Monumental Minerals (TSX-V: MNRL) Founder Max Sali and Newly-Appointed CEO Dr. Jamil Sader on Addition of Laguna Lithium Project, Chile, to Complement Flagship Jemi Rare Earths Project, Mexico

 

Gerardo Del Real: This is Gerardo Del Real with Resource Stock Digest. Joining me today is the founder of Monumental Minerals and the newly-appointed CEO of Monumental Minerals — Mr. Jamil Sader and Mr. Max Sali. Max, Jamil, how are you?

Max Sali: Fantastic.

Dr. Jamil Sader: Very good to be here. Thank you.

Gerardo Del Real: It's great to have you both here. Let me start with you, Max. You're the founder of Monumental. You and I have had conversations about the critical metals space for the past year; we've talked rare earths. You and I initially met... oh God, I want to say, maybe, and I'm dating myself here now, maybe five or six years ago, maybe longer than that… in Argentina, looking at several lithium projects.

And even then, it was clear that the macro trend, as it related to the electrification and decarbonization of everything, was only going in one direction, right? And so here we are, fast-forward to 2022, and you just signed an LOI to acquire up to 75% of the drill-ready Salar de Laguna Blanca project from Lithium Chile. 

And so I've got to ask you… tell me how long you've been working on this because I know, behind the scenes, it's something that you've been very excited about for quite some time.

Max Sali: Well, as you know, I met you when I was doing corporate development for Advantage Lithium in Argentina. I think you're right, it was about five years ago, 2017. We had the Cauchari project. That company was sold to Orocobre at the time, at the bottom of the market, for $70 million. It was an all-stock transaction. Orocobre, when we received the shares, was about $2.00, $2.25, and they ran to $12. So anyone that held on did extremely well in that transaction.

And I've always wanted to get back into lithium… I’ve always been an investor in lithium. When things went sour for a few years, in 2018 and 2019, I was buying stuff at the bottom and making some big gains. And obviously, now, with Monumental, the rare earths aspect is an amazing project. That took a while to get done.

But what I've been working on for six months is adding something to that company. And I think lithium brine was the right addition, as you said, with the macro world going now in that direction. And so looking at projects, as you know, the reason why it attracted me to Lithium Chile is I've been watching the company for a long time.

I met the CEO, Steve Cochrane, when I was working at Advantage. He was working for Fission Uranium. We were in the same office. And so I followed the story for a while. And I think he's the third largest landholder besides SQM and Albemarle in Chile. And what specific asset I liked was the lithium-brine-cesium asset he had; Salar de Laguna Blanca. 

And this asset, what's interesting is that it's only a six-hour drive, which is not far in that part of the world, from Cauchari, which is Advance Lithium. So it's in the Lithium Triangle. And the best thing, personally, that I like is the brine. All of these hard rock deposits and all of this stuff in Nevada where water is an issue, or you're going to have to come up with new technology — brine always works best. 

And the cesium aspect is very interesting, too, as we are originally a rare earths company. So I think the mix is perfect. The closest producing salar to Laguna Blanca is Salar de Atacama, which is one of the biggest producing salars of lithium in the world. And that's something that, hopefully, one day we can see at Laguna Blanca.

Gerardo Del Real: Jamil, with your technical expertise, give me the overview of how this fits in well with the flagship, which is the Jemi project, right?

Dr. Jamil Sader: Yeah, there's definitely a lot of synergies between the two. First and foremost, both of these projects, Jemi and Laguna Blanca, are targeted projects to provide metals and raw materials that are required for EVs. 

And I've got a diagram up here in front of me that shows that, in the next 10 to 15 years, almost every vehicle manufacturer will have between 50% and 100% of their vehicles as EVs. And they need to get that raw material from somewhere. And having been positioned to have these two projects that may be able to provide the auto industry with those raw materials, I think, is a huge benefit. 

In terms of the project itself, I think that, in addition to the lithium, which has some pretty nice grades up to 1,230 milligrams per liter in the brines and up to 1,450 PPM in the sediments, the cesium is another really interesting story. And it's one you don't really see very often; I don't think I've ever seen it before in a salar setting. 

Max alluded to the cesium and the fact that it's needed for 5G. But it's also quite needed for drilling fluids in the oil and gas industry, which, as we see currently, that industry is on a tear.

Gerardo Del Real: On a tear is putting it mildly… we're seeing commodity markets literally break! We saw the nickel market explode to the upside here the past three days. There are exchanges that are shut down for days on end. We're seeing simultaneous bans on exports and imports — on the same commodities, by the way — by the US and then countered by Russia. We could be into a prolonged resource war that doesn't last days or months, the way we've seen in past mini bull cycles, but that lasts for years on end. 

How do you go about, Jamil, developing both of these projects that, obviously, have the potential to help contribute and then to ease some of the supply crunch that is already here, right? 

The demand portion of it is only going to get more pronounced; the supply crunch already exists in several commodity markets. And I think, with rare earths with Jemi, and with lithium with Laguna Blanca, you're positioning yourself pretty well. How do you unlock the value from both projects?

Dr. Jamil Sader: So really, it needs some good technical work. Starting with the Lithium Chile Laguna Blanca project, Lithium Chile has done some amazing work to date. They've sampled a lot of the salar for surface brines and for sediments. And they've also done a geophysics survey, an EM survey, or “electromagnetic” survey. 

Basically, what that does is it's looking for the saltiest water underground. So the saltier the water, typically, the higher the lithium content in this context. And they've identified a 100 to 200 meter thick unit with a surface footprint that's about 10 square kilometers.

And really, what we want to do is start with that. And like Max said, the project is drill-ready so what we'll do to be starting this project is putting some drill holes into the salar to see what we've got, and to see how extensive this is, and to confirm some of these geophysical targets. 

In terms of Jemi… I was actually just talking with our geophysical contractor today… we'll be getting some preliminary results, I'm thinking, in the next week. And from those, we'll be using those to make decisions of where we go look in the field. And again, just like Lithium Chile and Laguna Blanca, Jemi is drill-ready and drill permitted so we hope to have drills turning there by the end of Q2.

Gerardo Del Real: So just to be clear, it sounds like multiple drill programs this year: one for lithium; one for rare earths. Anything to add to that, Max?

Max Sali: Yeah, the nice things about, like you said, these projects are the drill permitted, drill-ready projects. In Chile, getting along with the community… as you are aware… we were in Argentina together… is huge. And there have been a number of companies that have approached Lithium Chile to do a deal — and they've just rejected the other companies. 

I get along very well with Steve. He's got good community relations. And to have a truck-mounted drill rig go and drill 50 to 100-meter holes out in Laguna Blanca that the locals have approved is a huge thing. Because, as we know, if they don’t approve it… I don't care how you can have the Salar de Atacama… if the locals don't like it — good luck — right? 

And the same with Jemi; the locals are okay with what we're doing. And they don't have to be the world's biggest projects. Because of the grade, they can be very, very economic. And so the community relations with both parties on both assets is good for us. And I think, with the market, who would not want us to get drilling right away… and that's what we have the ability to do.

Gerardo Del Real: Both lithium and rare earths projects have the potential to add value very, very quickly. Jamil, with the market cap, where it's at, I know that you had something to add to that with the market cap where it's at. You’ve got to be excited about advancing both of these projects given the tiny market cap Monumental is being given credit for.

Dr. Jamil Sader: Absolutely. So with these projects, I really think that this is going to add value for shareholders. And I really think that, again, given the market for raw materials for EVs and the electrification of our world and the price appreciation of both lithium and rare earths — I really expect to see the market cap of our company grow a lot.

Gerardo Del Real: I'm looking forward to an exciting year. It's already an exciting time in the commodities space… I've been waiting for 2022 for years on end… and it seems like it's all happening simultaneously! So definitely exciting times. Max, Jamil — a pleasure to have you on as always. 

Max Sali: Thank you so much as always.

Dr. Jamil Sader: Thank you very much.

Gerardo Del Real: Alright, cheers, guys!

 

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