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Friday, 13 September 2013
Verde Potash looks to ThermoPotash to kick start Brazilian ambitions
With the huge apparent potential of its Cerrado Verde surface potash project in Brazil, it seems surprising that Verde Potash's (TSE:NPK) share price has done anything but shine recently.
A series of setbacks, including a delay to the bankable feasibility study, along with the general poor state of the junior mining sector and a volatile and uncertain potash market, has blighted Verde, like many other juniors.
But as Jaret Anderson, vice president of corporate development at the Toronto-listed firm told Proactive, this could all change very soon.
A number of important strides have been made recently, not that the market seems to have noticed, including the release of a new strategic plan, and the registration by the Brazilian government of ThermoPotash - which will become the company's first revenue- generating product.
But let's start with the fundamentals. Why is Verde seeking to sell fertiliser in Brazil and why should investors buy in?
"It's an incredibly attractively valued story and we control a very valuable resource in the best location you could want for a potash deposit," Anderson tells Proactive.
Brazil is the largest importer of potash in the world and offers the highest prices of any major market but it wants to increase its domestic production.
Agriculturally, it's already the largest producer of sugar, coffee and orange juice in the world and is estimated to have over 400 million hectares of arable land, yet only 50mln hectares are currently being used. Currently, Vale operates the only mine in the country.
"You can't argue about whether or not there's going to be increasing food demand in the world and Brazil's going to be a big part of that story," also highlights Anderson.
Verde has established an NI 43-101 indicated resource of 71 million tonnes and inferred resource of 2.76bn tonnes in Brazil's Cerrado agricultural region and the pre-feasibility study for the first part of construction - the rotary kiln Flex plant - is now underway.
The flex plant is part of the company's new proposal to get the project up and running and was unveiled on August 21.
First off, this plant, will produce 1,000 tonnes a day of ThermoPotash - a totally new non-chloride fertiliser developed by Verde specifically with acidic Brazilian soils in mind.
It does not contain chloride, significant - as it distinguishes it from the most popular potash fertiliser KCl, which does, and is not suited to key crops like fruit, vegetables and coffee.
ThermoPotash also has a lime (alkaline) element to combat the acidity of Brazil´s soils.
Significantly, not that it was much flagged by the firm, was that the Brazilian government approved ThermoPotash for sale as fertiliser this June - without which the whole project would have been stymied.
Verde's development timeline for the project was thrown into disarray this summer when engineer FLSmidth declined to give a performance guarantee for a 12,000 tpd plant, but said it could sign off on 3,000tpd.
Thus the firm came up with a two-phase plan to reduce scale-up risk and accelerate cash flow.
In parallel with phase 1, the site will also be developed to process the more regular potassium chloride (KCl) (phase 2) at a later date, with the aim of securing the performance guarantees it needs to get project level debt.
Indeed, a recent broker note from Ocean Equities suggested this represented a "more aggressive scale-up" in the project's development.
It allows the firm to tackle two factors simultaneously - completing a performance guarantee of a 12,000 tpd kiln and generating cash through local sales of a new product, said analyst Adam Lucas.
Running through the timeline for what he called an "exciting" next few months, Anderson told Proactive the firm expects to publish the PFS in Q1 next year for both phases. He also reckons there is enough cash (C$13.3mln) to complete the PFS and DFS without raising more funds.
He said Verde was also having "very productive discussions with Brazilian lenders regarding financing".
One of its key hopes is that the Brazilian development bank BNDES, which invested US$75bn in projects for the country last year, will come aboard although as yet there has not been anything concrete announced about this.
Although Verde is as yet not a producer, potash has been hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent weeks.
After almost a decade of relative stability, potash prices have come under pressure when Russia's Uralkali said it was splitting from a joint venture with Belaruskali, which along with rival US cartel controlled around 70% of the potash market.
Some experts even expect the commodity to drop US$100 a tonne to US$300.
Despite this backdrop, there is no denying that potash fertiliser's role in feeding ever increasing populations is not going to go away anytime soon and that Verde Potash does now have a new structures plan.
With plenty of newsflow expected over forthcoming months, it looks like one potash firm worth keeping an eye on.