• Noel Ong

The Australian Tin Story - why Australia could become a world player in a rising tin market.

Content

The Report That May Have Been The Nostradamus Moment for Tin Market

Plenty of Tin Supply

What does this mean for Investors?

The Australian Tin Story

Australian Tin Provinces

Tasmania, the most important tin producer in Australia

The Other Tin Provinces in Australia

Porphyry Style Tin Deposits

The Holy Grail of Renison Bell Tin Mine

The Rentails Project - Retreatment of Renison Tailings (Mining Technology)

The historical timeline for Renison Bell Tin Mine

Conclusions

Tin Players


Back in 2012, I was in a meeting where people were saying how the tin price needed to break USD25,000 for tin mining to be positive. At that time, not only was the market not excited about the tin price, it was not even excited about the tin metal.


When I talk to people today, this sentiment seems to be almost the same. Tin price is now at historical highs but there seem to be not that much excitement around.


Tin is a metal that I have been following casually over the last 15 years. It became more of a notable metal since 2012 when I got involved in the Tungsten story, because there is a subtle relationship between the pricing of tin and tungsten.

Tin price since 1960s - Trading Economics
Figure 1: Tin price since 1960s. As you can see there is clearly a breakout since March 2020. The pandemic story is very consistent with all other metals. (source: Trading Economics)

I have to be truthful in saying that I was completely taken by surprise at the rate in which tin has risen in price. As I write this Insight, the price of Tin is USD50,025. This is an incredible rate of passage for tin which has been largely ignored as a strategic metal.


Most investors would think of tin as a soldering component. While it is not exactly a bright light of excitement, the rate of its rise has to be more than a few traders playing games.


The Report That May Have Been The Nostradamus Moment for Tin Market.


On 20th April 2021, Julian Kettle, Senior Vice President, Vice Chair Metals and Mining of Wood Mackenzie, wrote an article titled Tin – the forgotten foot soldier of the energy transition.


I have referred to this article many times in many of my narrations on Coffee with Samso and social media posts. The essence of the article comes down to this paragraph:


However, the issues of ESG risk and limited projected supply associated with tin mining, coupled with the challenge of tin recovery from the waste stream, mean that demand could significantly outstrip supply. To quote Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, tin threatens to become a case of “water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink”.

Tin is an incredibly resourceful metal. It has been in existence since humans learnt how to use metals. Like iron and copper and nickel, it has been a mainstay of the existence of the human species. However, the perceived importance of Tin is way down the list.


Julian Kettle makes the argument that up to 90% of tin supply is now at risk of not having the appropriate ESG (Environment Social and Governance) requirements. It is not a big secret that the main style of mining tin is not what you would class as an environmental champion.


What this means is that while the demand for tin may not outpace the mining of the metal, the risk of the supply being limited due to non-compliant ESG may well do so. Hence, the supply could be so severely restricted such that the demand will outpace mining and hence put a lot of pressure on the price.


Plenty of Tin Supply


As you can see in the diagram below, there is no supply issue. There is plenty of tin awaiting mining.

World supply of Tin - Wood Mackenzie
Figure 2: The world supply of tin and the jurisdiction where these resources are located. (Source: Wood Mackenzie)

I came across an old article that gave a good description of the Southeast Asian Tin Belt

Here is a part of the abstract to show the dominance of world tin supply that may soon be at risk of non-compliant ESG:


The Southeast Asian Tin Belt is a north-south elongate zone 2800 km long and 400 km wide, extending from Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand to Peninsular Malaysia and the Indonesian Tin Islands. Altogether 9.6 million tonnes of tin, equivalent to 54% of the world’s tin production is derived from this region.


The Main Range Granitoid Province in western Peninsular Malaysia, southern Peninsular Thailand and central Thailand is almost entirely made up of biotite granite (184-230 Ma). Tin deposits associated with these granites contributed 55% of the historic tin production of Southeast Asia.


