After building a strong portfolio of copper and gold projects that span across Australia, the ASX-listed gold and base metals development company Zenith Minerals is adding another string to its bow this year, with a foray into lithium exploration.
Zenith advised on January 13 that it will be focusing more on EV metals this year following the announcement of its joint venture with the publicly unlisted company EV Metals Group. The agreements will include a new joint venture over two of the company's projects in Western Australia, as well as providing the opportunity for either party to bring in additional projects for lithium or EV metals exploration.
With the company's focus now on EV metal project generation in 2022, Zenith expects it will demerge all the non-EV metal projects into one or more new companies to be listed on the ASX. This includes its base metals and gold assets.
Zenith Minerals' CEO, Michael Clifford, said the company is ready to hit the ground running at the start of a new year, with further development at its flagship Develin Creek gold and copper project - even as it shifts focus to lithium exploration.
"We're looking forward to an exciting 2022," Clifford said.
The news about the new joint venture follows the most recent drilling update at the Scorpion deposit of Zenith's Develin Creek copper-zinc project in central Queensland, Australia, which returned wide high-grade copper. Located 80km northwest of Rockhampton, the base metals project has several copper-zinc-gold-silver volcanic hosted massive sulphide deposits, in addition to stringer and breccia style copper zinc-gold-silver deposits hosted by basalts.
Zenith is also awaiting assays for a further nine drill holes, with four at Wilsons North and three at Snook, two of the prospects where massive copper zinc sulphides were discovered last year. The remaining two drill holes are in Sulphide City.
Clifford also notes there is additional drilling planned in the first quarter of 2022 with work expected to commence once the current La Nina weather conditions have cleared.
"What's important now is how we can drive the best value from not only Develin Creek, but our entire portfolio," Clifford said.
"The formation of our portfolio has proven to be such a key achievement for Zenith," he continued. "Great companies are a combination of the people, discoveries and projects. We are only just beginning to unlock the value of the portfolio".
Zenith Minerals has a varied portfolio that spans a number of projects across Australia. The Split Rocks gold project is 100% owned by Zenith Minerals and is located within the Southern Cross region in the Forrestania greenstone belt, about halfway between Perth and Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.
Zenith's third fully-owned project is the Red Mountain gold-silver project in Queensland, where an initial 10 RC hole drill programme was completed in May 2020 and returned near surface highgrade gold results.
The company believes the site's gold mineralisation is analogous to known large scale commercial gold deposits in the state.
For Clifford, the company's talented and experienced team lies at the heart of its success.
"Success means having the right people, from the field crew and geologists right through to the board. Everyone plays an important role in Zenith's success," he said, adding that it's also important for a company to recognise when it is in its best interest to partner with specialists for certain projects as it can add significant value to these projects.
While demand for copper and gold, especially from Australian producers, remains strong, Clifford acknowledged the push for decarbonisation in the mining industry was one of the reasons why they have shifted focus towards EV metals, such as lithium.
"We see the theme of decarbonisation continuing to grow in the future, with demand growing for EV minerals such as lithium and graphite," Clifford said. "However, he said there is still plenty of demand for base metals such as copper, as the electricity industry still depends heavily on its usage within numerous components.
"Ultimately everyone in the mining industry is working towards green markets," he said. "And copper is the ultimate green market, as it is used in every electric device. We have already seen a massive increase in copper demand, with spot prices still increasing, and that isn't going to change".
For Australian copper producers, the exchange rate has been beneficial due to the low Australian dollar. After reaching an all-time high in 2021, the spot copper price remained above US$10,000/t.
Clifford also noted that the industry is heavily weighted in favour of already operational mines, as COVID-19 has delayed the arrival of new copper mines coming online.
Problems with supply chains during the COVID-19 pandemic have lifted spot prices higher over the past two years and seems unlikely to change in the near future as the world continues to grapple with the newest variant.
"We are starting to see the impact on our people," Clifford said. "The flow-on effects from COVID has affected staff shortages and assay turn-around times are being blown out of the water."
"We have protocols in place and use our common sense when it comes to keeping our people safe and healthy, but at the moment it also seems to be all about luck, if a crew member or one of their family members just happens to have had contact with a covid positive case…"
Although most of Australia has now opened its borders to other states and the rest of the world, there are still restrictions in place in Western Australia and Queensland, making it difficult for international workers to enter.
However, Clifford is confident about the company's outcome with rigs already booked for 2022 at sites in both states. They are also looking at how to improve turnaround for results from the assay labs with portable prep facilities.
Although the new year may have brought some additional challenges with the La Nina weather system wreaking havoc across the eastern states of Australia, especially in Queensland, the company is prepared to hit the ground running in 2022.
"After seeing the opportunities Develin Creek offered us, we plan to kick off again as soon as weather permits with two drills, whilst also waiting on those additional holes at Sulphide City," Clifford said.
While 2022 maybe a year of transformation for Zenith Minerals, Clifford said it is important for the company to continue moving forward and "continue doing what it does best". This includes developing its projects through to operation and production, while always keeping an eye out for additional copper opportunities.