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Building a Clean Future and Generating 800% YOY Shareholder Value

Dave Jackson Dave Jackson, Stockhouse
1 Comment| July 12, 2021

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In a recent Stockhouse Editorial article, we reported on how one company is empowering the EV Battery Revolution in Europe.

Well, the EV and green energy revolution have arrived, and one lithium development and chemical technology company is building the bridge from resource-rich Canada to process-focused Europe – creating Europe’s first lithium hydroxide converter which will be primarily fed by its 100-percent-owned lithium project strategically located near Thunder Bay Ontario.

Leveraging its proprietary, patent-pending lithium hydroxide production technology, Rock Tech Lithium Inc. (TSX-V: RCK, OTCPK: RCKTF, Forum) aims to reduce energy consumption and waste, providing a secure, sustainable source of lithium.

Stockhouse Media’s Dave Jackson was joined by the company Chairman and CEO Dirk Harbecke to talk about Rock Tech’s lithium-bearing Georgia Lake Project near Thunder Bay, Ontario, building Europe’s first lithium hydroxide converter for EV batteries, and all things investors need to know about Rock Tech Lithium.


SH: To start off with, Dirk, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the history of the company?

DH: I'm an entrepreneur for many decades, so I've built companies globally from 2007 to 2014. For example, I was building a large banking group in Sub-Saharan Africa. I lived in North America, in Latin America, and in Asia, so I've seen quite some things during the past 30 years. In 2010, while I was still in Africa, I met the original team of Rock Tech Lithium — at that time I had no clue what lithium is — but it was a time when Elon Musk was already saying, I want to sell 100,000 Model S next year. So the lithium price started to increase, and I met the team from Rock Tech, and it was a very nice developing property, centrally located around the Great Lakes, about 120 miles north of Lake Superior. In the first years I was not so actively involved because I was still in Africa and had some other ventures, but then in 2016 when the Economist wrote the article, “Lithium is the New Oil”, I woke up again, I went to China, spent a few months there, and it was so clear to me at that time the e-mobility revolution is going to start. And this is a time when we more or less started to rebuild Rock Tech. We never had any debt. This is still the situation today.

I'm the largest individual shareholder of the company. And we started then to push the development of our property into a mine site, which we are aiming to achieve in 2023. And we also developed in the last years, the concept that a mine site alone is not enough, because in this modern world what you need is a conversion facility to produce battery-grade lithium that a car maker and a battery cell manufacturer need. As Europe does not have any of these and everything is coming from China and Latin America, and it is so clear that the regionalization of supply chains will be key for the car industries and other large industries as well, we decided to build the first lithium hydroxide converter in Europe, as you have outlined before.

SH: Dirk, the company owns one of the few lithium-bearing deposits in Canada…the Georgia Lake Project near Thunder Bay. This may be news to many investors. Can you unpack the benefits of this location and deposit versus, say, the lithium salars of the High Andes in South America?

DH: In principle, we have two sources of lithium at the moment. You know, up to 2016, it was purely brine deposits in Latin America. Those are large deposits, but it's very challenging to extract the lithium because in the ground you have a maximum 0.1% rather than 0.05% of lithium content in a liquid solution where you have other metals such as iron or magnesium in this and you know, theoretically, there's a lot of lithium around in the world, but the challenge is to find it in high enough concentrations to be able to extract it. And lithium is the lightest metal and it's also the most reactive metal. So when you have this in the ground together with magnesium or iron, it is very difficult to separate it and to get the clean lithium that you need for great batteries.

So in comparison to this from 2017 on, the Australians started to bring hard rock mines into production, because there the lithium content is between 1% and 1.5%. Again, it's 10 to 20 times higher than what you find in the salars. It's also easier to produce the high-level grade lithium chemicals that you need for high-performance batteries. We have the additional advantage that we are trying to build up one of the first lithium projects in Canada - there were others - but none of these so far are in production. So we are trying to be one of the first players, but we are also always very open to cooperation with other partners because as I've outlined before our main target is the chemical production of lithium hydroxide.

We are always looking for partners that are producing more materials that we can then process further. And the advantage of our property is that it is extremely well located. You know it doesn't matter, especially in Canada, you have the famous story of the [Northern Ontario] Ring of Fire, and you have other stories around the world where you theoretically have great assets, but they are all so remote, and it's so expensive to create any kind of infrastructure to get the access there, right? We are centrally located just at Highway 11, which is connecting Western and Eastern Canada. You go to the Great Lakes, and you are at Thunder Bay, which is a great port city and has a lot of knowledge around the mining industry. We have deep-sea ports there, which is important for our business model, and from there on Highway 11 North,as I said before, is just 120 miles and you are at our property. And on the highway, exactly, there's our site. It says, Rock Tech Lithium deposit. Then you leave the highway to go another five kilometers on the road, and you are there.

