Thor Mining & EnviroCopper: Bringing in-situ recovery to the copper sector
LSE:THR June 2019 Last updated September 2019
EnviroCopper Report Table of Contents EnviroCopper Report – June 2019 In this foundation report about EnviroCopper we analyse in detail the company’s method for copper extraction, In Situ Recovery, at its two projects; Kapunda & Moonta.
Moonta Update – September 2019 In August 2019 Thor released details of the maiden copper resource estimate at Moonta, one of the two projects EnviroCopper is developing using In Situ Recovery. This update assesses the impact this resource has on EnviroCopper’s model and also looks at the economics of similar projects in Arizona.
Thor Mining’s Mick Billing on how his firm’s exposure to new copper vehicle could represent a ‘fascinating opportunity’ for investors. Against a backdrop of steady progress at its tungsten and molybdenum interests, Thor Mining (LSE:THR) has introduced radical changes to its copper strategy. Alongside its partner Environmental Copper Recovery, the company has agreed to transfer its stake in the Kapunda copper project into a business called EnviroCopper. The new vehicle will focus on using a non-invasive production technique called in-situ recovery (ISR) to recover copper.
Thor, in turn, holds the right to purchase a 30pc interest in Environmental Copper Recovery (equivalent to a 22.5pc equity position in the Kapunda acreage) in exchange for A$1.8m worth of project funding. EMR, meanwhile, holds earn-in rights for up to 75pc of another South Australiabased project called Moonta.
Described as a ‘very exciting development’ that ‘should not be underestimated’ by Thor’s executive chairman Mick Billing, the EnviroCopper deal has the potential to deliver impressive economic returns. In this special MiningMaven report, Billing explains why developments in ISR technology and exposure to a second South Australian project called Moonta make EnviroCopper a ‘fascinating opportunity’ for Thor and its investors moving forward.
New Approach EnviroCopper is a copper exploration, development, and production business formed in March to hold and progress the ISR projects held by Thor, Environmental Copper Recovery, and another firm called Environmental Metals Recovery (EMR). To recap, Environmental Copper Recovery holds the earn-in rights for up to 75pc of an area thought to be ISR-amenable within a South Australian project called Kapunda.
Location of the Kapunda and Moonta projects
EnviroCopper will focus initially on bringing Kapunda into production as Australia’s first ISR copper mine. It will then apply the technique at Moonta, which has the potential to be a much larger opportunity based on early exploration. With South Australia boasting a long history of copper prospectivity, Billing believes Thor’s exposure to the red metal could end up surpassing its more well-known tungsten and molybdenum operations.
Terms of the Deal Under the terms of March’s deal, Thor has been granted the right to acquire a 25pc pre-listing interest in EnviroCopper in exchange for the A$600,000 worth of project funding provided by Thor to date to Environmental Copper Recovery. Thor can also acquire an additional 5pc seed capital interest in the new vehicle by spending a further A$400,000. All-in-all, Billing says the terms of the EnviroCopper deal have reduced Thor’s cash commitments at Kapunda significantly. As a bonus, the company will also be granted exposure to a new, significantly-larger prospective copper play once investors take Moonta into account. He adds:
I don’t believe the market has absorbed the gravity of this opportunity. It is generally unknown that this little corner of Australia has historically produced a significant amount of copper. South Australia really is riddled with copper. Australian copper production actually began at Kapunda, but there are many other deposits to the north and south. If EnviroCopper can find the right conditions for the ISR process across the region, it really will be a fascinating opportunity for Thor, & EnviroCopper.
What is in-situ recovery (ISR)? ISR is a low-cost and low-environmental impact style of metal production that utilises chemical processes rather than mining operations. The technique has been used commercially in the mining industry for phosphate and uranium extraction since the 1960s and has existed in South Australia for more than 15 years. Although it is well-established, ISR’s introduction to the copper sector has been relatively recent. Indeed, as it stands, there are only two other examples of copper production using ISR technology globally. The first is the Gunnison project in Arizona. The asset, which is owned by Excelsior mining, is under construction, fully financed, and expected to commence copper extraction in Q4 2019. The other major global copper ISR project is called Florence, is also in Arizona and is operated by Taseko. Wellhead commencement began on this project in January 2019 – see August 2019 update at end of this report for more information. ISR is centred on the extraction of a substance from a solid that has come into contact with a liquid- a process called ‘leaching’. One common example of the leaching process in action is the infusion of a teabag into boiling water when making a cup of tea.