Simple veins arc the most abundant type of hydrothermal ore deposit, constituting 52% of all known primary tin-tungsten deposits. Complex infilling-dominated deposits of the sheeted-vein or stockwork type are less abundant (10% of primary deposits). Other types arc replacement-dominated deposits (24%). tin-tantalum mineralized pegmatites (12%) and breccia deposits (1%).


Placer tin deposits derived from the primary tin mineralization in the pre-Miocene basement are the major source of tin. The oldest terrestrial sediments deposited on the extensively peneplaned basement have a Miocene-Pliocene to Lower Pleistocene age.


These sediments, which arc up to 60 m thick, host the most important placers. They are overlain by younger alluvial strata or marine sediments, which are up to 25 m thick and usually do not contain minable tin mineralization.


Fluvial allochthonous bottom placers are of major economic importance. Fluvial residual bottom placers, fluvial above-bottom placers and alluvial-fan placers are also significant. Eluvial, colluvial and littoral placers arc of minor importance.


What does this mean for Investors?


When we look at where investors can participate in the Tin Story, in my opinion, jurisdiction is at the top of the list.


Since I have had previous history in trying to find good tin projects, I have to say, today, I would stick to Class 1 jurisdiction. Most of the "better" projects are in what investors today will perceive as hard places to work.


Tin is notorious for being in places that are not the best in terms of jurisdiction. I have even heard that Spain and Portugal have issues lately. The rest of the hot spots are in Burma and Indonesia. In saying that, there are many projects that are in so called hard jurisdiction and they are doing extremely well. When I make the comment that these places are hard to work, I also accept and do want readers to understand, it is a case by case scenario.


Elementos Limited (ASX: ELT) is a prime example. They are doing extremely well and they have their tin project in Spain. Some people tell me Spain is a hard place to work but ask ELT and you will get a different answer.


As such, the Wood McKenzie article that I mentioned above, does make me think that the rising tin price is here to stay. I will not be surprised if the price goes higher over time. Of course, as usual, this will be counter balanced with alternatives that flow in to reduce costs. However, if there was an alternative to tin, we would have seen some of that by now. The again, I may have not seen it or am not yet aware of any.


About 85% of all historically mined tin of about 27 million tonnes Sn is from a few tin ore provinces within larger granite belts. These are, in decreasing importance, Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar), South China, the Central Andes (Bolivia, Southern Peru) and Cornwall, UK.


Hence, if a region has an issue, they are all going to have the same issue.


The Australian Tin Story


Tin (Sn) and Tungsten (W or WO3) have a coexisting relationship that is due to the way Granites fractionate (cools down and create compounds, well, sort of). The scientific explanation is a bit more complicated.


Tin mineralisation is all about granites and the way they fractionate, meaning the way they release the metals out from the melt/magma. Hence, this is where it gets complex about how great a place is or not. There are a lot of studies on this but I think we can skip all that science.


Currently, the Renison Bell mine is the only tin producer and it has been so for the last 50 years. The Renison Bell deposit is what I would call the Holy Grail of tin deposits.


As you will discover, the Australian tin story is really about Tasmania. The region that surrounds Renison Bell is the Mecca of the tin story. I will even say that if you look at the geology of the area, the lack of real exploration has probably hidden other metal discoveries.


The recent mineral exploration market has had an injection of funding that it has not seen in my 30+ years of being involved in this industry. Discoveries are now being made and this is what the Renison region will get once companies such as Venture Minerals Limited (ASX: VMS) deploy their money.


I have now learned that Stellar Resources Limited (ASX: SRZ) is also in the region, but I have not really heard about their activities. This is one of the issues with the noisy market space too. If you do not stick your head out and shout about your projects, the market seems to simply ignore your presence.


Elementos Limited has the Cleveland Tin deposit and that is also within a stones throw from Renison.


