South Australia could be on the verge of a mining renaissance following the state’s move to add the commodity to its list of critical minerals, less than a month after the US added the metal to its critical raw materials list.

It’s a tell-tale sign of where the state sees copper exploration and development going and reflects a growing trend by similar-minded jurisdictions (the EU, Canada, China, Japan, India) around the globe who see the metal as vital for future industry.

In June, the South Australian Chamber of Commerce welcomed $2.1m in funding as part of the state’s Budget to establish a Copper Taskforce to maximise the development of copper deposits.

According to SACOME’s CEO Rebecca Knol, the taskforce will work alongside copper producers and explorers to develop a long-term strategy to grow the state’s position as a global copper heavyweight.

“Adding copper to South Australia’s Critical Minerals List indicates our ambition to take advantage of the growing global demand for energy transition technologies and electrification,” she told Stockhead.

“South Australia hosts more than 68% of Australia’s known copper resources and is already rivalling other major copper producing regions around the world.

“The state is home to the largest copper mine in the country, BHP’s Olympic Dam, which is also the fourth largest copper deposit globally.

“BHP is now focused on building scale and optionality across its South Australian operations as global demand for copper looks to significantly outstrip supply.”


BHP in hot pursuit of copper

Last week, BHP revealed that it, too, is in hot pursuit of copper with aspirations to boost copper production to more than 500,000t per annum from a new province it sees emerging, encompassing Olympic Dam, Prominent Hill, Carrapateena and the potential Oak Dam development.

With several operations in close proximity to each other alongside shared infrastructure, BHP CEO Mike Henry told media the company is hoping for or aspiring to a whole new front of optionality around a new copper basin in South Australia.

With Olympic Dam representing just one IOCG copper deposit in a potential field of many, it is a timely reminder of the size of the prize in this world-class province for ASX explorers.

Here are some juniors proving their projects hold big potential and promise in the South Australian state.


Who is exploring for copper in South Australia?

Coda Minerals (ASX:COD)

Coda Minerals’ Elizabeth Creek project is close to the Stuart Shelf, a major geological formation which houses BHP’s world-class Olympic Dam project, on the eastern margin of the revered Gawler Craton.

Bordering either side of its tenements is BHP’s two other emerging mines – Oak Dam West to the north and Carrapateena to the east.

In its pursuit of a Tier 1 IOCG discovery, the company has kicked off target generation over a 28km2 area immediately to the east of Emmie Bluff, a large-scale underground copper and cobalt target.

The company says this area, which is almost completely unconstrained by drilling, would add significant overall value to Elizabeth Creek given its proximity to the proposed mining and processing infrastructure.

“With all four Gawler Craton IOCG deposits now in the hands of BHP, we are now very close to having next stage targets and we are looking forward to advancing IOCG exploration,” COD chair Keith Jones said.


Hillgrove Resources (ASX:HGO)

Hillgrove is on its way to first copper concentrate production in the first quarter of 2024 at the Kanmantoo underground copper mine in South Australia.

The company kicked off underground development in May and quickly ramped up to planned development rates, which will increase further towards the end of the year with the arrival of the second jumbo.

Fully funded without debt following a $38m placement and share purchase plan, HGO is now focused on reaching sustainable copper production in the Stage 1 underground while continuing exploration activities to increase mine life and production.

With all infrastructure, including a 3.6Mtpa processing plant and operational tailings storage facility already in place, HGO says the cost and risk to first copper production is relatively low with a number of exploration activities set to leverage the existing processing and tailings infrastructure.


Copper Search (ASX:CUS)

Copper Search is on the hunt for the red metal at the Peake project in South Australia’s Gawler Craton.

A 2,500m diamond drilling program kicked off in April across four high-priority iron ore-copper-gold (IOCG) targets following extensive project reviews and geophysical surveys over the previous 12 months.

Assays received in late July indicated that Copper Search had intersected multiple intervals of IOCG(U)-style mineralisation with copper present from 122m.

CUS said this was an excellent result and highly encouraging for the prospectivity of this emerging copper district in the Peake and Denison Domain of the Gawler Craton.

Drilling is now underway at Target AC30, 5km to the southwest of AC23 – interpreted as a structurally controlled Iron Sulphide Copper Gold style mineral system.


Rex Minerals (ASX:RXM)

Rex Minerals is developing the Hillside project in South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula which is expected to produce 42,000 tonnes of copper and 30,000 ounces of gold each year for the first 11 years of operations.

The shovel-ready, fully permitted project has key approvals in place, including State Government and regional support as it progresses towards a financial investment decision (FID) with major contracts still in negotiation.

Around $200 million has already been spent on development at Hillside, which according to the company, is Australia’s second largest undeveloped copper project, second only to Rio Tinto’s Winu deposit in WA.

If all goes to plan, the company is hoping to get into production sometime in 2025.


Power Minerals (ASX:PNN) 

Power Minerals is currently negotiating an Exploration Deed with the traditional owners of the APY lands at the Musgrave project in South Australia, comprising two Exploration Licences and eight Exploration Licence Applications held, or under farm-in, by wholly-owned Power subsidiary NiCul Minerals.

The priority target at the project is the Pink Slipper geophysical anomaly, which is part of a Farm-in and Joint Venture Agreement (FJVA) with Rio Tinto Exploration, covering four ELAs.

PNN says the traditional owners’ input and agreement is the final major stage in completing the Exploration Deed.

A detailed multi-element re-sampling program of previous drill samples is underway to help define targets for the next phase of drilling.

Power also has in place a collaborative research project with Emeritus Professor John Foden of the University of Adelaide to apply an advanced technical analysis to examine existing samples from the Mt Caroline Intrusion within the Musgrave Project area to identify prospective stratigraphic units.


At Stockhead we tell it like it is. While Hillgrove Resources and Copper Search are Stockhead advertisers, they did not sponsor this article.