A similar process occurs naturally in the geological world when slightly acidic or alkaline groundwater dissolves minerals contained within bodies of rock into solution. This liquid is then transported through the porous spaces in rock before eventually reaching the surface. Any mineralisation held will then be visible as staining on the outside of surface rocks. For example, the pit walls at many abandoned mines across South Australia are coloured green and blue as a result of leached copper mineralisation hitting the surface. ISR essentially accelerates and scales-up this natural process. A material called a lixiviant is dissolved into water to create a solution that is pumped into a mineral-bearing orebody through an injection well. Here, the liquid will dissolve metal present under the watch of ‘monitor bores’ that calculate when more or less solution needs to be pumped in. Once all the metal has dissolved, the ‘pregnant’ fluid is extracted from the orebody through another bore or extraction well. It is then transported to a processing plant, where ion exchange technology is used to create a saleable commodity.
A diagram showing the ISR process in action Monitor Wells
From Plant To Plant
Sands, Clays and Gravels
Upper Clay Submersible Pump
Traditionally, sulphuric acid has been used to dissolve metals in the ISR process. In recent years, Australia’s national science agency, the CSIRO, and Curtin University have developed lixiviant systems that use glycine and thiosulphate.
The two chemicals – both used in a range of existing medical, dentistry, and farming industries – are biodegradable and can recover copper and gold in a much broader range of scenarios that sulphuric acid under the right geochemical conditions.
Billing says that one of the most important of these conditions is a relatively low-grade resource:
A resource that looks pretty low grade on the surface may be perfect for in-situ leaching. High-grade resources do not fit the process because a lot of surface area is required to dissolve a lump of copper. If you have huge chunks of the metal, then there will be an awful lot that is not exposed to the lixiviant that is dissolving it -it needs to be fine. ISR needs relatively unique conditions to work, but we believe we may have those conditions with the EnviroCopper projects. We are certainly very confident that Kapunda is ISR-amenable based on our work to date. We also believe there is a good chance that the right conditions are present at Moonta, but a bit more work is required.
What are the benefits of in-situ recovery (ISR)?
On the economic side, ISR is simply a very low-cost way of getting minerals out of the ground. Unlike open cut and underground mining operations, it requires minimal infrastructure. As well as enabling the cheap restoration of any land used, this removes the requirement for expensive processes like blasting and moving rock, developing open pits, and constructing tailing dams and waste dumps. As a result, ISR operations typically boast both lower capital expenditure to first cash flow and higher returns on investment than alternative mineral recovery techniques. Likewise, the simplicity of ISR projects also means they are highly scalable. This allows operators to respond instantly to changes in commodity market conditions. For example, if a price movement is evident, then the operator of an ISR operation can ramp up or down production as required by simply turning a series of production wells on or off. The potential economic benefits on both the upside and the downside here are clear. Likewise, because ISR operations are cheap, they can operate longer than other production techniques in a depressed price cycle. From an environmental and visual perspective, ISR operations also have a much lower impact than mineral extraction methods like open cut and underground mining. Indeed, the industry commonly refers to the process as ‘invisible mining.’
As a result, ISR projects can often co-exist with other land use activities like cropping, grazing, and foot traffic. This can help the projects achieve the economic, social, and environmental clearances required for development – a common hurdle for many resource projects. The technique can even be used to recover metals profitably from known, but undeveloped ‘stranded’ ore-bodies that have previously been prohibited due to fears over their environmental impact. Billing expects EnviroCopper’s ability to utilise ISR’s benefits to be supported by Environmental Copper Recovery, EMR, and the South Australian government’s experience in the area:
Our team and a lot of the people we are working with are the go-to people in Australia for ISA as they have been working on the in-situ mining of uranium for years,’ he says. ‘Likewise, South Australia’s government has a regulatory system in place as it has had to develop this for the uranium deposits that have been in production for close to two decades.
