Iron and titanium:
a review of iron and ilmenite deposits in Québec
Abdelali Moukhsil and Serge Perreault, P. geo.
Technical support: Éric Grégoire
Direction de Géologie Québec
For the past two years, the price of iron pellets
has been skyrocketing. As noted by the Department in the Summary
and Highlights of the Québec Mining Industry for 2004,
producers Québec Cartier and IOC saw the price of iron pellets
and concentrate rise by 21.2% and 22.33%, respectively. Worldwide
reference prices for these two products reached historic highs in
2004. In response to this increase, many mining companies, large
and small, have shown a growing interest in iron exploration. In
Québec, most of the unmined iron deposits evaluated between
1950 and 1980 are held by several junior mining companies.
The rising price of iron ore and the promising
outlook for the coming years have led to renewed interest in iron
exploration in Québec. It has not attracted this much interest
since the 1960s. A quick calculation of geological resources, based
on the Department's mineral deposit records, indicates that Québec
has inferred resources of more than 2 billion tonnes of ore. However,
there are about twenty deposits with a grade of more than 30% Fe,
with tonnages in excess of 100 million tonnes (PDF format, 737 kb
- Available in French). Nearly half of these deposits are located
in the area lying between Fermont and the Manicouagan reservoir.
The sector north of the Labrador Trough, more specifically north
of Baie-aux-Feuilles, also contains several major deposits. The
Great Whale Iron (Baie James), Duncan (Baie James) and Lac Albanel
deposits are also major Québec deposits. It should be noted,
however, that the mineral resources of these deposits were assessed
during the 1960s and no longer meet the 43-101 standard.
Companies intending to develop an iron deposit
must take several factors into consideration:
- Iron market trends in the medium and long term. The iron market
is cyclical and very sensitive to global economic fluctuations
(e.g.: the price of oil and gas, economic crises, etc.).
- How far deposits are from major infrastructures. Companies
mining deposits that are far from existing infrastructures will
face rapidly rising costs if they need to build new ones for shipping
iron concentrate and pellets.
- The tonnage and grade of the deposit's iron ore. Though metamorphic
iron deposits are interesting in terms of grain size and local
concentrations of iron-oxide-rich horizons, the waste-to-ore ratio
is generally high. In Québec and Labrador, production of
iron concentrate (67% Fe) from ore at an average grade of
30% to 42% Fe requires concentration. This concentration
leads to higher production costs than in Australia and Brazil,
where most of the iron deposits mined are naturally iron rich,
grading from 60% to 66%, and require little secondary concentration.
- In Canada, labour costs and operating costs are generally higher
than for Australian and Brazilian mines. To be competitive on
the world stage, iron mining companies in Québec and Labrador
are making major efforts to reduce these costs.
In any case, certain major unmined iron deposits
in Québec should be reassessed in compliance with the 43-101
standard. As was mentioned earlier, several factors will need to
be considered before a new iron mine is opened outside of currently
active sites in Québec and Labrador.