Atacama Minerals Corp.

Atacama Minerals Corp.

December 04, 2007 14:42 ET

Atacama Third Quarter Highlights

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA--(Marketwire - Dec. 4, 2007) - Atacama Minerals Corp. ("Atacama" or the "Company") (TSX VENTURE:AAM) is pleased to report highlights from the third quarter period ended September 30, 2007. The full third quarter report is available on or the Company's website

Results for the Company's operations at the Aguas Blancas Mine in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile were in line with expectations considering the quarterly price increases of iodine offset by challenging production issues due to unusually cold winter weather. Nevertheless, iodine production was generally on target at 822 tonnes for the first nine months of the year, with total production for year-end expected to be in excess of 1,000 tonnes. Meantime, construction of the iodine agitated leach facilities proceeded on track for increasing iodine production to a rate of 1,500 tonnes per annum.

The Company will be converting from the current heap leaching system to a full mechanical agitated leach system at the end of the first quarter of 2008. The new system is expected to increase the yearly production rate of high quality prilled iodine from the current 1000 tonnes per year to 1,500 tonnes per year. When operational, the new agitated leach system will be less affected by cold winter weather conditions and will be more efficient in the use of water and overall recovery of iodine from the caliche ore. Construction of the new agitated leach plant was over 65% complete by the end of the third quarter and on budget.

During the third quarter a new powerline to the Aguas Blancas Mine was approved by the Board and by local environmental authorities and is expected to be operational the latter part of the first quarter of 2008, providing a long-term, less expensive, reliable supply of electricity for current and expanded operations.

The Company's net income before interest, future income taxes and depletion, depreciation and amortization ("EBITDA") for the third quarter ended September 30, 2007 was $1.4 million, 15% lower as compared to the $1.7 million for the comparable period in 2006. The decrease in income for the third quarter is due primarily to a lower gross margin on sales of iodine from Aquas Blancas, higher sales and administrative costs, offset slightly by foreign exchange translation gain on funds held in Canadian dollars. The gross margin from Aquas Blancas was negatively impacted by increased costs of fuel, sulfur, sulfuric acid and other increases in operating costs due to the effects of unusually cold weather during the third quarter. In addition, the continuous devaluation of the U.S. dollar against the Chilean peso from the beginning of 2007 to the end of the quarter contributed to a rise in labor and supply costs sourced locally in pesos. Operating cost cutting measures combined with improved iodine production with the onset of warmer weather are expected to improve the fourth quarter performance.

Financial and Operating Highlights

Three Three Nine Nine
Months Months Months Months
Ended Ended Ended Ended
September September September September
In thousands of USD 30, 2007 30, 2006 30, 2007 30, 2006
Total Revenue 5,870 4,673 19,610 14,033
Cost of goods sold 4,098 2,711 11,596 7,685
General and administrative
expenses 583 425 1,745 1,216
EBITDA 1,408 1,660 6,984 4,903
Net Income (loss) (4) 1,305 2,210 3,383

Tonnes Mined (Mt) 1,145,280 979,300 3,122,690 2,233,031
Iodine Grade (ppm) 495 625 518 741
Iodine Produced (Mt) 244 224 822 641
Iodine Sold (Mt) 252 208 860 639



Mine production of caliche ore was on target for the three months ended September 30, 2007 at 1,145,280 Mt with a grade of 495 parts per million (ppm) and for the nine months ended September 30, 2007 at 3,122,690 Mt with a grade of 518 ppm. There are 18 leach pads containing approximately 200,000 tonnes of ore under irrigation at any one time, each with a life cycle of 6 to 8 months.

Leaching - Leaching operations have been challenged in July and August due to uncommonly low ambient temperatures. The existing leaching system was impeded due to the precipitation of solid salts blocking the normal flow of solutions to the iodine plant. Nevertheless, through the efforts of staff and employees, production was maintained at levels higher than the same period in 2006.

Iodine Production - During the quarter iodine production averaged a monthly level of 84 tonnes per month compared to 69 tonnes per month in the same period the previous year. Upon conversion to continuous agitated leach, the Company is expecting to substantially increase overall recoveries from the current level of approximately 55% to over 80% with iodine production capacity anticipated to reach 125 tonnes per month, or 1,500 tonnes per year. In addition, water use will be economized, processing time will be immensely reduced from months to hours and the operational costs will come down over the long term. The new plant is expected to be operational by the end of the first quarter of 2008 at a total estimated cost of $25.5 million. Funding will come from internal cash flow and available short-term credit facilities.

Power Supply

During the third quarter the Company received approval from the Regional Environmental Authority of Antofagasta, in northern Chile (COREMA), for the construction of a new powerline connecting the Aquas Blancas Mine to the local power grid. The $8.2 million project will connect the Aguas Blancas Mine with the local power grid at a distance of 28 kilometers. It will include two substations and a 69 kilovolt transmission line. Construction is expected to be completed and the new power supply system operational by the end of the first quarter in 2008 providing more reliable lower cost power to the existing facility and increase power available for future expansion.

The powerline will replace the current diesel powered generators and provide for a long-term reliable source of energy for future operations.

Nitrate Feasibility Study

The feasibility study for the production of nitrate fertilizers is ongoing and is expected to be completed during the fourth quarter of this year. Management expects to review it and make a recommendation to the Board during the first quarter of 2008. Market analysis indicates an ever increasing world-wide demand for inorganic nitrate fertilizers from Chile. Considered "natural" in origin, the application of these fertilizers in the cultivation of tobacco, fruits and vegetables continues to grow.

Exploration and New Business Development

The Company continues to conduct an aggressive exploration drilling program for discovery of new resources at the Aguas Blancas Mine while an in-fill drilling program is on-going to convert existing resources to the reserve category. A new reserve/resource calculation is underway for which results are expected to be announced during the first quarter of 2008.

Meantime, opportunities for expansion into other areas of northern Chile are being aggressively pursued as part of our long-term growth strategy. These opportunities include new exploration projects and possible joint-ventures and/or acquisitions.

Atacama Minerals Corp. is an industrial minerals company producing iodine from its 100% owned Aguas Blancas mine in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile.

On Behalf of the Board,

Edward F. Posey, President

The TSX Venture Exchange has not reviewed and does not accept responsibility for the adequacy or accuracy of this release.

Contact Information

  • Atacama Minerals Corp.
    Sophia Shane
    Corporate Development
    (604) 689-7842
    (604) 689-4250 (FAX)