Antler, which was last mined in 1970, has been described as one of the highest-grade copper deposits in the world.
An update in the December quarter boosted the resource by 48% to 11.4 million tonnes at 4.1% copper-equivalent.
Managing director and CEO Mike Haynes said New World Resources had deliberately turned its focus to copper about three years ago - seeking a high-grade project the company could bring into production in its own right in the medium term.
"And we are well and truly on track to do so," he said.
"One of the differentiating factors about New World is the very high grade of our deposit.
"Paul Howard, an analyst at Canaccord, regards Antler, on a copper-equivalent basis, to be in the top 30, grade-wise, of copper deposits around the world.
"But equally I would say that, unlike most explorers who tend to focus on a project and then contemplate what to do next, we've got a two-pronged approach where we see there's potentially going to be huge value by being in production in the second half of this decade, so we are pushing Antler to production while we continue to make the resource bigger and bigger."
The company has been making quick work of de-risking Antler since acquiring 100% of the project in 2020, announcing a maiden resource in 2021 and a scoping study in 2022, with more studies underway and the permitting process slated to commence mid-year.
Haynes said resuming production at Antler stood to deliver exceptional returns if high copper prices prevailed, as forecast, later this decade - by which time the project was expected to be in full operation.
The initial scoping study, based on the maiden resource (which has since been upgraded by 48%) comprising 7.7Mt at 3.9% copper-equivalent, indicated a low-cost, high-margin copper mine.
The study outlined modest pre-production capex of US$201 million, a pre-tax net present value (7% discount) of about US$525 million and an internal rate of return of 42%.
C1 cash costs for copper, after co-product credits, were estimated at negative 31c per pound over the initial 10-year mine life.
It was expected to generate average annual free cash flow of US$135 million (A$193 million) during eight years of steady-state production when mining at a rate of 1Mtpa.
"As a high-grade deposit with excellent vertical and lateral continuity, Antler points to the magical combination of high resource to mining inventory conversion, low capital intensity and low opex (negative copper C1 costs, after co-product credits) - arguably the sweet spot for a junior miner!" Blue Ocean Equities said in January as it initiated coverage.
New World now has two studies underway in tandem - a detailed prefeasibility study due by year-end and an update to the scoping study, expected within weeks.
"We're de-risking the economic parameters so investors can clearly see what the likely proposition is," Haynes said.
"We've increased the resource by 48% so I think we'll be generating a lot more cash… it's just looking better and better."
The updated scoping study would include a new mine design and mine schedule, and it would also allow the company to begin the mine permitting process.
"We're targeting submitting mine permitting documents in the middle of this calendar year," Haynes said.
He was confident in the permitting process in Arizona, a mining-friendly jurisdiction which accounts for about 70% of US copper production.
He said Antler's location held many advantages, being on private land, in a sparsely populated area but only 15km from an interstate highway and the transcontinental rail, plus power to the project area within 700m of the deposit.
The company was also ensuring it has access to water for future mining and processing.
Haynes explained New World had deliberately staked claims over the former mill site, about 12km from Antler, where a water well had been drilled and continued to be in use.
The company is now planning to have a processing plant adjacent to the Antler deposit, he said, and has secured the option to acquire 40 acres of land, closer by, that are believed to hold sufficient sub-surface water.
"Certainly we've got optionality for process water for the project," Haynes said.
He's regularly in the US and recently returned from a trip to meet with consultants and take potential investors on a site visit.
Standout assay results received late last year point to the further potential at Antler.
The deepest hole yet drilled in the project's South Shoot returned 10.7m at 8.1% copper, 15.6% zinc, 3.2% lead, 107.8g/t silver and 0.98g/t gold, or 13.7% copper-equivalent.
Aside from depth and strike extensions at Antler, Haynes also sees "considerable potential" to find satellite deposits.
"These VMS deposits typically occur in clusters," he said.
"An analogy is Sandfire's deposit where they mined DeGrussa for 10-12 years, and then towards the end of the mine life at DeGrussa they started mining a satellite deposit, the Monty deposit.
"Where we are at Antler, while the mineralisation at the deposit itself continues to be open, particularly at depth and to the south, there is another VMS deposit located 6km northeast.
"We don't own that one, but there's a series of lookalike highly anomalous coincident geophysical/geochemical targets along strike to the northeast, in the same sequence of rocks that host both Antler and the other VMS deposit … and those targets have never been drill tested."
Support for focus on Antler
New World Resources also controls the Tererro copper-gold-zinc project in New Mexico but is focused almost exclusively on getting the nearer-term Antler deposit into production.
The company appointed experienced mining engineer Nick Woolrych to the board in December, so is set to benefit from his knowledge, including his previous experience leading one of Australia's largest underground mining contractors, as the company turns its attention towards mine development.
Investors are backing the focus, demonstrated by the strong support for an A$8 million placement just prior to Christmas.
The placement coincided with an uptick in the copper price, in line with an anticipated impending shortfall in supply.
It also demonstrated the undervalued nature of the company, Haynes said, which has been reflected by the share price almost doubling in the two months since the raising.
Haynes is keenly anticipating the scoping study update which he is confident will show even more favourable economics for the growing project, which is already likely to be one of the lowest cost copper producers in the world.
"We will continue to increase the resource base, which will continue to make the economics of developing the project even more attractive," he said.
"We'll also continue to de-risk the project by completing the PFS and definitive feasibility and getting permits in place, which again is de-risking the project from an investor perspective.
"I think we're doing everything we practicably can to de-risk the investment proposition for shareholders and as we get closer and closer to production, I think we're going to see an increased share price - particularly if the copper price is rising at the same time."