It is a metal that has many modern applications, yet tantalum still remains largely unnoticed in Australia as domestic production is a by-product of lithium mining.

This is just a little surprising given the use of tantalum in capacitors — a dual-terminal electronic component that stores and releases electrical energy quickly, its use in preventing corrosion and as a component of “superalloys” for aerospace and industrial gas turbines.

Now industry consultant Roskill has indicated that tantalum prices could be on their way up thanks to lower than expected growth in lithium demand that has resulted in delays in the commissioning of lithium refineries in China.

Roskill added that Australian lithium-tantalum producers reported lower sales of lithium concentrate through the second quarter of 2019 and have reduced production of lithium and tantalum.

As a result of the delayed ramp-up in low-cost by-product tantalum production, tantalum prices increased for the first time in late September following a year of sharp decline, and have continued to rise through October.

By October 21, prices had increased by a total of $US2 per pound to reach $US57 ($84) per pound, which is still a far cry from the peak of $US101 per pound in June/July 2018.

Roskill said that delegates at the annual conference of the Tantalum-Niobium International Study Center held earlier this month were positive on the short-term future of tantalum, with many expecting strong recovery in the coming months.

However, while a tantalum price recovery is all but certain, the jury is still out on both the speed and level.

Read more: Whatever tantalum even is, Australia could steal its market share from Africa

 

Small cap tantalum players

Here are some ASX-listed companies with tantalum assets.

AVZ Minerals (ASX:AVZ) is sitting on a combined measured and indicated resource for the Roche Dure deposit at its Manono project in the DRC of 269 million tonnes at grades of 1.65 per cent lithium, 816 parts per million (ppm) tin and 36ppm tantalum.

That equates to about 9,600 tonnes of tantalum.

A “measured” resource represents the highest level of geologic knowledge and confidence and allows a company to start work to convert the resource to a reserve — discoveries that are commercially mineable.

An “indicated” resource, meanwhile, provides enough information on geology and grade continuity to support mine planning.

The company recently reported that the first phase of its metallurgical test work on Manono ore had achieved encouraging tantalum recoveries that are expected to improve with further work.

Read more: AVZ moves to the next stage at the Manano lithium project, aims to release DFS in early 2020

Liontown Resources (ASX:LTR) is another company with existing lithium and tantalum resources at its Kathleen Valley project in WA.

Recent drilling has highlighted the potential to substantially increase the current resource of 74.9 million tonnes at 1.3 per cent lithium and 140ppm tantalum.

The company is currently working on a pre-feasibility study that is scheduled for completion by the end of 2019.

Read more: Cashed-up Liontown reveals aggressive Kathleen Valley development schedule

Tantalum is also a by-product of niobium, and Globe Metals & Mining (ASX:GBE) has the Kanyika niobium and tantalum project in Malawi.

The company said recently that it is nearing finalisation of a development agreement with the Malawi government that will allow it to move forward with project funding and offtake agreements.

The Kanyika project hosts a total resource of 68.3 million tonnes at 2,830 ppm niobium and 135ppm tantalum.

At Stockhead, we tell it like it is. While AVZ Minerals is a Stockhead advertiser, it did not sponsor this article.