ByTheEast: How did you come to work in Norway?
Michael Wurmser: I was already in the commodity business when I was involved in Norway through friends. We had business interests in Mongolia including in coal, bitumen, and rare earth elements, Oil and Gas projects in the Middle East as well as in the United States.
After the Mongolian project, I networked with some people with whom my connections got closer and we became friends in Norway; once they got to know about my experience in the industry we explored licensing requirements in Norway.
I then started to look into Norway’s potential, and did a due diligence: I perused through a pile of Geological Survey of Norway (NGU)’s reports covering a wide spectrum including background information on phosphate, titanium and vanadium. The reports published by NGU, University of Stavanger and University of Bergen were quite sizeable and extensive in nature but they never made it out to the investor scene. At this time, the focus in Norway was all about oil and gas industry and not on mining.
I thought it could be exciting since the reports mentioned phosphate, which is connected to fertilizers, which in turn are connected to the food industry, and the food industry is the most important in the world.
BTE: How to make it then to the investor scene?
MW: We mandated SRK Exploration Services Limited, an independent third party, to conduct some preliminary research based on NGU’s findings. SRK got to work, sampled some stones, and came back with their findings. They said it was worth taking a closer look since they believed the deposit was huge. While we did not have different estimates other than NGU, we believed in the accuracy of NGU figures.
Initially we had a report from NGU on five different locations. They drilled down to 80 meters in a few locations, and came up with an estimated value of mineral deposits down to 100 meters; their findings of vanadium, phosphate and titanium was consistent with their findings of mineral deposits at various mining depths.
We approached the people at SRK to look into NGU’s reports and we wanted to compare their findings with those of the five locations. They advised us to do more: they wanted to drill deeper to gauge more accurately the volume of the deposits.
BTE: Which you did?
MW: Yes. Six months later, during the summer 2019, we sent a team of geologists to do some samplings in the region NGU had previously studied; they also extended their research outside of this region.
As expected, they found larger evidence of mineral deposits. They extracted 3 tons of stones, and sent them to an independent laboratory in England for analysis. They wanted to be sure that concentration levels were sufficiently high to make business sense and see whether it would be possible to separate these three mineral – phosphate, vanadium and titanium in an economic manner. All of these were confirmed. Once we put all the three independent reports together, we realized that the ore body going from North to South, and from East to West, was much larger and wider.
“In November 2019, we came back with loads of data: the conclusion was smashing – the whole mineral deposit body was going down to 4500m. Nobody expected that, it was crazy!”
BTE: At the time, how could you be sure to have hit the jackpot?
MW: In order to raise money and then to drill for two years, we needed to be more efficient. NGU’s reports mentioned that the mineral deposits could go down to 300-400 meters; this was also confirmed by SRK. It was the best cased scenario.
We purchased a total of 46 licenses and in September 2019 we hired a helicopter in order to perform electromagnetic flights, i.e to measure the magnetic intensity and to get an idea of the size of the ore body. We flew it for two whole months covering the whole region of Bjerkreim. Using state of the art technology, we measured magnetic waves from the ground.
We wanted more clarity on how this body looks and how deep it goes. In November 2019, we came back with loads of data: the conclusion was smashing – the whole mineral deposit body was going down to 4500m. Nobody expected that, it was crazy!
BTE: What did you find exactly at this depth?
MW: As a matter of fact, we realized that the findings contained something that was much bigger. In the middle of this intrusion, there was a magnetic spot emitting a very strong signal, suggesting that the mineral body could have potentially contained nickel deposits.
Because of that, we decided to go for a drill program with shallow drilling and deep drilling. We used the latter drilling technique since we expected to find nickel at around 2200 meters; we used the shallow drilling down to 600 meters to find out if the mineralization at this depth was the same as that at the top.
This operation started in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis in April 2020. We were drilling like crazy. From April 2020 to December 2020 we drilled a total of 55 holes and up to 24’600m.
All the core drillings we took of the ground were crushed and analyzed in a laboratory in Sweden. We found out that the mineralization in 600m generally was the same at 400m, 300m, 200m, 100m and on the surface. While in some small parts, there was no vanadium or phosphate, but in general, it was very consistent.
BTE: According to these findings, were you able to quantity the potential of the Bjerkreim intrusion?
