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Altair flies on zinc oxide hits

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Altair flies on zinc oxide hits

Altair Resources Inc. reported drilling high-grade zinc oxide on its Crepulje property in Kosovo.

In a May 31 news release Altair outlined near-surface results from one drillhole with two zones of zinc oxide mineralization, returning 9.8 meters of 10.11% zinc and 0.46% lead from surface and 8.5 meters of 23.18% zinc and 1.53% lead from a depth of 32.5 meters.

Altair's share price jumped as a result of the news, up by about 16% at press time.

Most zinc-lead mines are associated with sulfide, not oxide, mineralization. Oxides are well known to be difficult to recover economically with current technology and metal prices, although there are notable exceptions, such as the Skorpion mine in Namibia.

S&P Global Market Intelligence asked for comment on Altair's view of the mineralization and potential to recover it and Harold Shipes, Altair President and CEO, responded via email.

Shipes, who described the zinc mineralization as smithsonite, said the process of recovery may be doable.

"It is actually very cost effective in that smelting is not required," he said. "The problem is, how much tonnage is ultimately available. Frankly, I really like this circuit (to process the feed) if the orebody is large enough to justify the investment."

"With these very high zinc grades, we can go straight to leach," he added. "It is purely a question of tonnes of material, cost of acid, acid consumption and recovery. I would expect to realize good recoveries."

But a geologist that has worked on the project, while not dismissing the oxides, pointed to the potential of more typical sulfide mineralization.

Perry Grunenberg, a geologist who visited the project and penned a report on it that Altair references, noted potential for an open pit based around the oxides, but acknowledged the trouble with processing them.

"There are issues," he said, speaking generally.

His view of the project is that the oxides, which can form due to weathering processes near surface, could point to deeper sulfide mineralization.

"Yes, at the time I was there that would be the model you work with," Grunenberg said. "What that sulfide source looks like would be the question."

Still, Grunenberg didn't pour cold water on the potential to recover oxides. Similar to Shipes, Grunenberg noted that, as much as recoverability, it would be a question of available tonnage near surface in an open pit operation.

Shipes said, "I think we will wait until we know that we have sufficient reserves to do a [preliminary economic assessment]."