On our property, we have outcrops, so our main dyke, as we say, is like 1.5 kilometers long and you see exactly where it is located - you have the outcrops. We do well so far up to 250 meters, but you know exactly which granite structure is containing the so-called spodumene crystals, which is the size of a fist more or less.So our processes are much easier. We have much higher rates in the hard rocks than you have in the brines and we are centrally located. So eventually it is much more energy savings, what we are doing and much more sustainable because the environmental impacts are getting so important in this future industry.

SH: Rock Tech has a mining project in Canada and is looking to build Europe’s first lithium hydroxide converter needed for EV batteries. What are the advantages to this arrangement that investors should know about?

Click to enlargeDH: Mainly there are two aspects here. First of all, I have to say, the North American car industry would be a bit further advanced than it is at the moment in terms of e-mobility with the full converter already in Canada because that is the most efficient way, the most cost-efficient one for everybody. However, unfortunately at the moment, the European markets are probably two to three years ahead. This is mostly because of VW but also Tesla pushing a lot on the European markets. So we see that currently in Europe there are probably around 15 large battery cell factories being set up, and all of these need the cathodes for the lithium hydroxide you want to produce. So the simple answer is we have our markets already now in Europe, and to support the local and regional supply chains, we want to be the first one here to become a reliable, trustworthy provider of lithium hydroxide in the European car industry.

However, we are going to set up factories in North America afterward. There will be a delay because as you said, we are talking about one converter, but in our minds and strategy, we are planning for four to five converters. We get the first one started in Europe and have the second one in North America. So that is the first important strategy and in alignment with this, you might have seen the recent news about the G7 summit, and the European Union and Canadian discussions,which was all over the media, clearly stating that Europe has a strong interest to get all materials, supplies, and also processed material supply from stable Western allies, which in this case – most likely in the best case - is Canada. We really want to build a bridge between Canada with our Canadian assets, with our Canadian shareholders and Europe - you hear for my strong accent, I'm German - I'm currently based in Europe. So we are building up contacts here with our customers on the European continent. The Chinese have been building these industries for decades, always buying raw materials from all over the world.In the Lithium tech context, they are buying it from Australia. We want to build strong cooperation, for the materials and processing sites between Canada and the European market.

SH: You just engaged Nagrom Metallurgical for test-work on a patent-pending processing method. Can you walk us through this project?

DH: We have several high-class processing providers that are working with us. On the one hand, it's Nagrom in Australia, but also ALS [Metallurgy], which has pilot scale, pilot plants, but also in Germany we're working with a company called Dorfner ANZAPLAN, that many people in the resources industry probably have heard of. So we are working with all these partners because we want to test our processes in several locations, by several providers, to be sure that everything is working properly. We want to be able to develop our own patented process as soon as possible because our process is much more environmentally friendly than the existing standard processes for lithium production. It uses less energy, and we have perfect by-products that come out of this. Gypsum is one of the by-products and we are already in discussions with large gypsum producers as well to buy gypsum from us when we are producing it. And also sodium nitrate is one of the most popular chemicals in the fertilization processes. So both products, sodium nitrate and gypsum, we can sell independently on the market. We have adjusted this into our business case because here, honestly speaking, it is less about some profitability for us because we believe strongly in the profitability of our lithium business. It is more about avoiding dropping any kind of residue materials on a tailing stem because eventually, I can only repeat, we want to be as much environmentally friendly as we can be.

SH: For company shareholders and potential investors, what kind of future development and progress can we expect at your Georgia Lake Project?

DH: Well, on the Georgia Lake Project, we are doing our pre-feasibility study and we are doing the feasibility study right afterward. We are in the middle of our permitting processes. We are aiming to get some mine to production in the middle of 2023 because of the converter, we shall get this into production by end of ‘23 or early ‘24. So the mine should be in production a few months before (as) we are using our mining material to feed the converter. So we have a lot of activity ongoing. We have very constructive partnerships with the First Nations. Our partners there are on the ground in the Beardmore/Georgia Lake area. We have very constructive discussions with all the ministries, we get strong support I have to see from everybody in the region. Yesterday we had a call with the Mayor of Thunder Bay who’s always supporting us a lot and finding sites for the converter facilities. We feel welcome in that area and we have excellent partners that we are seeing there, which are all extremely important aspects that will help us speed up what we are doing even more.

SH: I have to mention your stock has had an extremely nice jump over the last 12 months…a nearly 800% increase in value. What can you tell our investor audience regarding the current valuation of your stock and why you think it’s still a good buy right now?

DH: What you're saying is totally right, but the problem is that we came down too much before, but as I said I'm one of the largest shareholders, the largest individual one. I was always buying shares and also this is publicly known, it's always disclosed, it's those times last year when our share price was much lower. We also offered placements. I was always a leading key investor in all of these placements, so I put my own money into this and continued it because it was very clear to me that we are heavily undervalued. In January this year, our share price jumped. On the low end, I think we were at around 50 cents in the middle of last year, in January, we were around $2. Then there was a nice report about new shareholders that came on board, which were Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley investor, and also Alan Howard, the founder of his hedge fund, Brevan Howard [Asset Management LLP].