MW: We realized that in just 10km2 we had established our core resource findings, which is about 2.5% of the entire deposit area. While trying to calculate the volume of the potential reserve, we came to the conclusion that in this small part, there were 1.55 billion tons of ore body, and 1 million tons of vanadium. To get a perspective on the vanadium deposit, the global production of vanadium is 110’000 tons per year.
We concluded that the lifetime of this little mine would be at least between 50 to 75 years, if we go to 400m down.
BTE: Did you find nickel too, as expected?
MW: On the second drilling program we drilled. There we did the deep drilling to find out about whether there was nickel at 2’200m depth. While we did not find any nickel, we found more phosphate, vanadium and titanium. It’s was a goldmine.
We asked for some more calculations to get a broader perspective on our find, and compare it with deposits found in Morocco or China. We concluded that the complete body of mineral deposit in the region, down to 1500m and not 4000m, would be at least 70 billon tons of mineralized phosphate rock. We would have never ever expected that. This is the background of the whole story.
BTE: What could be the raw material quality you can dig from the ground there?
MW: I made a joke with a friend: it seems to be a really boring stone because there is only phosphate with some vanadium and titanium! There is no cadmium, no sulfite, there is nothing in there, it’s quite clean and then it makes it quite interesting. At some point, the only “impurities” in this phosphate is vanadium and titanium.
“In the end of 2021, we will have this scoping study on what we’ll do. We will get three additional ground mappings, further down, as we did in the first one. The consistency of this homogeneous rock is a big advantage for us.”
BTE: Do you already know when you will be able to export these raw materials?
MW: We don’t know yet when we will start to export raw materials. It will take six years from now to start mining: we will have to follow procedural protocols, particular to the mining industry.
The first step requires you to establish a resource statement – which we did. The next step requires us to conduct a scoping study which looks into the economic aspects of the projects including logistics (water electricity…). This typically takes 7 to 9 months. Then come first the pre-feasibility followed by the feasibility study which will take at least three to four years.
The more important milestone will be now to establish the scoping study, which we have already started. In the end of 2021, we will have this scoping study on what we’ll do. We will get three additional ground mappings, further down, as we did in the first one. The consistency of this homogeneous rock is a big advantage for us.
BTE: So, if I understand correctly, your findings in Norway are a game changer for Europe?
MW: As luck would have it, yes, this is a game changer as this project situated in Europe. Even if Norway is not part of the European Union, as Switzerland or UK too, we are still close to Europe and to the EU.
It’s a Norwegian asset, it belongs to the Norwegian people and we have high respect for that. We wouldn’t do anything that would go against the interests of the people of Norway or the EU. We will never forget that, we are in the middle of Europe.
BTE: How Norwegian authorities have reacted to your conclusions?
MW: The Norwegian government has been so far very cooperative and friendly to our project and the investors environment in Norway is also very investor friendly so that we can attract more capital and build up an industry. They are interested in supporting that.
We will stay independent because we closely cooperate with the Norwegian State. This is important to us and cannot be taken away from us. We sleep quite well because we know that the next day, this project still belongs to us.
“We are thinking to strongly support the battery industry. We are looking at this project, it’s really interesting.”
BTE: And the European Union?
MW: We got in contact with the European Union, they have added our firm to the ERMA platform (European Raw Material Association). We are in constant touch with them every two weeks or so. We have meetings with the European Commission, and they want to know what we do, how we do it, etc.
BTE: What are the industrial use of the raw materials you found?
MW: We are thinking to strongly support the battery industry. We are looking at this project, it’s really interesting. We will also seek beyond Norwegian borders into the EU with what we have we could also support such initiatives and plans for battery construction facilities in France or Germany or anywhere in the EU by being a reliable supplier of vanadium as well as phosphate inside of Europe while also enjoying a low CO2 footprint. But thinking of the size of our phosphate Rock, fertilizer also would be interesting.
BTE: So you are positive that European countries will benefit from these findings…
MW: Besides to be an exporter of raw material, we can also create industries with value added benefits. We told the EU as well that we are highly interested to take part into the value chain into the EU and involve European companies for that. In a sense, the lack of raw materials can be seen as a weakness of the EU, Europeans have to be educated on that, they have to build industries for that. But with this mine, at least for the three materials that we have, there is a huge potential to not only be independent but also to be an important player globally.