‘The idea is to produce 1,000 tons of copper cathode and 500 tons of cobalt hydroxide, which would put us on the radar’
ANOTHER big year awaits Russell Fryer’s Critical Metals, which operates the 12,000-ton-a-year Molulu copper and cobalt mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The company signed its first sales agreement in October last year and secured a hydrometallurgical plant about 100km from Molulu, itself 98km from Lubumbashi in the DRC’s Katanga province.
These are promising signs for Fryer, who believes Critical Minerals has capacity to produce 400 tons of copper cathode and 200 tons of cobalt hydroxide, worth about $20m in Ebitda. But investors seem sceptical. Shares in Critical Minerals fell 60% last year, suggesting the market wants to see a track record first. ('It didn't help that the company was suspended from the London Stock Exchange for a week in November owing to a late submission of financial reports'.)
Nonetheless, Fryer has retained the support of shareholders, who subscribed for £2m in shares, while a further $3m in a bank loan was finalised. The key for Fryer going forward, however, is operational consistency at Molulu without which there’s no platform for his ambitions. Fryer wants to operate mines in five jurisdictions and hopes to add tungsten/tantalum to the company’s mix. He is also on the lookout for more copper output. In this regard new investors are being feted.
Fryer has also set up Critical Metals USA in Connecticut aimed at attracting US government funding given the country’s keen interest in establishing minerals security. Plans are also afoot to make Critical Metals shares available over the counter in the US in order to give North Americans an alternative to London trade. First, though, some quarter-in quarter-out operational consistency is required.
LIFE OF RUSSELL
Fryer, a former banker with institutions Deutsche and HSBC, is well travelled both in geography and in the industry itself. He has at various points over 28 years been an investment adviser, mining entrepreneur and columnist. Critical Metals sees him return to resource development. He is qualified in tax as well as investment markets, and rule and theory, the latter obtained from South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand.