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 May 24, 2012
Commerce Resources Corp. Reports Robust Economics from Preliminary Economic Assessment for the Ashram Rare Earth Element Deposit, Northern Quebec

 Highlights
  • Study results show a strongly positive cash flow from a 4,000 tonne per day open-pit operation at Ashram with a 25-year mine life, a pre-tax and pre-finance Net Present Value (NPV) at a 10% discount rate of $2.32 billion, a pre-tax/pre-finance Internal Rate of Return (IRR) of 44% and a pre-tax/pre-finance payback period of 2.25 years.

  • SGS's economic evaluation was based on the March 6, 2012 resource estimate which used a base case geologic cut-off grade of 1.25% TREO and provided 29.3 million tonnes (Mt) of measured and indicated resource, as well as 219.8 Mt of inferred resource averaging 1.88% TREO.

  • The rare earth elements at Ashram occur in simple and well-understood mineralogy, being primarily in the mineral monazite and to a lesser extent in bastnaesite and xenotime. These minerals dominate the currently known commercial extraction processes for rare earths.


May 24, 2012 - Commerce Resources Corp. (TSXv: CCE; FSE: D7H; OTCQX: CMRZF) (the "Company") is pleased to announce the results of a positive National Instrument 43-101 compliant Preliminary Economic Assessment (PEA) for the Ashram Rare Earth Element (REE) Deposit at the Eldor Property in Quebec. The PEA, prepared by independent consultants SGS Canada Inc. - Geostat (SGS Geostat) of Montreal (Blainville), indicates that the deposit can be developed economically as an open-pit mine and recommends future work applicable to the pre-feasibility and feasibility phases of economic evaluation. The Eldor Property is located within the Labrador Trough, northeastern Quebec, approximately 130 kilometres south of the community of Kuujjuaq.

"The PEA displays robust economics for the Ashram Deposit, and recommends next steps for the economic evaluation of this very large and highly strategic resource. The high NPV derives partly from the value of the Ashram material in that it is enriched with all five of the critical REE's namely neodymium, europium, dysprosium, terbium and yttrium" states David Hodge, President and CEO of Commerce Resources Corp. "Management believes that significant benefits will be further realized during the next phase of metallurgy based on the testwork completed to date, given the deposit's simple mineralogy and history of successful commercial processing of Ashram's three host minerals. We look forward to initiating the pre-feasibility study to demonstrate this."


Key Findings of the PEA
  • 4,000 t/d, open-pit operation with 0.19:1 (waste:ore) strip ratio over 25 year mine life
  • Pre-tax Net Present Value (NPV) of $2.32 billion dollars at a 10% discount rate
  • Pre-tax Internal Rate of Return (IRR) of 44% and pre-tax payback period of 2.25 years
  • Estimated capital cost of $763 million (including 25% contingency)
  • Estimated operating cost of $95.20/tonne treated, or approximately $7.91/ kg of rare earth oxide (REO) produced
  • Greater than 175 years worth of mineable mineralized material (open pit + underground) using a Cut-off Grade (CoG) of 1.25% TREO
  • Annual production averaging ~16,850 tonnes of rare earth oxide over life of mine, including 2,870 tonnes Nd oxide, 96 tonnes Eu oxide, 26 tonnes Tb oxide, 106 tonnes Dy oxide, and 440 tonnes Y oxide
  • Rare earth element host mineralogy (monazite, bastnaesite, and xenotime) comprises phases amenable to recovery with processing using conventional and proven techniques


Basis for the Study: the Base Case Scenario
The base case scenario used for the PEA outlines a 4,000 tonne per day (t/d) open-pit mining operation (350 days per year). The mineralized material will be upgraded on site to a minimum 10% total rare earth oxide (TREO) mineral concentrate, using conventional flotation techniques, resulting in a mass reduction of 87.3%. The material will be subjected to sulphuric acid cracking on site to produce a mixed rare earth carbonate (REC) product. Recoveries at the mineral concentrate and acid cracking stages are anticipated to be at least 70% and 95% respectively, for a final overall recovery of 66.5%. Using an in-pit average head grade of 1.81% TREO, a total of approximately 16,850 tonnes of a rare earth oxide (REO) is anticipated to be produced annually over a 25 year mine life.

The mixed REC product will be trucked north 185 km, on an all-weather road that Commerce will construct, to a storage and docking facility at Mackay's Island, north of Kuujjuaq, at Ungava Bay. The product will be stored and shipped during the 3 or 4 months of the year that shipping lanes are operational.


