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Fertilizer from South Australia’s Sugarloaf Graphite Deposit?

You may not think of farming and mining as two complimentary activities, but what most people don’t know is that farming is much more dependent on mining than intuition would have us believe. For example, key fertilizer minerals such as potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen are all produced by mining (nitrogen is also sourced from the air). On the 29th of June of 2015, Archer Exploration released news to the ASX that the company was pursuing alternative uses of carbon sourced from their graphite Sugarloaf deposit. Samples were taken to the University of Adelaide, where they were found to contain a unique kind of carbon that contained soluble macro and micro nutrients. The solubility and the composition of these nutrient meant that the Sugarloaf deposit was in a unique position to become a fertilizer or be used to treat soil.

Fertilizers enhance the growth of plants are typically comprised of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in different ratios and in different combinations depending on the goal of fertilization. Secondarily, they include calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), sulfur (S) as macronutrients, and copper (Cu), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), zinc (Zn), and boron (B) as micronutrients.

Testing so far at the Sugarloaf graphite deposit has identified 9 out of the 13 nutrients required for plant growth – potassium (K), phosphorus (P) (two of three main macro nutrients) as well as magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca) (secondary macro nutrients), and iron (Fe), copper (Cu), zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn), and boron (B) (micronutrients).

During the tests there were differences between pelletised or raw graphite nutrient release performance, suggesting that release of nutrients could be controlled or suppressed depending on treatment. However the study suggests that it may not be necessary to mill and pelletise or coat the graphite as an even release of all available nutrients is considered advantageous.

Nutrients are present in both soluble and slow soluble forms, which may be advantageous in terms of release performance – providing both fast immediate release and slow release of nutrients.

Sugarloaf has an exploration target of 40-70Mt at 10-12% TC (Total Carbon), and is not considered to be a typical crystalline graphite deposit. Rather it is non-graphite carbon that can be readily processed to produce graphene.

More information on the deposit can be found in Archer Exploration’s June 29th announcement

About Cameron Perks

Practicing geologist, geophysicist, writer and investor. Received a BSc (Hons) in 2013. Special interest in all things industrial minerals.