Australian Tin Provinces [1]


The major tin districts lie in Eastern Australia where they are in two major provinces in the Lachlan Fold Belt - The Wagga Belt and in Tasmania. There are some minor areas in Queensland which I won't cover in this Insight.


The Sn provinces of eastern Australia form part of a discontinuous circum-Pacific belt of Phanerozoic Sn provinces and lie within a Phanerozoic fold and thrust belt system:


Tasman fold belt system - the western margin of which is defined by the Tasman line. The major provinces (Figure 3:[A]) are located in northeastern and western Tasmania, in the Central.


Lachlan Fold Belt (the Wagga Sn belt) - in New England and in northern Queensland (Cooktown, Herberton-Mount Garnet, and Mount Carbine provinces).


Major Sn provinces
Figure 3: [A] The major Sn provinces of the Tasman fold belt system, eastern Australia. 1 = northeast Tasmania, 2 = western Tasmania. 3 = Wagga Sn belt, 4 = New England, 5 = North Queensland. [B] The Wagga Sn belt of the central Lachlan fold belt. [1]

Tasmania, the most important tin producer in Australia


Tasmania has a variety of tin mineralisation which include sheeted veins, greisen, stockwork, carbonate replacement, proximal skarn, and fault lode deposits [2]. Tasmania hosts the Renison Bell Tin Mine which has an inferred resource of 18.55 million tonnes @1.57% Sn.


All tin mineralization in Tasmania is spatially associated with Devonian-Carboniferous granites, which intruded Mesoproterozoic to Early Devonian predominantly sedimentary sequences during the Tabberabberan orogeny.

A summary of tin deposits in Tasmania is listed in Table 1. The stand out deposits are Renison Bell and Mount Lindsay. In fact, if you look at the tonnage, it is about the same, but the grade for Renison is 5 times greater.

Summary of Major Primary Tin Deposits in Tasmania
Table 1: Summary of Major Primary Tin Deposits in Tasmania - Data compiled from Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) company reports, historical reports from Mineral Resources Tasmania, and Corbett et al. (2014)

The Other Tin Provinces in Australia


While I am researching for information on this topic, I am realising that there is little information on tin deposits outside of Tasmania. I know that there are some tin occurrences in New South Wales, but I did not realise that there was very little literature on the facts of these deposits in the public domain.


The only major tin area in Eastern Australia that seems to come up in searches is the site of the Taronga Tin Project near Emmaville in New South Wales. This is an open-pit mine that is considered the fifth largest undeveloped tin project.


It was owned by AusTinMining and was recently sold to a London based company for AUD$34M. According to the website of AusTinMining, the project contains the following:

  • 57,000t contained tin

  • 26,000t contained copper

  • 4.4Moz silver

  • Pre-Feasibility completed in 2014

  • permitted for initial 410,000t trial mine

Porphyry Style Tin Deposits


I never knew that there are tin deposits that are sourced from a porphyry. The Ardlethan Porphyry-Style tin deposits (Figure 4) were the most productive on the Australian mainland [1]. According to [4], the mineralisation occurs within a series of bifurcating breccia pipes that are hosted by the Mine granite. Between 1912 and 1986, these pipes produced about 30,000 tonnes of tin.


The Ardlethan tin deposits are derived from the Ardlethan granite creating a series of Greisen style deposits amongst the breccia pipes. These deposits sit in the so called Wagga Tin Belt.