Mineral Resource Estimate and Geological Setting

The PEA uses the updated mineral resource estimate for the Ashram Deposit (SGS Geostat, 2012), released March 6, 2012, which is an approximate 100% increase in tonnage over the Company's initial inferred mineral resource estimate. This resource includes all drilling completed at the Ashram Deposit to date (15,691.74 m in 45 holes). The mineral resource estimate is as follows:

Cut-off Confidence
Category
Tonnage
(t)
TREO
(%)
LREO
(%)
MREO
(%)
HREO
(%)
MHREO
(%)
MHREO/TREO
(%)
1.25 Measured 1,590,000 1.77 1.60 0.089 0.085 0.17 9.8%
  Indicated 27,670,000 1.90 1.77 0.073 0.056 0.13 6.7%
  Inferred 219,800,000 1.88 1.77 0.068 0.045 0.11 6.0%
  • The base case TREO cut-off grade (CoG) for the reporting of the 2012 mineral resource estimate was retained from the 2011 base case CoG of 1.25% TREO. Using the Ashram basket price of $35.02 per kg, the marginal (mill) CoG was calculated at 0.51% TREO. Although all material above 0.51% TREO is considered economic, a mining CoG of 1.25% TREO was selected in order to maximize the mill feed grade.
  • LREO (Light Rare Earth Oxides) = La2O3 + Ce2O3 + Pr2O3 + Nd2O3
  • MREO (Middle Rare Earth Oxides) = Sm2O3 + Eu2O3 + Gd2O3
  • HREO (Heavy Rare Earth Oxides) = Tb2O3 + Dy2O3 + Ho2O3 + Er2O3 + Tm2O3 + Yb2O3 + Lu2O3 + Y2O3
  • MHREO (Middle and Heavy Rare Earth Oxides) = MREO + HREO
  • MHREO / TREO, ratio expressed as a percent
The Ashram Deposit hosts a well-balanced rare earth distribution throughout in addition to significant enrichment over all five of the rare earths considered to be 'critical' (Nd, Eu, Tb, Dy, and Y). Within the overall resource, there exists a zone of more intense Middle and Heavy Rare Earth Oxide (MHREO) enrichment, termed the 'MHREO Zone'. This type of MHREO enrichment is unique to Ashram and extends from surface with significant tonnage and grade (6.55 Mt at 1.63% TREO of measured and indicated, and 2.79 Mt at 1.57% TREO of inferred). Overall, the Ashram Deposit has a pervasive enrichment in the MHREOs, with the MHREO Zone itself an area of more intense enrichment occurring directly at surface that extends to depths in excess of 175 m.

The rare earth mineralized footprint at Ashram extends approximately 700 m along strike, over 500 m across, and to depths exceeding 600 m. Mineralization remains open to the north, south, at depth, and is not fully constrained to the west and east.


Mine Design and Operations

The mining scenario will be a 4,000 t/d open-pit operation supporting an initial mine life of 25 years. At the current CoG of 1.25% TREO the deposit contains enough material to support a mining operation of more than 175 years (open-pit + underground). If the calculated economic CoG of 0.51% TREO is used, the mining operations could be sustained for 300 years (open-pit + underground) with potential for significant expansion as the deposit remains open.

The mine site infrastructure will consist of a camp, airport, power plant, fuel and acid farms, emulsion plant, and processing/tailings facilities for the production of a mixed REC product.

The initial open-pit will lie almost entirely within mineable mineralized material, centred on the MHREO Zone, and will consist of three push back phases. Conventional mining equipment will be used, such as trucks, loaders, and hydraulic shovels on 5 m benches. The in-pit material consists of 35 Mt of mineralized material at a head grade of 1.81% TREO with only 6.7 Mt of waste material. Minimal overburden is present over the deposit resulting in a near negligible strip ratio of 0.19:1 (waste:ore) with the grade of mineralized material increasing over time. Waste rock and overburden will be used as construction material during year zero, including material used to dyke off the northern portion of Centre Pond where the open-pit site currently lies under ~0.5-3 m of water.

Mining will occur for 350 days of the year resulting in 1,400,000 tonnes per year (t/yr) of mineralized material mined. An average of approximately 16,850 tonnes of REO, in a REC product, will be produced annually over the initial 25 year mine life. The pit will reach ~175 m depth allowing for open-pit operations to be sustained many years past the initial 25 year mine life plan. The production schedule proposed by SGS is presented in the Tables 1 and 2.

