Ironbark

Ironbark Zinc: Citronen Project’s size and scale gives leverage through multiple price cycles

This is the second in a two-part feature series.

This article is a sponsored feature from Mining.com.au partner Ironbark Zinc Ltd. It is not financial advice. Talk to a registered financial expert before making investment decisions.

Emerging mining company Ironbark Zinc (ASX:IBG) is poised to become a large global zinc player as it advances its flagship Citronen Zinc-Lead Project in northern-Greenland towards production.

As discussed in part one of this two-part series, Citronen represents one of the world’s largest undeveloped zinc-lead resources and is located in a largely unexplored yet well-endowed mineral province of Greenland.

Managing Director Michael Jardine notes that in addition to Greenland being a mineral-rich island with a stable political environment and low investment risk, Citronen is looking like a beast of a project.

Leverage to zinc through multiple price cycles

The MD adds that the sheer size and scale of the project gives Ironbark Zinc enormous leverage to zinc through multiple price cycles. And at present, metal prices are volatile. 

Ironbark Zinc notes that in the September quarter, the zinc price traded in a narrow band between US$1.48/lb and US$1.54/lb, softening further after the quarter-end. Macro uncertainty has continued to weigh on the metals market more broadly, with further zinc smelter capacity idled in Europe amid high energy costs.

ZincHand

Despite these headwinds, zinc continues to trade above the modelled price in Ironbark’s 2021 Citronen BFS of US$1.30/lb.

The MD adds: “Like all commodities, supply and demand are the key drivers of zinc pricing and we see favourable trends on both sides of that equation. Demand-wise we see traditional markets such as steel galvanising holding steady at worst or more likely growing modestly. Much greater demand in terms of growth percentages will come from new uses as the world moves to net zero – renewables, especially wind and solar, batteries and agriculture.

“Like all commodities, supply and demand are the key drivers of zinc pricing and we see favourable trends on both sides of that equation”

We’re even more bullish on the supply side given the end is in sight for some of the world’s great zinc mines in the next decade and there’s been a vast under investment in new zinc mines for a long period of time now. Citronen could potentially help fill that looming supply gap from say the late 2020s onwards and run for decades. It’s that big.”

Zinc

While there remains a looming supply gap that Ironbark Zinc will help fill, the zinc market is expanding. Dublin, Ireland-based research firm Research and Markets reports that the global zinc mining market is expected to grow from US$9.48 billion in 2021 to US$9.83 billion this year at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.7%. 

The zinc mining market is expected to grow to $10.08 billion in 2026 at a CAGR of 0.6%.

In part, the growth in the zinc mining market is due to an increase in various heavy industries in developing countries, particularly China and other parts of Asia, owing to the rising population and infrastructure. 

Critical to achieve net zero emissions 

However, it is the net zero transition and move to global decarbonisation that is helping fuel zinc’s rise and cementing its importance as a critical mineral.

Zinc and lead are the 2 most widely used non-ferrous metals after aluminium and copper and are vital materials in everyday life.

In particular, zinc has many uses. Its oxide and other compounds are found in batteries, sunscreen, paints, and other products. Almost all mined zinc (95%) comes from zinc sulphide ore. One lesser-known fact about the mineral is that zinc is easily recycled.

The blue-grey metallic element can store 6 times more energy per pound than other battery systems, increasing the range of electric vehicles (EVs).

However, as it has strong anticorrosive properties and bonds well with other metals, the majority of zinc produced is used in zinc galvanising, which is the process of adding thin layers of zinc to iron or steel to prevent rusting.

Due to the long lifespan of most zinc-coated products like galvanised steel, which in some cases may last maintenance-free for over 100 years, much of the zinc produced in the past is still in use, constituting a valuable and sustainable resource for generations.

Geology.com notes that centuries before it was identified as an element, zinc was used to make brass (an alloy of zinc and copper) and for medicinal purposes. 

Another leading use of zinc is as an alloy; the zinc is combined with copper and with other metals to form materials that are used in vehicles, electrical components, and household fixtures. A significant use of zinc also includes the production of zinc oxide (the most important zinc chemical by production volume), which is used in rubber manufacturing and as a protective skin ointment.

Moving ahead despite macro headwinds

As Jardine notes, the market for zinc is massive and Ironbark Zinc’s Citronen project is emerging at the perfect time to produce the much needed and widely used material.

In 2022, there has been major geopolitical upheavals that have substantially affected metal, as well as debt and equity markets, created uncertainty for large new project developments and helped spur global inflation rates to multi-decade highs. Throughout all of this zinc has continued to demonstrate its importance to the industrial activity of both today and tomorrow with the price holding above Ironbark’s 2021 BFS price of US$1.30/lb for the entirety of the past 12 months.

Ironbark drilling

Despite facing the same headwinds other mining companies have such as COVID and other ongoing global macro issues including supply chain disruptions and travel restrictions, the MD says the company is well-positioned since taking the helm in 2019.

“For a company as globally focused as Ironbark, COVID was very challenging in terms of moving the business forward – we literally could not get to the project site for more than two years. I am very glad to see the back of it in terms of business and supply chain disruptions.

Moving forward, I’m aware news flow has been light for much of 2022 despite a significant amount of work happening behind the scenes. We’re close to resolving some of the bigger questions governing our likely areas of priority for 2023 and will have some news to market as soon as we can.”

It looks like 2023 will be a busy year for Ironbark Zinc. The past year was an eventful one for Ironbark and much was achieved despite the aforementioned difficult macro environment. However, Jardine says this steady progress provides an excellent base from which to launch into 2023.

BFS reveals the beast 

As the Citronen project is quite the beast, Ironbark Zinc will undoubtedly remain busy in 2023. The size of the opportunity offered by Citronen is why the company has been so persistent in pursuing the current strategy that prioritises the US EXIM opportunity, which Jardine notes is the most likely one of the pathways currently available that will see full value recognition for the asset.

Map

The project BFS shows that it has an Ore Reserve of 49Mt @ 4.8% Zn and 0.5% Pb; a Mineral Resource of 85Mt @ 4.7% Zn and 0.5% Pb; and the company has an exploration target of 40-90Mt @ 5-7% Zn and Pb combined (additional to known resource).

With a 20-year mine life, production is expected to be 3.3Mtpa with 65Mt processed at 4.7% Zn and 0.5% Pb, and 2.5Mt Zn metal produced life of mine

Capex will be $654m and Ironbark Zinc continues to evaluate additional strategies for bringing new investment in at a project level. With a 20-year mine life, production is expected to be 3.3Mtpa with 65Mt processed at 4.7% Zn and 0.5% Pb, and 2.5Mt Zn metal produced life of mine (LOM).

Jardine adds that being pragmatic in how the company builds value, any monitoring and surveying or early works infrastructure will be focused on improving the base case presented in the BFS. It will be aligned with the company’s ambition to see Citronen go into production at the earliest possible opportunity.

Considering how much the world needs zinc, that opportunity cannot come soon enough.

Write to Adam Orlando at Mining.com.au

Images: Ironbark Zinc Limited & iStock
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Written By Adam Orlando
Mining.com.au Editor-in-Chief Adam Orlando has more than 20 years’ experience in the media having held senior roles at various publications, including as Asia-Pacific Sector Head (Mining) at global newswire Acuris (formerly Mergermarket). Orlando has worked in newsrooms around the world including Hong Kong, Singapore, London, and Sydney.