Commodities, Copper, Features

A new copper player emerges

True North Cloncurry

True North Copper is aiming to become a producer of copper sulphide ore at its Cloncurry project in north-west Queensland.

Queensland’s North West Minerals Province is exactly what the name implies: a premier mining jurisdiction that delivers base and precious metals to end users across the globe.

Spanning Mount Isa, Cloncurry and surrounding regions, the district holds approximately 75 per cent of Queensland’s endowment of base metals, including copper, zinc and lead, and is also home to significant gold, silver, cobalt and phosphate deposits.

One emerging company in the province is True North Copper, represented by its Cloncurry, Mount Oxide and Bundarra projects.

An Australian great

True North hopes to be producing high-quality copper sulphide ore at its Cloncurry project in the coming months, with first ore to come from the Great Australia Mine.

A restart study was released in February to consolidate this vision, with a projected 4.8 million tonnes of ore to be produced from the Cloncurry project over an initial 4.6-year mine life. This is expected to deliver 35,000 tonnes of copper and 29,000 ounces of gold.

True North managing director Marty Costello said the restart study is the next step in the company’s mission to prove Cloncurry’s production and investment potential, for the near- and long-term.

“When we went to the market last year (True North listed on the ASX in June 2023), we said we had potential to generate some really great cash flow out of Great Australia and Cloncurry focusing on the copper sulphide and oxide material,” he told Australian Mining.

“We know it’s fully permitted, and we know there’s infrastructure there, so over the past six months or so we’ve tried to challenge our investment thesis through analysis and studies, and it’s stood up really well.”

Costello said True North is targeting a much longer life than what is specified in the restart study, with exploration activities advancing across the Cloncurry tenement.

“The restart study comprises the initial Great Australia ore reserve that was put out in July last year,” Costello said. “Since then, we’ve drilled about 9000m at Great Australia involving grade control and resource extension drilling.

“None of that data is in the restart study, so there is a revision happening at the moment at Great Australia and we expect the ore reserve to go substantially higher.”

Overlooking the Great Australia mine within the Cloncurry project. Image: True North Copper

The four-million-tonne (Mt) Great Australia ore reserve is complemented by a 1.59Mt Wallace North resource.

In January, True North announced a 300 per cent increase in Wallace North’s indicated resources from 0.36Mt to 1.43Mt, with 90 per cent of the resource now in the indicated category.

While the Great Australia Mine will drive initial cash flow for True North, deposits such as Wallace North will drive the Cloncurry project beyond its initial 4.6-year mine life.

This is backed by the permitting and existing infrastructure in place, which have the potential to not only transition Cloncurry into production but also prolong the asset’s life.

“All our 11 million tonnes (of resources) at 0.8 per cent copper are located on fully-permitted mining leases,” Costello said.

“We’ve got all the infrastructure we need and we’re right next door to two large concentrators. We have our own concentrator if we need to turn it on and we’re permitted to do that, and we have a functioning, operating and producing SX (solvent extraction) plant which is already producing copper sulphate crystals.

“So when you’re looking at a restart or a new mine, all the things you would typically need to invest capital in, we are fortunate that the previous owners – Round Oak Minerals – had already invested heavily in these things and all the necessary infrastructure is in tip-top shape.”

When True North Copper produces first ore from Great Australia, deliveries and processing will be managed by Glencore through toll-milling and offtake agreements. This could see ore processed at Glencore’s nearby Mount Isa smelter, or Evolution Mining’s Ernest Henry processing plant near Cloncurry.

Costello said while True North considered processing ore on-site, a toll-milling agreement was a more feasible option for the company.

“Our on-site concentrator is in very good condition,” he said. “The reason why we’re not turning that concentrator on is because it has a capacity of 700,000 tonnes per annum.

“The current economics involved with running a 700,000-tonne-per-annum concentrator compared to paying a fixed tolling charge; the fixed tolling charge – even with the haulage – makes more sense for us at this point.

“If we were to turn our own concentrator on, we would be dealing with things like sustaining capital, maintenance and overheads such as the cost of tailings disposal. At this point in time, we would prefer to utilise infrastructure elsewhere.”

But Costello didn’t rule out True North flipping the switch on its concentrator at some point in the future.

“We’ve got some really exciting near-mine extensions, including the Greater Australian target,” he said. “We’ve mapped the resource down to 400m depth and we’ve intercepted some really good zones of plus-two-per-cent copper.

“If we find further exploration success, turning the concentrator on at Cloncurry is obviously an option for us.”

For the moment, however, True North is staying true to its promise of delivering a low-capex, low-risk start-up at Cloncurry. Toll milling its copper ore at neighbouring concentrators enables the company to tick that box.

True North aims to be producing 40,000 tonnes of copper per annum in the next five years. Image: True North Copper

Top of the mountain

Beyond the mining and exploration potential of the Cloncurry project, True North’s Mount Oxide copper-cobalt-silver project has the potential to be a key asset in the future.

Within Mount Oxide is the Vero resource, which currently holds 15.98Mt of ore at 1.43 per cent copper and 6.91 grams per tonne silver, as well as 9.15Mt at 0.23 per cent cobalt.

“We believe the Mount Oxide project is potentially world class,” Costello said. “It’s very high grade, we’ve got more than one kilometre of strike extension and we’ve got good depth.

“We believe there’s enough drilling and enough confidence at the Vero deposit to support a decent mining operation well beyond eight years of production.”

With an established resource at Vero, Costello said True North is now focused on expanding the deposit.

“We’ve got a number of high-priority targets to the north of Vero which we will be drilling out this year,” Costello said. “We will also complete some targeted IP (induced polarisation) mapping to further understand the extensional opportunities on offer.

“29Metals (which operates the nearby Capricorn copper mine) has identified an IP technique that illustrates their orebodies quite well, and we’ve been able to leverage this to support our own exploration at Mount Oxide.

“The Capricorn mine is in the same geological setting as Vero and our Mount Oxide mine, which bodes well for our deposits. Hopefully we can elevate this mine into production.”

Through the near-term copper production of the Cloncurry project, the long-term prospects of the Mount Oxide asset and the company’s strengthening exploration tenure, True North Copper has the potential to be a prominent producer of base and precious metals in the future.

For Costello, the immediate goal is 40,000 tonnes of copper production in the next five years.

“We’ve deliberately gone out and invested heavily in our infrastructure and set up our operational hubs in northern Australia, and we know how to do business in northern Australia,” Costello said.

“We also know that Cloncurry and Mount Isa hosts arguably the best copper in Australia. So our plan of attack is to get the company in a position to produce 40,000 tonnes of copper metal per annum within the next five years.

“And we see the visibility of our projects, and the partnerships we need to have to ensure we can achieve this in that timeframe.”

This feature appeared in the April 2024 issue of Australian Mining.

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