Table 1: Proposed Mine Life Production Schedule




Table 2: Production of Individual REO




Metallurgy and Processing

Metallurgical testwork on a representative sample of the Ashram Deposit is ongoing at Hazen Research Inc. (Hazen) in Colorado. After initial experimentation with several separation techniques, flotation was identified as the most promising and has thus been the chief upgrading process utilized so far. To date, testwork has focused on initial grinding and determination of the best rare earth collectors and carbonate depressants.

Flotation results to date show significant upgrading to a rare earth mineral concentrate. Presently, the best results obtained in the laboratory are a mineral concentrate grade of approximately 10.37% TREO at 73.4% recovery and another of 11.18% TREO at a 68.5% recovery using conventional flotation techniques with no attempt at optimization. This represents a TREO upgrading of nearly six times the original grade at favourable recoveries with a corresponding 85-90% reduction from the original feed weight. In addition, it has been demonstrated that all three rare earth bearing minerals (monazite, bastnaesite, and xenotime) liberate together and share conventional processing techniques.

The PEA base case considers physical upgrading at the mine site by way of conventional grinding and flotation techniques to produce a 10% TREO mineral concentrate at 70% recovery (12.7% of the original feed weight).

The process plant, as envisaged, will produce a rare earth mineral concentrate by conventional froth flotation. It will incorporate the following sections: run-of-mine material storage, a one-stage crushing plant, crushed material storage, SAG milling with screen classification followed by a single-stage ball milling with cyclone classification, flotation of the rare earth minerals, concentrate thickening and filtering, tailings handling, water and reagents distribution.

According to Mr. Roland Schmidt, Director of Hazen's Mineralogy Laboratories and who is directing the Ashram testwork:

"There is no technical obstacle that would prevent [the project] from reaching the current target of 20% TREO [concentrate] at a recovery of 60 to 70%. It is expected that an improvement of this magnitude should be possible in view of the relatively simple, albeit fine-grained, mineralization and also because the flotation chemistry for separation of the types of minerals present from a carbonate matrix, is an established and commercially proven technology".

Cracking of the mineral concentrate will be completed at the mine site using standard techniques common to the rare earth minerals monazite, bastnaesite and xenotime. Acid cracking with concentrated sulphuric acid will remove the impurities (e.g. Ca, F, P, Th, Fe) and precipitate the rare earth elements as carbonates which will be sold to market. The process and economics for producing a mixed REO end-product, as a potential alternative to an REC product, will be evaluated in a pre-feasibility study.

Economic Analysis

Capital Expenditures (CAPEX)

The total required capital investment for the Ashram Deposit is estimated at $763 million (M) and includes a contingency of 25%. The costs are broken down in Table 3.

Table 3: Capital Expenditure Breakdown

Item

Cost (millions)

% of Total

Port Facility Upgrades (Mackay’s Island)

$42

5.5%

Road (Kuujjuaq to mine site)

$204

26.7%

Infrastructure (mine site)

$287

37.7%

Equipment

$21

2.8%

EPCM/Administration (10%)

$56

7.3%

Contingency (25%)

$153

20.0%

TOTAL

$763

100%



The largest expense of the project is the construction of a ~185 km all-weather road from the mine site to the shipping facilities at Mackay's Island, north of Kuujjuaq. The PEA includes 100% of the cost for the construction and maintenance of the road. However, the Government of Quebec has recently announced its ambitious infrastructure and sustainable development plan for the north called Plan Nord. Part of this plan is to complete a land link (road or rail) and hydro-electric power line connecting Kuujjuaq to the south via the Labrador Trough. The route, as currently proposed, would run within 35 km of the Ashram Deposit. The Government of Quebec has stressed the flexible and dynamic nature of Plan Nord and the need for industry involvement to help finance and develop its final route. As such, Commerce intends to work with the Government to integrate our planned shipping and transport route with the Government's infrastructure plan. These efforts may help offset construction and associated maintenance costs.

Operating Expenditures (OPEX)

The total estimated operating expenditures for the Ashram Deposit are $95.20 / tonne treated or $7.91/ kg REO produced. Operating expenditures are relatively low due to the negligible overburden, open-pit mining method, and simple mineralogy that is amenable to conventional processing techniques. The costs are broken down in Table 4.

