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Low-Cost, High-Quality Uganda Graphite Project

Investment rationale behind Blencowe Resources’ Orom-Cross graphite project in Uganda.

Blencowe Resources
Low-Cost, High-Quality Uganda Graphite Project

Blencowe Resources is developing the world class Orom-Cross graphite project in Uganda, East Africa, which it anticipates could go into production by the end of 2025. This would constitute a major achievement for a London Stock Exchange junior that has only had control over the project for four years.

Chief executive officer, Mike Ralston, and chief operating officer, Iain Wearing head up the Blencowe Resources management team. Their vast combined African pedigree sees them well positioned to successfully navigate Africa's unique challenges to connect investors with opportunity.

Right time, right place

Zimbabwe born and bred; Ralston's experience saw him view Uganda as one of the few African countries with an acceptable level of risk to develop a long-term mining project. To date, his assessment has been proved right, with the company benefitting from a supportive Ugandan government focused on elevating its mining industry to a level par with African peers, the DRC, Zambia, Kenya and Tanzania, for which countries mining is a key driver of GDP.

The Ugandan authorities are particularly excited by the diversification opportunities presented by the battery metals schematic, which offers up an alternative to the country's traditional focus on gold mining. And, from a geopolitical perspective Blencowe Resources is welcomed as a west-facing and headquartered mining company to counterbalance the Chinese-backed mining interests that have come to dominate in Uganda.

Acquired for just £2 million in 2019, the Orom-Cross project came with a 21 year mining licence, and was considered by Ralston and his team to have huge potential.

Superior deposit

Following two JORC resource drilling programs, a scoping study, and a very promising pre-feasibility study, Blencowe can point to a vast total estimated deposit of two to three billion tonnes. This features over a strike length of about 20km long, which is at times 2-3 km wide: presenting at surface and going down to 100m at certain areas.

The company is now mid-definitive feasibility study (DFS). At the heart of this DFS is a requirement to get product qualified with end users. Given that the graphite space is marked by one-on-one contracts, this is a crucial, yet time-consuming and demanding part of the process.

The Orom-Cross DFS incorporates a 6000m drilling program and a 600 tonne bulk sample being sent to a Chinese processing facility, further to a 100 tonne bulk sample program having already been delivered in 2023. When one considers the $12m overall cost of the DFS is attached to securing product qualification and offtake agreements, it can be placed into context. Necessarily comprehensive, once concluded, it will serve to open doors to the promised land of funding and qualification.

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Bulk Sample

Education = investor enlightenment

Ralston has identified education regarding the stability of Uganda and graphite's role beyond EVs as a key to igniting investor interest.

Investor and market reticence towards the country is largely based on its association with the infamous Idi Amin administration of the 1970s. Yet, that chapter in Uganda's history was concluded over two generations ago, and today's foreign investors are welcomed into what Ralston describes as "a stable country" with open arms.

As regards natural graphite, beyond its importance in energy storage solutions it is a vital component in refractory materials for high temperature environments, in lubricants, and also features as part of carbon additives introduced to irons and steels, amongst much else besides. That graphite has uses outside of the role it plays in the anode in an EV battery is little known. Yet, it is these very non-battery traditional applications where producers can command the highest prices, and where Blencowe Resources sees its entry point being into the market.

The company is also keen to draw the spotlight on its efforts around environment and community as part of its objective to establish a graphite project so green it becomes used as an industry standard. An Orom-Cross community agreement is already in place, inflows in respect of which are already having an impact.

As well as being the right thing to do, increasingly ESG-conscious patrons are attracted by such endeavours, including both funding partners and OEMs. They further ensure end users who will be audited all the way back through the supply chain for upstream credentials can rest easy. 

Differentiators

Mike Ralston's enthusiasm concerning the unique nature of Orom-Cross vis-à-vis other graphite projects is unmistakable.