When the right conditions are present, ISR offers numerous economic and environmental advantages over traditional mining techniques.
Progress at Kapunda EnviroCopper’s first focus will be its 75pc-owned Kapunda, where it hopes to achieve production and demonstrate ISR’s operational viability. Kapunda is found around 90km north-west of Adelaide and is often described as the birthplace of Australian copper mining. The project was established in the 19th Century when it became Australia’s first profitably operating copper mine at a time of severe nation-wide financial depression.
In February 2018, Environmental Copper Recovery then used historical drilling data, taken at Kapunda between 1965 to 2008, to calculate an ISRamenable inferred copper resource estimate of 119,000ts. The company said historic water sampling data had indicated significant levels of copper in groundwater at the mine, while environmental and hydrogeological work had suggested that ISR flow rates could be obtained.
After a long period of relative inactivity, Kapunda experienced a resurgence in interest in 2016 when Environmental Copper Recovery’s geologists suggested that it had the potential to be ISRamenable. Shortly afterwards, Environmental Copper Recovery entered discussions with tenement holder Terramin Exploration centred around becoming the manager of an ISR project at the site with the aid of a three-year, earn-in funding package from Thor. The two firms subsequently signed a JV agreement after Kapunda mine-site owner Light Regional Council agreed to allow Environmental Copper Recovery to undertake early-stage investigative work at the asset.
After establishing that Kapunda’s mineralisation could be amenable to leaching, Environmental Copper Recovery got to work on planning a staged project to access the resource under the South Australia Mining Act 1971. Much progress has been made here, with Environmental Copper Recovery currently preparing to carry out field recovery trials including activities such as pump testing and hydro evaluation. Billing says the next step at Kapunda under EnviroCopper is likely to be a field leach trial, which will see the business dissolve a small amount of work copper in the ground before pulling it out.
Kapunda Resource Estimate Resource Mineralisation Copper Oxide Secondary copper sulphide
Contained copper (t)
Inferred Inferred Sub Total
30.3 17.1 47.4
0.24 0.27 0.25
73,000 46,000 119,000
Evidence of copper mineralisation on the surface of rocks at Kapunda
Next Steps at Kapunda Before commercialisation, EnviroCopper must go on to complete a pre-feasibility study and a definitive feasibility study at Kapunda while also meeting any necessary environmental, social, and regulatory requirements. Handily, these efforts will be supported by a $2.8m government-issued research grant, which Environmental Copper Recovery expects to fund the project through to the demonstration of feasibility. Environmental Copper Recovery has said the money will fund research that it intends to lead to better environmental outcomes, superior economics results, and more productive community engagement. Meanwhile, Billing adds that both government and local support are proving particularly advantageous in the permitting side of Kapunda’s development:
The work to make sure we get a social licence is something that takes a lot of time because we are right next to a town. If Kapunda were out in the middle of no-where, this would not be such a critical issue. Luckily, both the authorities and the townsfolk are supportive of what we are doing. The technical aspects of Kapunda’s development could probably be done very quickly if we do not encounter social issues. We are trying to handle it sensitively and at a pace that works for the local community.
Finally, Environmental Copper Recovery’s Kapunda resource was handed an unexpected bonus in April this year, when the business announced that it had successfully recovered gold from samples taken from the project. Billing tells us that Environmental Copper Recovery has been on studies to quantify whether it can add a gold resource to Kapunda’s previously-published copper resource:
We are working on historical drill holes at Kapunda so we can come up with a reliable number for how much gold is there,’ he says. ‘This a lengthy process as many of the records are several decades old. We are also preparing to do some field tests which may impact on the gold side of the project. We have put the application into the government to put in some holes and do some push/pull tests which should also allow us to assay for the presence of gold.
Although it is an early-stage tenement in respect to the ISR process, Moonta is highly mineralised and includes numerous historically-mined deposits and more recent copper discoveries. These include the Bruce and Wombat deposits, which are both characterised by deeply developed weathered troughs that extend hundreds of metres below the surface. These contain copper mineralisation in an environment which appears oxidised, porous, and likely permeable, that is held between layers of fresh and impermeable rock,. According to EnviroCopper, these attributes are critical to the production of copper via ISR. What’s more, both deposits remain open along strike, leaving the potential for upside in the future.
Olympic Copper-Gold Province
Wombat Tomahawk Wharf
EL 4961 Paskeville
Copper Hill East MOONTA PROJECT
Melton Cunliffe Moonta Project (ADN 100%)
Moonta Porphyry JV (ADN 90%) Copper/Gold deposit
Prospect 200 kilometres
Moonta Exploration Target Tonnage (Mt)
Category 1 Category 2 Category 3
May 2019 saw EnviroCopper announce that Mining Plus has been engaged to prepare a mineral resource estimate on several Category 1 deposits at Moonta. Although more work must be done, Billing believes that if all the potential mineralisation at Moonta can reach Category 1, the site could end up as a much larger and longer-term opportunity than Kapunda:
Map showing location of Moonta project Prominent Hill
While there can be no guarantee that further work will lead to the determination of a mineral resource at Moonta, the site has an ISR-amenable exploration target of between 238-310MMts copper at a grade range of 0.18-0.23pc. This range is formed from three categories of deposits that each have a different level of confidence attached to them. Category 1 deposits are the most advanced and thought to contain between 80-120Mts copper collectively. Meanwhile, Category 2 and Category 3 deposits are earlier stage and thought to reach between 28-45Mt and 120-145Mt respectively.
80 38 120
120 45 145
0.18 0.18 0.18
0.23 0.23 0.23
If we assume that we can we get all of this mineralisation in Category 1 converted to resource status, then we could have up to two-and-a-half times the tonnage of copper metal at Moonta than we do at Kapunda. This would be game-changing, and getting access to this additional prospectivity without additional financial burden is the reason why Thor participated in the EnviroCopper deal.
EnviroCopper’s second ISR copper opportunity is the Moonta project. Located around 160km northnorth-east of Adelaide, within the historical copper triangle of South Australia, around 300,000ts of copper was mined and processed at Moonta between the 1860s and 1920s.
What does the future hold for EnviroCopper? If EnviroCopper can prove ISR’s operational viability in the copper arena, then its directors believe they can introduce the technique at projects far beyond Kapunda and Moonta. Indeed, the firm has said that it aims to develop an expanded portfolio of opportunities, initially focusing solely on South Australia but potentially moving into other territories in the future. Likewise, the business believes that favourable conditions in the copper market are likely to continue driving demand for the metal moving forward. As Thor has previously highlighted, this increased interest is expected to arise from an exploration in the uptake of electric vehicles, which use up to three times as much copper as internal combustion vehicles.
Demand is also expected to thrive as living standards in developing countries begin to improve at unprecedented rates. Indeed, the construction and acquisition of infrastructure and appliances in these regions alone require vast quantities of the red metal. To satisfy the market’s increasing demand for unique exposure to the copper market properly, EnviroCopper has also said it plans to list on a recognised exchange this year. Thor’s shareholders will hold first option to invest in any listing of the business.
Summarising, Billing tells us that a listing represents the perfect way for Thor to show its shareholders how much value it expects EnviroCopper to generate from using ISR techniques to recover copper:
With recent technical advances, ISR can now offer a lower footprint and is likely to find further application in mineral recovery fields because it can coexist with other land use activities. This is a very exciting development in Thor’s copper strategy, potentially adding significant scale to our copper interests by bringing Moonta together with our existing interest in Kapunda within a potentially-large ISRfocussed copper business.
Through their position in Thor, shareholders we be able to see the demonstrable value of our Enviro Copper holding, as that value will be in our financial accounts as a tradable market valued asset rather than as merely an in-company project. The ISR of copper has the potential to co-exist without significant disruption to farming and once completed, have little to no impact on future agricultural land use. ISR is an extension of proven technology and has been in use since the 1960’s.