Table 4: Operating Expenditure Breakdown

Cost type

$/tonne treated

$/kg REO

Total cost ($)

Mining (open-pit)

6.23

0.52

217,900,000

G&A

47.70

3.96

1,669,500,000

Processing

 

 

 

Flotation

23.87

3.43

1,444,450,000

Acid Cracking

17.40

Total

95.20

7.91

3,331,850,000

  • Mining includes drilling, blasting, mucking, hauling, and auxiliary
  • G&A includes staff salaries, flights, camp costs, power, acid/mineralized material transportation and storage
  • Processing includes consumables, spare parts, salaries, and power
Much of the G&A costs are due to transportation of acid and other consumables. Trade-off studies will be completed to evaluate the economic savings of building some of these facilities further south, however, this was outside the scope of the PEA.


Price Deck and Market Analysis

The selected oxides values used to estimate the economic potential of the Ashram Project are a combination of multiple analysts' consensus forecast at year 2017 as compiled by Deloitte. Many recent analyst and market reports were consulted including: Roskill Information Services, CIBC, MetalPages.com, IMCOA, Mackie Research Capital Corporation, Dundee Securities Corporation, and Cormark Securities Inc., in addition to reviewing the values used in recent PEA/PFS studies of company peers.

The scenario used in the PEA evaluates sale of a pure mixed REC product rather than individual separated oxides. As such, a discount of 25% was applied to the price deck as Commerce would not be able to fully profit from individual oxide prices. This discount was calculated based on the evaluation of separation facility costs for similar projects in addition to an added contingency. The REO price deck used in the PEA, along with the 25% discounted prices, is presented in Table 5.

Table 5: Rare Earth Oxide Price Deck for PEA

Oxide

Original $/Kg

*Discounted $/kg

Lanthanum

 $            15.00

 $                   11.25

Cerium

 $            10.00

 $                     7.50

Praseodymium

 $            76.00

 $                   57.00

Neodymium

 $            77.00

 $                   57.75

Samarium

 $            12.00

 $                     9.00

Europium

 $          905.00

 $                 678.75

Gadolinium

 $            45.00

 $                   33.75

Terbium

 $          980.00

 $                 735.00

Dysprosium

 $          800.00

 $                 600.00

Yttrium

 $            28.00

 $                   21.00

**Ashram Basket Price (Overall Resource)

 $            35.03

 $                   26.27

***Ashram Basket Price (In-pit Resource)

 $            38.43

 $                   28.82

* Discount of 25% applied to each individual oxide
** Resource effective March 6, 2012
*** Refer to Table 2 of this News Release


It should be noted that much uncertainty remains with respect to future rare earth pricing, and forecasting more than five years ahead must be done with caution. Supply forecasts range considerably providing for the dramatic differences in industry price decks seen over the last 12 months. With the real possibility that China will continue to reduce exports, and restrict production from their rare earth producers as it strives to consolidate the industry, new production coming on stream will not automatically result in softer prices for the rare earth sector. The economics of the PEA show that the Ashram Deposit can absorb a significant decline in the values used in this price deck and still remain profitable.


Discounted Cash Flow Analysis

The Ashram consolidated cash flow model is presented in Table 6. The project hosts a pre-tax Net Present Value (NPV) of $2,318,000,000 and a pre-tax Internal Rate of Return (IRR) of 44% with a payback of 2.25 years at a discount rate of 10%.

Table 6: Discounted Cash Flow for Base Case Scenario

Item                         

Unit

Value

Pre-tax and Pre-finance NPV

$

2,318,000,000

Pre-tax and Pre-finance IRR

%

44

Pre-tax and Pre-finance Payback period*

year

2.25

Discount Rate

%

10

* from start of production
* exchange rate 1:1 (CAN$:US$)


Total operating costs of the project are estimated to be $3,331,850,000 while total revenues are estimated to be $12,059,196,450 for a pre-tax benefit of $8,727,346,450. No consideration is given for a potential fluorite or phosphate by-product during the PEA.

Sensitivity Analysis

A sensitivity analysis was performed on the base case scenario using major variables that have the greatest impact on the overall economics of the project: oxide value discount, basket price (or overall recovery revenues), capital expenditures (CAPEX) and operating expenditures (OPEX). The analysis indicates that the economics of the project are most influenced by oxide pricing and overall processing recovery which is commonly the case for such projects. The results are presented in Table 7.