He points to some key differentiators that combine to enhance the project's chances of going into production and being successful thereafter. These include:

  • Low capital and operating costs. Blencowe Resources has modelled success while those active in other jurisdictions with a higher prevailing cost environment must sit back and wait until the graphite price hopefully rises some time ahead for a margin to be afforded.

Orom-Cross is marked by competitive labour and energy costs. It constitutes a shallow, free dig open pit mining operation with a low strip ratio. Key infrastructure i.e. roads, electricity and water are in close proximity to the mine site.  In contrast, high capital costs require additional funding, creating significantly more risk and increased challenges to start-up.

  • High purity product. Testing at multiple global sites attests to very high Total Graphite Content (TGC) concentrate, with low impurities, high energy densities, high recoveries and a valuable mix of jumbo/large flakes. High quality is essential to get through the qualification process and deliver prices such that an acceptable margin can be made.Additional metallurgical testing to further upgrade from 96% concentrate to 99.95% purified products (including spheronised, purified graphite for use in lithium ion batteries) has highlighted that Orom-Cross has an end product of global stand-out significance.

 What low CapEx and OpEx and high purity product is allowing Blencowe Resources to do is engage and build relationships with future funding partners and offtakers in parallel during the DFS. This is of crucial importance, since funding will not be forthcoming unless the offtake agreement is in place, while the offtakers will not issue a binding contract unless they can see the money is there.

Drilling programme

Funding ducks in a row

The US-government-backed Development Finance Corporation (DFC) is Blencowe Resources' cornerstone strategic funding partner to take the project forward into production. Following thorough due diligence, the DFC has already provided grant backing to the tune of $5m as part of its provision of finance solutions for project development in markets deemed as critical. Quite apart from its usefulness, the value of such support in terms of the credibility it bestows on the project is profound.

Mike Ralston has been consistent and categoric in saying that Blencowe Resources will have no need to go out to the retail market again for funding, since its Orom-Cross value proposition is so strong as to be generating the requisite interest from institutional investors and high net worths.

Testament to this is a recent sizeable investment from an African syndicate. The Blencowe Resources chief executive sees this type of backing as a significant vote of confidence in the project, given the wealth of alternative natural resources investment opportunities on their doorstep the syndicate would have had to choose from.

Strategic vision

Blencowe Resources believes the correct strategy ahead is to move to initial phase one production as soon as practically possible, further to a successful DFS, and assuming all funding and offtake arrangements are in place.

This is set to involve modular construction of a small scalable plant with a relatively low output of concentrate, to encompass micronisation facilities, thereby allowing for more value-add and higher product prices. Thereafter, once a critical mass of knowledge has been accrued and this lower risk starting position proven - including success thresholds having been met on the delivery and sales front - production can then be ramped up.

This vision serves to de-risk the project and ensures that the requisite funding for phase one is readily achievable with DFC support in place. 

Despite most battery market analysts forecasting great things for graphite, Blencowe Resources' considered strategic approach demonstrates its determination to afford shareholders maximum leverage to future growth in concert with the minimum dilution and risk associated with commencing production.

And in Orom-Cross, those shareholders can look to a project in a safe jurisdiction well placed to become a flagship graphite operation for decades ahead.

ABOUT THIS COMPANY
Blencowe Resources

HEAD OFFICE: 167-169 Great Portland Street, Fifth Floor London, W1W 5PF

TEL: +44 (0) 1624 681 250

EMAIL: info@blencoweresourcesplc.com

WEB: https://blencoweresourcesplc.com/

SOCIAL: Twitter, LinkedIn 

DIRECTORS: Cameron Pearce, Alex Passmore, Sam Quinn

QUOTED SHARES ON ISSUE: 218 million

MARKET CAP (at October 4, 2023): £10 million

MAJOR SHAREHOLDERS: RAB Capital 10%, Board and management 9%, Jangada Mines 9.5%, Jub Capital 8.2%

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