September 2019 Update
Moonta: Closing in on more than half a million tonnes of copper? EnviroCopper is a privately run mining company, which is seeking to develop the Kapunda and Moonta copper projects using an extraction method call “in siturecovery” (“ISR”). Thor Mining Plc (LSE:THR) has the right to purchase a 30pc stake in EnviroCopper, which is pioneering the application of ISR in copper mining operations in Australia. ISR is a highly cost effective and environmentally more friendly extraction method compared to traditional mining. This MiningMaven Wire provides an update to the main EnviroCopper report published in June 2019, following release of the initial mineral resource estimate at Moonta in August 2019. The full report can be read HERE.
LSE:THR EnviroCopper Update September 2019 12
THOR Mining Plc Share Price 2018/19 Market Data EPIC Current Share Price 52 Week High 52 Week Low 30MA Volume Market Cap Shares in issue Market
THR 0.585p 2.25p 0.475p 3,224,727 £4.8m 822m AIM
Update at Moonta On 15 August 2019, Thor Mining released details of its first estimated copper resource for the Moonta Project. The official announcement (HERE) contains a full technical description of the initial resource estimate, including details of the methods and analysis applied. It also describes a number of the physical conditions that are present at Moonta, which indicate the project is amenable in-situ recovery (“ISR”). In this MiningMaven Wire we examine the report’s highlights and take a look at some comparative ISR copper projects.
Moonta Overview On 05 March 2019, Thor announced (HERE) that EnviroCopper is targeting an ISR amenable target of between 428,000 and 713,000 tons of contained copper at Moonta. The results from the initial copper resource have taken the project towards meeting that goal. Moonta now covers three identified copper deposits; Wombat, Bruce and Larwood. All three deposits are on freehold land, meaning that there is no Native Title claim. This should make any future permitting a more straightforward process.
Preliminary metallurgical test work at Moonta has confirmed that the copper present is amenable to leaching, which is a necessity for any future ISR operations. Not only that, but so far no non-copper bearing minerals, such as carbonates that might consume ISR leaching, have been observed. This is an encouraging sign for any future application of ISR. As for the initial Moonta copper resource estimate, EnviroCopper engaged mining expert Mining Plus to prepare the JORC report. Mining Plus’ assay work analysed 164 holes, previously drilled at Moonta. There are a further 308 already-drilled holes still to be analysed. This creates obvious potential for a relatively straightforward improvement for Moonta’s published economics. Those numbers themselves were encouraging. Mining Plus’ initial Inferred mineral resource estimate for Moonta “was 66.1 million tonnes (MT) grading 0.17% copper (Cu), containing 114,000 tonnes of contained copper, at a cutoff grade of 0.05%Cu.”
Moonta Copper Mineral Resource Estimate JORC 2012 Resource Classification
COG (Cu %)
Cu (metal Kt)
0.17 0.19 0.15
Source: Thor Mining Plc
The initial resource estimate was in the “Inferred” category because of the wide spacing between drill holes. To be able to make a Measured or Indicated classification, Mining Plus required greater drilling density. Mick Billing, CEO of Thor, commented on this:
With cores from 308 drill holes still to assay at Moonta, EnviroCopper is going to focus on the low hanging fruit first. This will give us the potential to expand our inferred mineral resource estimate, hopefully later this year. Once we have results from this work, then EnviroCopper will be able to make a decision on its drill programme for 2020. Although this is still to be confirmed I expect that one of the key areas of attention will be to target drill holes, which stand a higher probability of helping us upgrade our the categorisation of at least part of our Inferred resource to Indicated or even Measured.
Building on this point and it is also worth nothing that the Wombat, Bruce and Larwood deposits all remain open along strike or at depth. These provide EnviroCopper with additional possibilities of identifying further mineralisation at the trough extensions, beyond that which has already been discovered. In the RNS, Thor noted:
The hydrological characteristics of the troughs are positive, with the mineralised material identified as being porous and likely permeable. The troughs are bounded laterally by fresh and impermeable bedrock that form natural aquacludes.
Comparative ISR projects in Arizona To help put into context the initial mineral resource estimate at Moonta, it is worth considering other similar ISR projects around the world.
Both Excelsior and Taseko have released NI 43101 compliant feasibility studies for Gunnison and Florence respectively. National Instrument 43-101 (“NI 43-101”) is the standard national instrument used to define mineral projects in Canada. It is equivalent to the Australasian Joint Ore Reserves Committee (“JORC”) standard, which EnviroCopper is using to validate its resources and future potential reserves.
