While the mood at last week’s RIU Explorers conference was generally sombre given the current state of the commodities markets, the anticipation one or more of the 100+ companies in attendance could be sitting on a game-changing discovery remained as strong as ever. 

The estimated 2,300 delegates who passed through Fremantle’s Esplanade Hotel needed to look no further than Azure Minerals (ASX:AZS) for inspiration amid the current market malaise. The Tony Rovira-led explorer took home the prestigious Craig Oliver Award for its Andover lithium discovery in the Pilbara.

It was essentially the last hurrah for a company which actually listed on the ASX some 21 years ago and spent more than a decade sifting through projects in Mexico before teaming up with legendary prospector Mark Creasy to originally test the nickel-copper potential of Andover.

AZS is set to disappear from the bourse in April with a joint takeover by SQM and Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting – valued at a whopping $1.7 billion – almost certain to get over the line.

As is typical at these sort of events, the general chatter among delegates is largely centred on who is quietly chipping away on the next big discovery.

Here’s our wrap on what you might have missed from last week’s three-day conference.


Lithium explorers are sticking fat

 Who has the potential to be the next Azure?

Well, the obvious answer to that question could lie with one of its closest neighbours in the Pilbara, GreenTech Metals (ASX:GRE). The company controls +225km2 to the west of Andover, including the Osborne JV with Artemis Resources (ASX:ARV), where it is set to drill a series of pegmatite targets from next month.

Despite lithium prices seemingly falling off a cliff this year, there was still a strong continent of explorers dedicated to finding new sources of the leading battery metal, including Torque Metals (ASX:TOR) and Dynamic Metals (ASX:DYM), both of which have sizeable tenement packages in the WA Goldfields.

NOW READ: Lithium players hold out for the market to turn around

Another lithium explorer which continues to pique the interest of investors is TG6 Metals (ASX:TG6) following its discovery success at Lake Johnston late last year.

TG6 sparked a pegging rush in WA’s emerging Lake Johnston lithium province near Norseman after it unearthed a core sample containing up to 2.28% Li2O from the first hole at the Burnmeister prospect.

News of the hit sent TG6’s share price surging some 100% with CEO David Selfe describing the results as “exceptional” given it had only tested such a small part of the soil anomaly.

On the sidelines of the conference, Selfe told Stockhead the explorer plans to use the $10m raised towards the end of 2023 to undertake further exploration activities and prove up the Burnmeister deposit in the first half of 2024, as well as other evolving prospects.

“We’re going to branch out a bit and dedicate some money to drilling first holes at Jaegermeister as well,” he said.

“We have a heritage survey that will kick off next week which will allow us to then begin the program about mid-March.”


North American explorers catching the lithium wave

North American lithium companies committed to their craft were also there to share updates on their projects, with delegates hearing from the likes of Burley Minerals (ASX:BUR), Green Technology Metals (ASX:GT1), Future Battery Minerals (ASX:FBM), and Koba Resources (ASX:KOB).

Meanwhile, Leeuwin Metals (ASX:LM1) was flying the flag for Canada.

The company owns two projects in Manitoba, a vastly under-explored province bordered by Ontario to the east and Saskatchewan to the west.

LM1 managing director Christopher Piggot told Stockhead he believes there’s an “enormous” geological opportunity in the region with multiple underdone and overlooked greenstone belts.

“It’s great to see companies like Fortescue starting to look for opportunities in the area, about 100km north of us at Crosslake,” he said.

“It’s validation of our strategy and with smaller ASX companies rolling in as well, an ecosystem is starting to develop.”


South American lithium shines

Latin Resources (ASX:LRS) held the fort for South American lithium explorers and developers, alongside Galan Lithium (ASX:GLN), Hot Chili (ASX:HCH) and Lithium Energy (ASX:LEL).

LRS made its third major spodumene discovery along the Salinas lithium corridor in Brazil earlier this year after a major 56% increase in the global resource at the project to 70.3Mt @ 1.27% Li2O.

The company’s Colina deposit is the subject of an attractive preliminary economic assessment (essentially a scoping study) for a two-phase 3.6Mtpa standalone mining and processing operation delivering an after-tax NPV of $3.6 billion (US$2.5 billion) and combined after-tax IRR of 132%.