 geologic setting of the Ardlethan granite in eastern Australia
Figure 4: The geologic setting of the Ardlethan granite in eastern Australia. The Tasmanides of eastern Australia are shown, including the Lachlan orogen, Thomson orogen, and New England orogen (NEO). Granites of the Wagga-Omeo belt of the Lachlan orogen are shown in dark gray. The location of the Ardlethan granite is marked by the black box, and the geologic units of this area are shown in B. B) Geologic units of the Ardlethan region including the Ardlethan granite (red), the Garnet porphyry (GQFP; green), the Mine granite (blue), Ordovician sediments (dark gray), and Devonian sediments (light gray). Mineralized zones, including greisen and breccia hosted deposits, are colored yellow. The locations of tourmaline samples collected for isotopic analysis are marked by an X with the sample number. The location of the schematic cross section through the breccia pipes (panel C) is marked by A-A’. C) Schematic cross section of the Ardlethan deposit. Breccia pipes occur within the Mine granite but are inferred to converge on the Ardlethan granite. Breccia pipes are labeled as follows: 1 = Mine breccia pipe, 2 = Carpathia-Blackreef breccia pipe, 3 = Stackpool-Godfrey breccia pipe, 4 = White Crystal breccia pipe. The Mine porphyry occurs within these breccia pipes and contemporaneous with the brecciation event. [4]. Map and cross section edited from [5].

From memory, apart from what I think is the Taronga Mine, there are not too many tin occurrences that will make headlines. Whether it´s a matter of not enough exploration or if it's because there just isn't enough geology happening for a Renison-style discovery, time will tell.


Th upside of this is that if there are similar "Renison" or something close to it, the current market for mineral exploration is good. On current trends, this is still looking as being sustainable and again, time will be the true indicator.


The Holy Grail of Renison Bell Tin Mine


Renison is located on the west coast of Tasmania, approximately 15km north-east of Zeehan.


The Renison Bell Tin Mine is a 50%/50% JV between Metals X Limited and Yunnan Tin Group and is called the Bluestone Mines Tasmania JV. It is the biggest and I think, the only tin operation in Australia.


According to the Meals X website, the mine sold 2,175 tonnes of tin metal. A rough estimate if sold at an average price of AUD$30,000 per tonne would give receivables of near AUD64M. That is not bad.


You may ask, what is the big deal with Renison? Well, it has been producing about 8,000 t of tin per annum which at today´s price would make this very profitable. What makes Renison special is that it is mining at over 1% Sn, which makes it one of the largest known primary tin deposits.


Today, the Metals X website shows that it still has a Resource of 18.5M tonnes at a grade of 1.57%. In amongst that resource is another 26,600 tonnes of Copper.


The Ore Reserve Estimate is below:

 Ore Reserve for Renison Bell
Table 2: The Ore Reserve for Renison Bell. (Source: Metals X Website.) Rentails is the Renison tailings retreatment project.

The Rentails Project - Retreatment of Renison Tailings (Mining Technology)


Based on an updated feasibility study completed in 2017, Rentails is proposed to retreat the historical tailings for more than 11 years at an average rate of two million tonnes per annum (Mtpa). The concentrator dams are expected to produce approximately 2,200tpa of copper in a high-grade copper matte and 5,400tpa of tin in a high-grade tin fume product.


The project is aimed at recovering tin from around 22.5Mt of tailing deposits at an average grade of 0.44% tin and 0.23% copper from the historic ore processing at the Renison mine.


The historical timeline for Renison Bell Tin Mine

  • 1890: Discovery by George Renison Bell (alluvial cassiterite) and commencement of production.

  • 1958: Acquisition of Renison by the Mount Lyell Mining and Railway Company Limited – commencement of modern era of Renison.

  • 1980s-90s: Mine operated under Renison Goldfields Consolidated (RGC).

  • 1998: Acquisition of Renison by Murchison United.

  • 2004: Acquisition of Renison and Mt Bischoff by Bluestone Tin Limited, refurbishment program completed and commissioning of operations at Renison.

  • 2005: Suspension of operations at Renison due to low tin prices.

  • 2006: Merger of Bluestone Tin Limited and Metals Exploration Ltd to form Metals X Limited.

  • 2008: Resumption of mining at Renison and at Mt Bischoff.

  • 2009: Resumption of operation of processing plant.

  • 2009: Feasibility Study completed for Renison Tailings Retreatment Project.

  • 2009: Sale of 50% of Renison to Yunnan Tin Group of China and formation of Bluestone Mines Tasmania Joint Venture.