Table 7: Sensitivity Analysis at 10% discount rate



Opportunities for Improvement

Opportunities for improved economics have been identified in multiple areas. These include:
  • Additional upgrading of the mineral concentrate, where no technical obstacle has been observed, and further optimization once the proper collectors and depressants have been identified;
  • Improved recoveries based on favourable results and trends thus far;
  • Additional cracking information to evaluate the exact amount of acid required (anticipated to be less than the 1 tonne acid per 1 tonne concentrate used in PEA);
  • Economic trade-off studies for concentrate cracking in southern Quebec (e.g. near Montreal);
  • Economic trade-off study for concentrate cracking to produce a mixed REO instead of a REC
  • Potential partnering with the Quebec Government on the advancing infrastructure of Plan Nord;
  • Potential of higher grade mineralized material at surface directly north of the current pit location that may be included in the pit during a PFS; and
  • Potential for acid-grade fluorspar and phosphate by-products.

NI 43-101 Disclosure

The following Qualified Persons, as defined by National Instrument 43-101, for the report are SGS Geostat employees, based out of Montreal (Blainville): Gaston Gagnon, Principal Mining Engineer, Ing. and Gilbert Rousseau, Principal Metallurgical Engineer, Ing. All of the Qualified Persons have read and approved the contents of this news release.

Mr. Jody Dahrouge, B.Sc., P.Geol., Commerce Resources Corp., a Qualified Person, reviewed and approved the disclosure of the technical information in this news release with respect to the exploration.

A technical report on the Eldor Project Preliminary Economic Assessment will be completed within 45 days and will be filed on SEDAR and the Company's website.

Results of the PEA represent forward-looking information. This economic assessment is by definition preliminary in nature and it includes inferred mineral resources that are considered too speculative to have the economic considerations applied to them that would enable them to be categorized as mineral reserves. There is no certainty that the preliminary economic assessment will be realized. Conditions and parameters of the project are subject to change based on the final filing of the PEA on SEDAR within 45 days of this release. Mineral resources are not mineral reserves as they do not have demonstrated economic viability.


About Commerce Resources Corp.
Commerce Resources Corp. is an exploration and development company with a particular focus on tantalum, niobium and rare metal deposits with potential for economic grades and large tonnages. The Company is specifically focused on the development of its Eldor Rare Earth Element Project in northern Quebec and the Upper Fir Tantalum and Niobium Deposit in British Columbia.

For more information please visit the corporate website at http://www.commerceresources.com or contact Investor Relations at 1.866.484.2700 or info@commerceresources.com.


On Behalf of the Board of Directors
COMMERCE RESOURCES CORP.

"David Hodge"
David Hodge
President and Director
Tel: 604 484 2700
TF: 866.484.2700
Email: info@commerceresources.com
Web: http://www.commerceresources.com

Neither TSX Venture Exchange nor its Regulation Services Provider (as that term is defined in the policies of the TSX Venture Exchange) accepts responsibility for the adequacy or accuracy of this release.


Forward-Looking Statements
This news release contains forward-looking information which is subject to a variety of risks and uncertainties and other factors that could cause actual events or results to differ from those projected in the forward-looking statements. Forward looking statements in this press release include that we will have positive cash flow for a potential 4,000 tonnes per day open pit operation at the Eldor property; that we will have opportunities for optimization in the geology and mining areas; that our property has measured mineral resources totaling 1.59 million tonnes containing 1.77% TREO, indicated mineral resources totaling 27.67 million tonnes containing 1.90% TREO and inferred mineral resources totaling 219.8 million tonnes containing 1.88% TREO; that total estimated capital cost to design and build a mine is CAD$763M; that operating costs over the life of mine are estimated at CAD$95.20/t treated; and the projected method of mining and its results. These forward-looking statements are based on the opinions and estimates of management and its consultants at the date the information is disseminated.

It is subject to a variety of risks and uncertainties and other factors that could cause actual events or results to differ materially from those projected in the forward-looking information. Risks that could change or prevent these statements from coming to fruition include changing costs for mining and processing and their impact on the cut off grade established; increased capital costs; changing forecasts of mine production rates; the timing and content of upcoming work programs; geological interpretations based on drilling that may change with more detailed information; potential process methods and mineral recoveries assumption based on limited test work and by comparison to what are considered analogous deposits that with further test work may not be comparable; the availability of labour, equipment and markets for the products produced; market pricing for the products produced; and despite the current expected viability of the project, conditions changing such that the minerals on our property cannot be economically mined, or that the required permits to build and operate the envisaged mine can be obtained.

The forward-looking information contained herein is given as of the date hereof and the Company assumes no responsibility to update or revise such information to reflect new events or circumstances, except as required by law.
Readers should refer to the risk disclosures outlined in the Company's Management Discussion & Analysis of its audited financial statements filed with the British Columbia Securities Commission.
 
 

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