What about the future facing commodities?

The fall in lithium and nickel prices over the past 6-12 months has somewhat taken the gloss off the burgeoning rare earths sector despite the dysprosium price currently trading higher than this time last year and key magnet metals neodymium and praseodymium still looking particularly healthy.

RIU Explorers was timely for Venture Minerals (ASX:VMS) which recently landed the highest-grade clay-hosted REE intersection ever recorded in Australia with a hit of 48m @ 3,025ppm TREO at the Jupiter prospect, part of its Brothers project, which conveniently sits between existing rare earths processing facilities operated by Lynas Rare Earths (ASX:LYC) and Iluka Resources (ASX:ILU).

When asked just how big Jupiter could get, VMS managing director Andrew Radonjic said between 1.5–2Bt.

“We’ve got 40km2, and are consistently getting between 20m to 30m intersections over 2,000ppm,” he told Stockhead.

“There’s a 7km long line of these drill intersections in one direction and another 7km long line of very similar drill intersections at right angles to the first.

“If you multiply that by 40 and times the density by two, you’re going to get between 1.5 to 2 billion tonnes, provided the rest of the infill drilling delivers the same results, early indications are positive.”

East Coast Research published a research note on VMS in the days prior to the discovery of Jupiter, valuing the then 0.7c explorer as a potential 3.1c stock. The company’s share price is now trading at 1.4c.


Explorers on the rare earths train

Another emerging rare earths player to turn heads is Red Metal (ASX:RDM). Like AZS, the company has been around for more than 20 years, predominantly focused on developing Tier-1 base metals opportunities in conjunction with much bigger names such as Glencore, Oz Minerals and now BHP over that time.

There is growing speculation its Sybella rare earths discovery near Mt Isa in Queensland could be its best yet. It even caught the eye of Alto Capital’s Tony Locantro as one of last week’s “dirt cheap” stocks.

MTM Critical Minerals (ASX:MTM) was among those spruiking the untapped potential of the remote West Arunta region where first-mover WA1 Resources (ASX:WA1) has captured the imagination of investors via its Luni niobium-REE discovery.

Other critical minerals explorers carving their own path to success included Impact Minerals (ASX:IPT), Lanthanein Resources (ASX:LNR) and Future Metals (ASX:FME) with recently appointed executive chairman Patrick Walta making his first appearance at a conference since joining the advanced PGE hopeful.

Aspiring downstream producers Altech Batteries (ASX:ATC) and Lithium Universe (ASX:LU7) presented a different investment option for investors with strong interest in that particular part of the supply chain.


Is copper making a comeback?

RIU Explorers was the perfect forum for Hillgrove Resources (ASX:HGO) to announce it had successfully produced first concentrate from the restarted Kanmantoo copper mine in South Australia.

There appears to be a growing appetite for the red metal. New World Resources (ASX:NWC) has just started an exciting phase of exploration following a hiatus for the past year at the Antler copper and Javelin VSM projects in Arizona.

“We’ve been focusing our attention on mining studies and mine permitting but over at the Javelin project, we’ve got one drill rig spinning and recently announced a high-quality target 350m south of the Antler deposit which has never been drill tested,” NWC managing director and CEO Mike Haynes told Stockhead.

“We’re looking at getting another drill rig out there as quickly as we can, likely to be in late February or early March to build the Antler resource base so that we can look at a longer mine life or at expanding the processing plant that we are building for the project.”

Other internationally focused copper players in attendance were Alicanto Minerals (ASX:AQI), Hot Chili (ASX:HCH) and Belararox (ASX:BRX).

BRX is on the hunt for the red metal over in Argentina’s San Juan province at the Toro-Malambo-Tambo (TMT) where majors such as Barrick Gold, Lundin Shandong and BHP are spending billions of dollars into uncovering gold and silver deposits.

BRX managing director Arvind Misra said TMT has striking similarities to proven deposits in the region and holds potential for a significant copper porphyry discovery.



At Stockhead, we tell it like it is. While TG Metals, Leeuwin Metals, Venture Minerals, New World Resources and Belararox are Stockhead advertisers, they did not sponsor this article.