  • 2010: Closure of Mt Bischoff mining operations.

  • 2018: Construction and commissioning of new 3-stage crushing circuit and ore sorter.

Conclusions


Tin should be one of the hottest commodities on the watch screen of investors but it is still relatively unknown. The complexity of tin goes past trying to find a deposit that has the grade. The one topic of tin that I have not touched on is the processing. If the tin is too soft, it will grind too small and float away.


So, when you are looking for tin, you have to find one that has the properties for you to mine and process for it. Yes, it is that hard.


Hence, we look at Renison who has been mining tin for 50 years. If you look at the Ore Reserves listed in Table 2, you will appreciate why I call Renison the Holy Grail. There is no doubt that the likes of Venture Minerals and Stellar Resources that are playing in the Tasmanian space would be keen to find another Renison.


Due to my association with Venture Minerals, I have more of an understanding of their projects. I know of several others in the area but I cannot comment much on the projects.


Venture is closely aligned with the same geology that is feeding Renison so future exploration will make things very interesting for the company. Remember, they have had a BFS done on Mt Lindsay way back in 2012:


Bankable Feasibility Study delivers more than $550 million in Net Revenue: Mt Lindsay Tin/Tungsten Project


The prices adopted was:

  • Tin - US$23,800/t (Currently US$41,826)

  • Tungsten - US$392/mtu (The last I saw, it was around the US$350/mtu)

  • Copper - US$8,000/t (Currently US$10,165)

I would think that Venture Minerals will be taking advantage of the high prices and start putting a mine plan together. Chasing the Renison geology will be the smartest thing they could do for themselves. If they find the grade that Renison has, this will confirm the world class status of Mount Lindsay.


In the public domain, I cannot see anyone that could come close to what Venture Minerals is offering.


Tin Players

 

Disclaimer


The information or opinions provided herein do not constitute investment advice, an offer or solicitation to subscribe for, purchase or sell the investment product(s) mentioned herein. It does not take into consideration, nor have any regard to your specific investment objectives, financial situation, risk profile, tax position and particular, or unique needs and constraints. Read full Disclaimer.

 

References:

  1. Walshe,J.L., Solomon, M, Whitford, D. J. Sun, S-S And Foden, J. D. 2011. The Role of the Mantle in the Genesis of Tin deposits and Tin provinces of Eastern Australia. Economic Geology, V106. pp 297-305

  2. Denholm,J.L., Stepanov,A. S., Meffre,S., Bottrill, R. S. and Thompson, J.M. 2021. The Geochronology of Tasmanian Tin Deposits Using LA-ICP-MS U-Pb Cassiterite Dating. Economic Geology, V116, No. 6, pp 1387-1407.

  3. Corbett, K.D., Quilty, P.G., and Calver, C.R., 2014, Geological evolution of Tasmania: Geological Society of Australia, Special Publication 24, 623 p.

  4. Carr, P, Norman, M.D., Bennett, V.C. and Belvin, P.L. 2021 Tin Enrichment in Magmatic-Hydrothermal Environments Associated with Cassiterite Mineralization at Ardlethan, Eastern Australia: Insights from Rb-Sr and Sm-Nd Isotope Compositions in Tourmaline. Economic Geology, V116, No. 1, pp 147-167 

  5. Ren, S.K., Walshe, J.L., Paterson, R.G., Both, R.A., and Andrew, A., 1995, Magmatic and hydrothermal history of the porphyry-style deposits of the Ardlethan tin field, New South Wales, Australia: Economic Geology , v. 90, p. 1620–1645.

  6. Lehmann, Bernd. 2020. Formation of tin ore deposits: A reassessment. Lithos 402-403, Article 105756.

  7. Schwartz, M.O., Rajah, S.S., Askury. A.K., Putthapiban, P. and Djaswadi, S. 1995 The Southeast Asian Tin Belt. Earth Science Reviews 38, pp 95-293