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Henk Van Alphen, founder, and CEO of Wealth Minerals is ready to supply the world with lithium in an eco-friendly way. Lithium is essential for our future.

The Making of a Mining Man

Henk always had part-time jobs growing up.  Later, he was drafted into the army in his native Holland.  One day, he was sitting on the edge of a field by himself and decided that when he came out of the military, he would go to Canada and live in the wilds.

Henk left the Netherlands in 1974.  He and his girlfriend set out on their adventure.  While these days, the site is nearer to development, back then, where they settled was seven days walk from the nearest tiny town.  They were flown in, dropped at a lake by a small floatplane, and when it left, Henk says he remembers wondering what on earth he had done. 

For many months that year, it was just the two of them.  A small plane would fly over daily in the distance, which was their connection to the rest of the world.  When it stopped, they wondered what had happened and if everything in the world had stopped too.  In reality, it was the end of the wildfire season, and the plane was in use.

By the time some hunters came and settled in another area around the lake in the fall, Henk had adjusted to the point he found it intrusive and never visited them.  Meanwhile, he built a cabin, still standing today, and hunted, fished, shot, and snowboarded.  The experience taught him that we only need food on the table and a roof over our heads in life, and nothing else is truly important.

A year later, Henk was ready to return to the world.  He took employment again and then went to university, where he started to work in mining.  Henk began work in the Bush in British Columbia and says he has many a bear story from those days. 

He worked for Bema Gold Corporation, which would later become B2Gold, and who needed his outdoor skill set, people who could live in rough and remote places preparing mineral claims to be developed.  It gave him the first-hand, in-depth experience of the mining industry.

Henk’s Mining Career

He ended up in Vancouver, which is the center of the mining industry.  The Canadian Stock Exchange funds explorations annually, and one summer, Henk started to go to South America. 

He says that if you want to find an opportunity, you have to go out there and make connections.  The only ones that come to you in an office have already been to ten other people.  He says that he has a personality that finds it easy to make connections, combined with a talent to spot opportunities.  Of course, not all of them work out, but a lucky proportion has.

Henk says it was all much easier in 1990.  By 1991, Henk had founded Pacific Rim Mining Corporation, traveling extensively through South America, acquiring projects and building it into a successful South American resource company when he saw other geographical areas start to falter.

A contact in British Columbia told Henk that he should be in South America, so down he went.  At a conference in Lima, Henk ran into someone who is now a President in one of his companies.  Henk founded many projects, met many people, had great opportunities, and explored many South American options through his contacts. 

Someone else took him to Argentina, where he did his first deal.  The investment for that deal was 60,000 dollars, which would hardly buy the air ticket these days. He continued to roam Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador, finding more opportunities and more success.

Henk also served as Vice President of Corriente Resources for seven years, based in Vancouver, acquiring, developing, and selling assets and exploring Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, and Bolivia.

He additionally founded Cardero Resource Corporation in 1991. Cardero is a hugely successful exploration company with explorations in Mexico, Peru, and Argentina.  He is also Chairman and Director of World Copper, which explores and develops copper projects based in Chile. 

Overall, he has been directly responsible for raising $200m in the last ten years and associated with financing an additional $800 million for exploration and young mining projects.  The resource companies he has created had a cumulative market capitalization of over a billion at their peak.

Leadership and being a CEO, he says, is a question of making decisions, even if they are not always the right ones, and inspiring people to work for you.  Mining, Henk says, has given him a great life, meeting interesting people and seeing amazing places.

Global Lithium Resources

Lithium is easy to find across the world.   There are three primary sources, brines, pegmatites, and clays.  At present, clays are not used commercially.  Brines are formed in seasonally flooded dry lakes, known as salars in South America.  Water from the Andes runs into these salars, and when the water evaporates, lithium is one of the things left behind. 

If lithium shows in a salar, that may be evidence of lithium in the rocks beneath, and further exploration starts.  Traditional methods mean pumping the brines to evaporate the water and leave the impurities, including lithium. However, it is not always commercially suitable to produce lithium from a salar.

