The journey to unveiling an unexpected graphite monster

The journey to unveiling an unexpected graphite monster

April 18, 2024 Off By Jack Baker

It wasn’t long after Kingsland Minerals listed on the local exchange that leader Richard Maddocks realised the junior explorer might be onto something big at Top End graphite dazzler Leliyn.

But to discover major graphite potential and have it turn into a monster-sized deposit isn’t something you just expect out of the slips.

While the West Australian company is now the bearer of Australia’s largest graphite deposit, when it joined the Australian Securities Exchange in mid-2022 it was a uranium explorer.

Leliyn was a nice add-on to its portfolio at the time, an unclaimed stretch of land in the Northern Territory once explored for gold and copper.

Past ownership knew graphite was there and had taken a few scattered samples and the grades looked okay, but the pegged out potential was in uranium.

However, when Maddocks and the Kingsland team rocked up to site and enjoyed a stroll around themselves, they didn’t need a lab team to see a wealth of outcropping graphitic schist.

“It was pretty obvious this was a pretty sizable unit full of graphite, but we didn’t have a lot of information about it,” Maddocks recalls.

KNG Leliyan Graphite Discovery Allamber Project NT

Kingsland field assistant Richard Maddocks Jnr and company director Nick Revell on site

As interesting as encouraging signs from the field were, Kingsland had another job to do, and it spent its early life on the public bourse drilling out a uranium resource of over five million pounds.

Still the explorer sent drillers out to Leliyn in 2023, to get more of a feel for the ground.

“Drilling out the uranium resource was quite successful, but when we got some more Leliyn assays and some thin section work on one core hole they’d drilled, we knew we had enough information to release an exploration target,” Maddocks explains.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that making discoveries is fun, and the Kingsland team excitedly nattered away on just how big a graphite resource Leliyn could be.

“We settled on around 200 to 250 million tonnes at about eight to eleven per cent and realised that we had something potentially world quality in terms of size and grade,” he says.

“We knew it was there, it took a while to get enough information together to be confident to release it to the public, but it was pretty obvious early that it was a big deposit.”

Kingsland already knew the geology, jurisdiction, and access to the Port of Darwin made for a tier-one location, but the continued return of world-class intersections from Leliyn was fast proving it a deposit to match.

The company’s efforts culminated in a maiden 194.6 million tonne resource this year at 7.3 per cent total graphitic carbon for 14.2 million tonnes of contained graphite – figures entrenching Leliyn as the largest of its kind in the nation.

Certainly, an achievement to be proud of, but Maddocks is not selling oranges on a street corner here, and knows the hard work is yet to come.

“We know we’ve got one of the biggest deposits in the world and the biggest in Australia. We’ve just got to get the product out of it to sell to people.”

With so much content in the rocks compared a smattering of gold, graphite geology is relatively quite simple, but comes with a much different risk profile to other commodities.

“The resource isn’t the risk, the hard part is finding a buyer for it and producing an end product,” Maddocks explains.

“You’ve got coarse flakes, jumbo flakes, fine flakes, amorphous graphite, and they all have different end uses, you don’t just sell it to the Perth Mint.

“We hope a concentrate will average around 95 per cent graphite, and I think it’ll be more of a finer flake size that will be amenable to battery use.”

The nation-leading mass of Leliyn comes from just a quarter of a 20-kilometre-long schist, but in what might amount to heresy for another explorer, Maddocks mostly brushes off the near-term prospect of added tonnage.

“We know there is some old holes that were sampled by previous explorers, which had good grades and indications of some large flake graphite, but we don’t need more resource at the moment,” he says.

“The numbers are already there for a fairly long-lived open pit operation if it gets to that. It’s more now about trying to find parts of the deposit which might have better characteristics for an end product.”

KNG Richard Maddocks Online 1140x641

Maddocks with a Leliyn core tray

Maddocks says suitors have introduced themselves, but discussions are yet to begin in earnest.

“I suspect once we get an indicated resource we can convert into a reserve and some more metallurgical work, the end users will start making enquiries,” he suggests.

“Being two hours drive south of the port of Darwin is a fantastic location for markets in Japan and South Korea and I think people there will be interested in diversifying their supply base from China.”

Having Australia’s largest discovery to your name is certainly a source of pride, and Maddocks says there would be something bittersweet about walking Leliyn down the aisle if it came to that.

“It’s a two-prong thing, obviously I’m here to create value for shareholders and it’s our main job to do that,” he assures.

“But there is that personal aspect, we’ve discovered one of the largest deposits of graphite in the world, that’s an achievement that we’re all quite proud of here at Kingsland, and I think it’d be nice to be able to see that through to a level where the shareholders do get maximum value for it.”

When asked if he has some kind of ethos for leading a company in a small-cap resources sector not immune to chicanery, Maddocks lays down the numbers in place of platitudes.

“We’ve done things in a very cost-efficient manner, only one raising of around $3 million since we listed and more than five million pounds of uranium and 14.2 million tonnes of contained graphite to show for it,” he remarks.

And Maddocks notes there’s also some pretty good lithium projects at WA lithium territory Lake Johnston and mostly untested copper potential sitting around in Kingsland’s portfolio.

“There aren’t too many young companies around doing what we are doing and trading in a significant premium to their IPO price in the last couple of years,” he says.

“We are one of the very few, and we’re quite proud of how we’ve managed that and quite pleased with the outcomes.”

And when it comes to that previously unclaimed stretch of the Northern Territory, luck, skill, or providence hardly matter when there’s work to be done.

“It was vacant ground, so I suppose it was fortuitous, but also fairly astute to pick it up,” Maddocks shrugs.

“We’re just looking at getting more metallurgical test work done and growing it from here.”

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