It’s a dire market out there, particularly for ASX mining juniors constantly having to chase the next investment as the global search for critical minerals leveraged to the green energy transition ramps up.

But when one the world’s largest mining companies drops dough directly into the battery metals exploration space through a unique, six-month venture capital accelerator program – specifically designed to help find the next big discovery – hope is somewhat restored.

Launched in 2022, BHP’s Xplor program offers six carefully selected junior resources companies access to US$500,000 in funding, tools, expertise and a global network, to transform budding mineral exploration ideas into reality.


Bringing about big change

Described by some as the ‘first model of its kind’ for the resources industry, BHP program manager Lisa Mosse told last month’s RIU Conference it was a collective pool of ideas taken from sectors not directly linked to mining or exploration.

“We turned to other industries like the technology and pharmaceutical space, took these common attributes and made these fit-for-purpose for junior explorers in the mineral exploration industry,” she said.

“BHP looked towards the outside world for inspiration on innovative solutions, knowing we can’t keep doing the same things if we want big changes to happen.

“We’re looking to address the financing challenges that face our market and drive forward these ideas and exploration concepts that all too often don’t get to see the light of day.”


The Xplor Class of 2023: A ‘mini-MBA’ for explorers

A mix of public and private exploration companies were selected to take part in the first cycle in 2023, including nickel-PGE focused Kingsrose Mining (ASX:KRM), nickel sulphide explorer Nordic Nickel (ASX:NNL) and battery metals explorer Impact Minerals (ASX:IPT), which described the program as a ‘mini-MBA’ for minerals exploration – complete with boot camps, tool kits, master classes and one-on-one coaching sessions to help speed up the path to discovery.

IPT managing director Mike Jones told Stockhead the funding received from the Xplor program was allocated towards significant work at the company’s Broken Hill project in NSW.

“We had been working on an exploration model for some years but hadn’t been able to get the funding to push that forward,” Jones said.

“With the Xplor funding, we managed to undertake a lot of mapping, sampling and magnetotelluric work to gather information on the potential structures underneath Broken Hill itself and how they interacted with our ground.

“That was a huge breakthrough, and we are still working through that data.”



Accelerating exploration in new geographies

Although Broken Hill has now been put on the backburner as Impact works towards bringing its Lake Hope high purity alumina project into production, Jones believes the program was nonetheless “hugely” beneficial for the company.

“Our understanding of the region and the geology increased dramatically,” he said.

“One of the reasons why BHP were interested is we think our model – which we got from a well-known academic and consultant – indicates that there’s a significant amount of copper to be found somewhere in the Broken Hill area.

“There’s a few sequences where some copper has been identified yet no one has found anything of any significance.

“But theoretically, we can now demonstrate that there’s a good chance the system was carrying copper, it’s just hidden somewhere at depth, and we’ve got the confidence to home in on those areas using the geophysics that we trialled in the program.

“The knowledge, strategies and frameworks that you get to work with is fantastic and then obviously working with other like-minded people with a passion for exploration and clever ideas is another big part of it.”

And now for the Xplor Class of 2024

Following the graduation of the inaugural cohort in June 2023, the second round of Xplor participants were announced earlier this year – with a few more ASX tiddlers among the six companies chosen from more than 500 applications.

Among them include pure-play copper explorer Cobre (ASX:CBE) hunting for the red metal in Botswana’s Kalahari belt as well as in WA.

News of CBE’s involvement sent the company’s share price surging some +100% on 23 January as the explorer expressed its achievement to market.

The company plans to use the funding to fast-track exploration programs and progress targets with the potential to host Tier one copper-silver deposits, focusing on the newly identified ‘fold hinge related trap-sites’ at the Kitlanya West project.

This is where mineralisation is expected to be upgraded, offering an opportunity for larger deposit formation, CBE says.

Hamelin Gold (ASX:HMG) is another 2024 Xplor participant, selected based on the nickel-copper-PGE intrusions discovered on its 3,000km2 of ground in WA’s Tanami gold province in mid-2023.

A reverse circulation (RC) drilling program will begin in March/April, starting first at the Sultan West prospect to test for primary gold mineralisation at depth and along strike of results defined in the aircore program in early January.


Other companies in the class of 2024 include:

  • Longreach Mineral Exploration, a private Australian company with assets in WA including the East Canning project in a new frontier terrane with evidence of Tier 1 potential;
  • Pallas Resources, a private explorer focused on large-scale gold copper-gold in Kazakhstan;
  • East Star Resources, listed on the London stock exchange exploring for copper and other base metals in Kazakhstan; and
  • Equivest Minerals, a private company with projects in Norway and Finland that deploys a technology platform combining statistical insights on the location of major deposits with integrated machine learning.


BHP Xplor participants share prices today:


At Stockhead we tell it like it is. While Impact Minerals is a Stockhead advertiser, it did not sponsor this article.