Specifically, there are currently two large active ISR copper developments in Arizona, USA. These are the Gunnison Copper Project, operated by Excelsior Mining Corporation (TSX:MIN), and the Florence Copper project, operated by Taseko (TSX:TKO). Helpfully, both companies are listed so have released a lot of technical information, which acts as a useful benchmark to assess EnviroCopper’s potential.
Position of Florence and Gunnison ISR Copper Projects
Van Dyke PINTO VALLEY/MIAMI
USA ME XIC O
Copper Porphyry Belt
Copper Deposit >2 B lbs Cu
Past ISR Copper Producer
Kilometers Source: Thor Mining Plc
The table below provides a comparative overview of the anticipated headline economics for Gunnison and Florence.
Overview of Gunnison and Florence ISR Economics Project Name
Copper Price Deck
All-in Production Cost
Source: Thor Mining Plc
Perhaps the most significant figures to note are the all-in production costs for each project. As Billing put it to us one of the crucial advantages of ISR is that:
The cap-ex requirement is very low compared to traditional mining operations. There is no need for big equipment or lots of people. There is no need for a tailings dam and the engineering required for that. Instead all of this is replaced by a relatively small amount of surface plant and equipment and for holes to be drilled into the ground to allow the ISR process to work.
This view is reflected in the anticipated all-in production costs for both Gunnison and Florence. At Gunnison this figure is expected to be US$1.23/ lb of LME grade cathode copper, while at Florence the number improves to US$1.10/lb. By way of comparison, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence, all-in production costs for more traditional copper mining companies has been between US$1.70/lb and US$1.94/lb since 2016.
With the current spot price for copper is US$2.55/ lb. a 2-year low, this further emphasises the robust economics and potential profit margins a successful ISR project could deliver. The full Gunnison Feasibility Study can be found HERE and the full Florence Feasibility Study can be found HERE.
Changes in costs & margins of the copper industry since 2010 450 400 350 300 250 200 150 100 50 0
2011 Total cash cost
Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence
Next Steps Describing the next steps for EnviroCopper Billing told us:
Kapunda is the project closest to generating revenue. We expect to complete the feasibility study in the next 18 months and to follow this with a process of securing the necessary licenses and regulatory approvals. We will also seek to secure the project finance to bring Kapunda into production and initiate the first ISR operation. Further drilling is planned at Kapunda in September and October. One of the areas we will also be focussing on in this campaign is the potential for including a gold resource in a future economic update. Our initial analysis suggests that the ISR technique could be amenable to extracting gold here too, as we believe it could be hosted in a dissolvable form. However, we need to prove this up before commenting further.
As for Moonta, Billing went on to say:
We will continue to prove up the resource at Moonta and expect to release an update on this before Christmas. So far we have only assayed 164 holes of the 308 that have been drilled. We need to complete assays on the remain 124 holes, before committing to the next drill campaign here. Our aim is to start drilling again at Moonta in early 2020, but this is a decision that EnviroCopper will need to confirm.
Disclaimer Authors: Ben Turney & Daniel Flynn • The Author does not hold any position in the stock(s) and/or financial instrument(s) mentioned in the piece. • The Author has been paid to produce this piece by the company or companies mentioned above. • Catalyst Information Services Ltd, the owner of MiningMaven.com, owns a position in the stock(s) and/or financial instrument(s) mentioned in the piece. • Catalyst Information Services Ltd, the owner of MiningMaven.com, has not been paid for the production of this piece by the company or companies mentioned above. • MiningMaven.com and Catalyst Information Services Ltd are not responsible for its content or accuracy. News and research are not recommendations to deal, and investments may fall in value so that you could lose some or all of your investment. Past performance is not an indicator of future performance.
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In this foundation report about EnviroCopper we analyse in detail the company’s method for copper extraction, In Situ Recovery, at its two p...
Published on Oct 1, 2019
In this foundation report about EnviroCopper we analyse in detail the company’s method for copper extraction, In Situ Recovery, at its two p...