laboratories in South Africa, who has been working with the company since its acquisition of the Radio Hill project in the Pilbara region of Western Australia in 1997.

Dr Hunter is one of the principals of Bio-Hydro Metallurgy Plc (BHM), a private United Kingdom company, which has joined with Titan to form Pacific Ore Technology Ltd and further develop the process. It involves a simple heap leach using bacteria similar to the process now used extensively in the gold mining industry.

Titan’s strategy is to gain exposure to, and help develop, a process to biologically recover the nickel, copper and cobalt from the disseminated mineralisation overlying the Radio Hill massive sulphide orebody, which is currently being mined.

The main area where resources could be substantially increased if the process was successful is the Mt Sholl region, ten kilometres north of Radio Hill.

The Mt Sholl mineralisation delineated so far consists of indicated and inferred resources of 4.2 million tonnes averaging 0.73 per cent nickel and 0.87 per cent copper with cobalt credits. There is potential to substantially increase this tonnage with three high priority targets already defined.

Laboratory scale amenability tests carried out over the past six months have verified the suitability of the bacterial oxidation and dissolution process for the Radio Hill and Sholl disseminated ores. Current trickle irrigation column tests are showing high recoveries within acceptable time frames.

The next step for Titan will be to build a pilot scale heap leach on site at Radio Hill, starting in the third quarter of this year. This involves constructing successive 5000 to 10,000 tonne heaps with aeration and cooling systems and metal recovery to investigate and refine the practical engineering aspects of the commercialisation of the process.

It is likely the full pilot programme will involve several more test heaps with the intention to produce high value end products, being copper metal and high grade nickel/cobalt precipitate.

Preliminary economic studies, based on a one million tonne per annum operation, indicated that bacterial heap leaching of the Mt Sholl material would produce nickel at a cash cost considerably below US$1 per pound, after by-product credits.

The capital cost of the project would be low, with preliminary estimates suggesting a figure of between $20 and $25 million.

Successful development of the process would also have significant implications for the companies involved to generate major income from participation in other operations.

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