I know both of them for many years and we were looking for the right time. They called me in January and said, look now is the right time. Can we buy a stake? When this became public, investors came into the stock and we went up. So the valuations that we have at the moment, where we are standing at around $4.50, let's say roughly, it’s double the valuation of January. But still, if you compare us with our peers, and when you look at how our peers were performing as they got closer to the production stages, I see a lot of upside potential here. Some people do not understand how concrete we are already working on topics because, in North America, there is a strong mentality to work with studies.

There's a lot of promotions, there is a lot of study management, etc. When you are in Germany, driven by engineering, it is slightly different. We focus on implementations. So we have done a lot of work on the engineering and the background here on the conversion facility. We have discussions with possible customers. We have discussions with all engineering partners, where can we buy equipment from people, who can support us in building everything. We have also a lot of financing discussions. So we are preparing everything at once, I would say, and we are fully in our timeline to get into production soon.

SH: Can you tell our audience a little bit about your corporate management and board teams, along with the experience and innovative ideas they bring to the lithium space?

DH: Overall the lithium industry is a pretty young industry. It was a standardized industry as a division of large specialty chemical companies. Albemarle is the largest lithium producer which originally was a specialty chemicals company. Lithium was a very small segment. So only from 2016 when the lithium prices started to increase, this became more relevant, and it's not only the price we increase, it is also the increase in trading volumes and sales volumes. What I want to say is that it is very difficult to find excellent experts. What we are doing is that we have built a network of people that on the one hand are great managers and great engineers. We have in our board of directors, for example, the former CEO of the power station unit of Hitachi and Mitsubishi. He was in Germany and running the power station unit in Bilfinger Berger.

So we have a strong German engineering network of people who will know how to implement, and how to get things. We have our vice-chairman, Stefan Krause, the former CFO of BMW and he was afterward the CFO of Deutsche Bank. He is doing very large investments overall in North America and Europe. He is an incredible asset for us because he knows the financing industry and also the car industry extremely well. We have some former general manager of Europe’s General Motors with us, Peter Foster. We have also great politicians with us who just left politics, which is also important because we hope that we can achieve subsidies and grants from the governments in the countries where we are working with. You will see us in Canada, your Prime Minister is working on projects together with his cabinet to support us so we can be faster and be more competitive with the Chinese who are dominating these markets.

And also in the past years, the lithium market, like our share price went down between 2018 and December 2020. At that time all the large ones have put projects on hold for good reason, but this was also a possibility for us to hire great people that were suddenly on the markets that were not on the market before. So I would say that we have an excellent team by all means. Including also what I did not mention, marketing. The topic of sustainability, which for me is related to marketing. So when I say marketing, I don't mean promotional market, I mean strategy building. How do you approach your customers in the best way but also how to make sure that your project and your product are as sustainable as possible?

So we hired the former head of marketing of BMW Mini, the Mini-cars. He is supporting us with a team on these things because it was always my vision and clear view based on my past experiences, you need to, first of all, be able to attract great teams because if you cannot do this, the project is not good enough. When you can attract these teams, that also gets them on board to avoid mistakes, to be fast. Even if it costs you a bit more money than starting with completely new teams, beginner’s teams when you want to do something in such a strongly growing market like we are doing. We need the best people supporting (us) to get this done.

SH: What’s the long-term strategy for the company moving into 2021 and beyond, and what retail and institutional investors should be looking out for?

DH: When you really say long-term then I'm explaining my vision. Eventually, as a vision, when you talk with people about e-mobility, many are asking, what happens with the old batteries, are these being recycled? Now, what is going on there? My vision is that we are using our own mine probably for the next 10 years to get the feedstock supply for our converter, but we are also at the same time already now investing heavily in metals recycling. So in a perfect world, we are structuring our processes now effectively in a way where we can recycle the lithium out of the batteries as soon as these are available. I mean at the moment the cars are only being sold, so the recycling of these until they come back to the market takes another 10 to 12 years. And we want to be ready by then to recycle the lithium and to refresh it, refine it again in our conversion facility to sell it again to the cathode and battery cell manufacturers. So we want to be a circular economy company in the field of lithium and battery raw material supply.

SH: And finally, Dirk, if there’s anything I’ve overlooked please feel free to elaborate.

DH: I would say we have touched on all important points, and I'm very happy that you had the time to spend with me. I really like our story and I strongly believe in this. When I look at this, I see a huge opportunity for us in this growing industry to become really one of the dominant players, especially on the European markets.

For more information about the Company, visit

FULL DISCLOSURE: This is a paid article produced by Stockhouse Publishing.

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