This week 10 of Malawi’s leading and most experienced geologists along with over 35 non-Malawian geologists have gathered in Zomba, Malawi, for the second Expert Council on the European Union financed HiTech AlkCarb project that is working to develop new geomodels and sustainable exploration methods for alkaline igneous rocks and carbonatites.
The University of Exeter is leading the project with a number of project partners including Canadian- and London-listed Mkango Resources which is hosting the Expert Council in Malawi. Mkango has completed a pre-feasbility study for Songwe Hill Rare Earths Project through its subsidiary Lancaster Exploration in Phalombe, Malawi, and is working on potential uranium and associated niobium and tantalum targets under its Thambani exploration licence.
According to the project,
alkaline igneous rocks and carbonatites are are relatively rare (0.5 per cent of all the Earth’s igneous rocks), but they are important because of their association with deposits of a number of critical raw materials. These include the rare earth elements (REE), niobium, fluorspar, phosphate, tantalum, scandium and zirconium. Two thirds of advanced REE exploration projects are in alkaline igneous rocks and carbonatites. Almost all the world’s supply of niobium and a significant part of the supply of phosphate also come from carbonatites.
Natural laboratories have been identified by the project for the focus of the research work. Chilwa alkaline province is one of these natural laboratories, chosen for its carbonatite and alkaline magmatism. It is expected to show the potential use of fenite zones as exploration indicators.
Key features of this area, as described by the project, include,
The Mulanje Massif covers some 640 km2 and rises to a height of over 3000 m, whilst the Michese intrusion has an 8 km diameter with numerous smaller plugs and dykes nearby. The intrusive centres date from the early Cretaceous and are remarkable for their diverse rock types including granites, quartz syenites, trachytes, phonolites, ijolites and fenites.
The Songwe Hill REE deposit is the subject of an advanced project led by project partner Lancaster (Mkango Resources Ltd), who have done extensive sampling and drilling to establish an indicated resource of 13.2 million tonnes (1.62 per cent total rare earth oxides (TREO)) and an inferred resource of 18.6 million tonnes (1.38 per cent TREO). It represents an analogue for the shallow depth intrusions below European occurrences such as Kaiserstuhl.
— Mkango Resources (@MkangoResources) October 2, 2016
Mkango Resources has noted that the largest carbonatites in Malawi (Songwe, Kangankunde, Tundulu and Chilwa Island) were drilled by Japan International Cooperation Agency and Metal Mining Agency of Japan in the late 1980s, providing a valuable foundation for further exploration.
Alexander Lemon, President of Mkango Resources and co-ordinator for the Expert Council meeting in Malawi, explained
The expert council is a groundbreaking event for the mining and geology sector in Malawi. The objective of the workshop is to contribute to the innovation of prospecting methods for mineralisation at depth beneath carbonatites and alkaline rocks. There will be three scientific sessions: exploration geology; subsurface geophysics; and fenites, their characteristics and value as exploration tools. It is intended that each session will include a short discussion that will be further developed during, and informed by, the following two days of field visits to facilitate a summary discussion.
Experts will undertake fieldwork at Songwe REE project, Tundulu and Nkalonje in Phalombe District and Kangankunde in Balaka District.
Images from Songwe today… pic.twitter.com/NMg8vXp0Z7
— HiTech AlkCarb (@HiTech_AlkCarb) October 2, 2016
For further information, see the project site.
The HiTech AlkCarb project is funded under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme (grant agreement no. 689909), to develop new geomodels and sustainable exploration methods for alkaline igneous rocks and carbonatites. It has four main objectives.
- Develop new geomodels to explore for ‘hi-tech’ raw materials (such as the rare earth elements, scandium, niobium, tantalum, zirconium, hafnium and fluorspar) associated with alkaline rocks and carbonatites.
- Improve and develop interpretation of geophysical and downhole data in order to understand alkaline rock and carbonatite systems down to depths of approximately one kilometre.
- Build exploration expertise in hi-tech raw materials, and to ensure knowledge exchange between Europe and Africa.
- Assess environmental and socio-economic impacts of mining for these raw materials, and develop best practice.
The following institutions and companies are project partners: University of Exeter, British Geological Survey, GeoAfrica Prospecting Services, Terratec Geophysical Services, Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, Mendel University in Brno,University of St Andrews, Lancaster Exploration Limited (Mkango Resources), Natural History Museum, A Speiser Environmental Consultants,Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), and Gabriele d’Annunzio University of Chieti-Pescara.