In addition to China’s domination of the markets, Afghanistan is a source of many raw earth minerals, including lithium.  While the US was looking to disengage from China’s supplies, now they have lost Afghanistan and left that wealth behind, which has been a source of concern.  Henk says that whatever anyone might feel about US withdrawal, resources will be incredibly tricky to get from there.  If anyone has a foothold, it is China, but in fact, they have been there for 13-14 years alongside America and haven’t done very much with it.

It is South America that holds the key.

Wealth Minerals

In 2005, he founded Wealth Minerals, which he bought as a shell company and put assets into.  He has remained President and CEO since.  He jokes that is a question of him “being the slowest man ducking.”

Henk initially wanted to build a uranium mine in the San Jorge basin In Argentina.  The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster then wiped out the world market for uranium.  He set out to acquire precious metal projects in proven mining areas to replace the value to the shareholders.

Henk also looked at gold-silver mining, first in Peru, and more recently have also been mining for silver in Mexico.  However, Henk says that mining is getting tougher.  It has few friends anymore, construed to be depleting the world’s natural resources.   The silver project they have is now getting too difficult to access for these reasons, and commodity prices are increasing everywhere.

With Henk’s colossal experience in South America, it was easy for him to spot the potential of the lithium space.  There is a golden triangle for lithium in Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia.  But it is the Atacama Salar site in Chile’s largest salt flat that produces 35% of the world’s production, and they have a substantial part of this. It is the best salar in the world.  They also have a second site at Ollague in Northern Chile.

Atacama is also the world’s highest-grade producer, both of high-grade lithium and potassium with a high evaporation rate and deficient annual rainfall.  This combination makes lithium production cheaper than elsewhere.

Eco-Breakthrough for Wealth Minerals

Traditional lithium mining, achieved by causing water to evaporate, worries many people, reducing such a precious commodity.  In Argentina at the minute, companies are still using the evaporation method because there is more rainfall, but Henk believes it will cease. 

However, Wealth Minerals have made a deal with a Russian company called Rosatom, which has the technology to extract lithium without the evaporation process.

Russia has the technology because it was developed in the cold war when Russia became much more advanced in nuclear capabilities, and the US has fallen behind.

Their sites combined with the ground-breaking technology have put them in the best possible position to meet the world’s increasing lithium demands.

Lithium – why is it important

Lithium is one of the natural resources that renewable energy depends on and scorching property indeed right now.  Rare earth elements are used in many solar panels and batteries, and China already has a massive monopoly on their production.

Natural sources of power such as wind or solar are acceptable for the time those resources are available, but we also need to store them for the remaining times that the sun isn’t shining, the wind not blowing. Lithium, being both relatively light and highly reactive, is ideal for batteries. 

While only around 35% of lithium currently goes into batteries now, that is expected to go up to 75% within the next five years, especially with the growth of electric cars and other vehicles.  Your phone, your laptop, your electric car all need lithium. With it also being used to store energy systems within the electricity grid, the demand will continue to increase.

The Future

Henk explains that when they started with lithium in 2016, working out of Vancouver, lithium prices looked good, and they remained in 2017.  However, there was then a slump, and the market lost interest. 

COVID has reversed that.  Everyone wants better air quality and electric cars now.   With their partner company Ross Adam, making it possible to obtain the lithium without evaporation, World Minerals are in a powerful position.   Re-chargeable batteries will need lithium, and World Minerals will be in a position to push forward.  Lithium right now is as good as it gets in mining news.

This massive opportunity is something that Henk wants to see through.  He is looking to the day when someone will buy or massively invest in the company.  He feels this will most likely be a car or a battery company. 

Henk says that overall, it has been an agonizingly slow road.  But people are now seeing that lithium prices will soar with demand with evaporation problems gone, which means his company’s success will soar along with it.  That to Henk is his job, delivering soaring value to his shareholders.

 

You may also enjoy reading this article about an entrepreneur who made his name in Vancouver initially and has gone on to work in diverse industries.

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