Ville de Saguenay has a population of about 150,000. The city is serviced several times a day by regional airlines from Montreal. It is about a two and a half hour drive to Québec City and five hours to Montreal. Schools, hospitals, government services, suppliers and manpower are all available in Ville de Saguenay.
The Niobec mine is North America's only source of pyrochlore, the primary niobium ore and one of only three major producers of niobium in the world. The Niobec deposit has an excellent history of mineral reserve renewal over 30 years of operation. It is currently producing approximately 7 to 8% of world consumption.
The Niobec deposit was discovered in 1967. Commercial production of niobium pentoxide concentrates began in 1976. For the first 18 years of operation, production was shipped as concentrates to firms in Europe, India, Japan and the US and sold to intermediate processors for conversion into ferroniobium. Since1994 ferroniobium has been produced at the mine site and is directly marketed to the steel industry. Ferroniobium is used by steel and specialty metals manufacturers as an alloy to enhance the physical, mechanical, chemical and thermal properties of their products. Steels containing niobium are classified as High Strength Low Alloy (HSLA) steels and used in the pipeline, construction, aeronautical and automotive industries.
An expansion program in 2005 increased the mine's capacity by 20% and by a further 10% in 2006. Daily milling capacity was increased from 4,200 tonnes to 4,800 tonnes in the second half of 2006.
In 2007, as part of a $20.3 million capital program, a new hoist was installed and the headframe extended in preparation for a shaft deepening program to be carried out in 2008. The shaft was deepened from 550 metres to 817 metres.
In June 2008, the Company announced the positive results of a feasibility study for construction of a paste backfill system. A technical report was prepared showing that the paste backfill system would enable near complete extraction of the ore body at lower levels of the mine by using mill tailings mixed with binding material, significantly reducing the need to leave behind natural ore pillars.
In February 2009, the Company announced that proven and probable reserves as at December 31, 2008 increased 36% to 137,800 tonnes of contained Nb2O5, based on the use of paste backfill.
By Q3 2010, both the paste backfill project and mill expansion were completed.