[Ontario’s Ring of Fire] North’s Holy Grail: tapping a $1 trillion resource – by Mary Katherine Keown (Sudbury Star – August 11, 2012)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

On a humid summery day — the kind of day that makes you feel like you must be living inside a sauna — you open the door to your refrigerator and reach for something to cool you from the inside out. If you count yourself among a growing number of stylish, quality-craving homeowners, yours is a stainless steel fridge. House-hunters and remodellers alike covet stainless steel appliances for their durability, timelessness and aesthetic quality. Industry experts estimate 40% of new appliance sales include “a stainless steel-type finish,” according to Dr. Steel on www.stainless-online.com.
Stainless steel appliances have been on the market for the ACCENT past two decades and show no signs of waning popularity. Fingerprints aside, designers recommend them as a solid investment with high resale value. The Atlantic ran a piece in February questioning the popularity of stainless steel. While the author, Megan McArdle, has some reservations, its appeal to domestic types is undeniable.
“As a status symbol, (such appliances) signify that: a) you (are) a serious cook, and b) you didn’t just go to Circuit City to get your appliances,” she writes. “In other words, stainless steel has become a status god. That’s why all those young couples on house-hunting shows adamantly shake their heads when they walk into an otherwise charming fixer-upper and say ‘No way. I want stainless.’ “
But stainless steel is not just for appliances. It is ubiquitous in daily life, and is a major component in construction and transportation materials. And it would not be stainless without ferrochrome, the end product of chromite mining.
“Chromium has two roles in making stainless steel from iron: To make it harder and to make it resistant to oxidation (rusting),” says Michael Lesher, a Laurentian University geology professor and research chair in mineral exploration.
Ferrochrome is also responsible for the characteristically muted shine of stainless steel. There are currently no substitutes for chromite and “the main ingredient added to iron to make stainless steels appears to be chromium,” Lesher says.
The mineral is found in rock rich in iron-magnesium magma (known as lava once it reaches the surface of Earth). Lesher explains that chromite is akin in purpose to pentlandite and chalcanthite ores, the parent materials that house nickel and copper, and which are mined in Sudbury to produce nickel and copper ores.
Chromium deposits are concentrated in a few countries — South Africa, which is the world’s single largest supplier, as well as Kazakhstan, Turkey, Russia, India and Zimbabwe. The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines website indicates there are smaller deposits in Finland, Iran and Brazil. The United States is a major consumer, purchasing about 15% of the commodity. The Ring of Fire deposit (named for the Johnny Cash song) is the first significant — if unintended — discovery in North America.
“Original discoveries in the Ring of Fire area were made by two mineral exploration companies looking for diamond deposits in the James Bay lowlands in 2006,” writes Andrew Morrison, a ministry spokesperson, in an email.
The Black Thor deposit, which is owned by Cleveland-based Cliffs Natural Resources, “is only one of several similar deposits in the Ring of Fire,” Morrison writes. “There are other smaller deposits of chromite in North America, but they lack the size, grade and quality to make a mining operation profitable.
“The Ring of Fire’s chromite deposit has the potential to position Ontario alongside South Africa, Kazakhstan and India, who, together, currently account for more than 70% of the global production of chromite ore,” he says.
Dick DeStefano, executive director of the Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association, estimates there is enough chromite in the Ring of Fire to meet market needs for the next 200 years.
“It’s a major find. And of all those countries with major deposits, Canada is the most politically stable. The Americans want access to a politically stable source (of chromite),” DeStefano says. “Anyone who makes steel is going to want chromite.”
Chromite is not a particularly expensive commodity. DeStefano says it currently sells for about US $1.50 a pound, which means it is only worthwhile where deposits are vast. The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines estimates it could be worth US $50 billion during its lifespan. In a July 14 article published by The Sudbury Star, Stan Sudol, a communications consultant and mining industry blogger (at www.republicofmining.com), indicated the Ring of Fire deposits could exceed $1 trillion.
“Chromite is not as valuable on a weight basis as many other metals, like gold, silver, nickel or copper, but it is more valuable than iron. The value of a mineral is determined by how much profit you can make by mining it, which is dependent on the amount present in the rock, its form in the rock (small versus large crystals), its purity and the amount of the rock present,” Lesher explains. “The chromite in the McFaulds Lake area (where the Ring of Fire is located) is reportedly particularly rich in chromium and the deposit is much thicker and more extensive than all other deposits in North America, as well as most other deposits in the world.”

For the rest of this article, please go to the Sudbury Star website: http://www.thesudburystar.com/2012/08/11/norths-holy-grail-tapping-a-1-trillion-resource