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Thursday, December 1, 2022

Diggers highlight ‘cleaner planet’ opportunities in swing to battery metals.

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I Mining Executive Reviews I

“COVID hit the pause button on the planet, we paused power production, we paused industry and we paused transportation. As a result, we all got an opportunity to see what could be. Places around the world that haven’t seen clean air for generations were able to see clear blue skies. That’s allowed all of us to visualize what could be possible and how we could make a contribution for future generations.”

Peter Bradford,
Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer,
Independence Group (IGO)

The capacity of the growing battery metals revolution to transform the traditional nature of the mining sector has been demonstrated by Western Australian miner IGO to the on-site and world-wide livestreamed audience at the prestigious Diggers and Dealers Mining Forum.

A marked trend in the 30th annual three-day conference in the WA Goldfields city of Kalgoorlie has been the number of companies outlining their battery metals operations, but none so persuasively as IGO.

Peter Bradford, the company’s managing director and chief executive officer, traced its growth from a diversified producer seven years ago with two profitable but short-life base metals mines and a 30% minority stake in the Tropicana gold mine (with international partner AngloGold Ashanti) to one specifically focused on metals that are critical to a green energy world. In the process, it has also transformed the company’s value from about $A1 billion to more than $5 billion.

Mr Bradford detailed the deliberative process that delivered the transformation of its asset portfolio, its financial and business culture and environmental, sustainability and governance brand.

The starting point for change at IGO was its acquisition of the Nova nickel-copper project in WA through the friendly takeover of Sirius Resources in 2015. After guiding Nova to commercial production two years later, the company then known as Independence Group began to realise the opportunities of the emerging demand for battery metals to drive the global trend towards clean energy.

Its change of course, including the sale of its Tropicana stake this year to Regis Resources, has seen IGO emerge with what Mr Bradford described as a unique portfolio of nickel, copper, lithium and cobalt assets in a Tier 1 jurisdiction and further exploration projects focused on discovery of the next generation of nickel and copper mines.

The company’s impetus was its belief in a green energy future, “and our belief that we can make a contribution to a better planet,” he said.

IGO was also driven by its determination to contribute to reversing some of the trends of climate change by producing those metals critical to producing clean energy.

While the conversation over climate change had been continuing for many years, it was dialled up even more in the last 12-18 months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID hit the pause button on the planet, we paused power production, we paused industry and we paused transportation,” Mr Bradford said.

“As a result, we all got an opportunity to see what could be. Places around the world that haven’t seen clean air for generations were able to see clear blue skies. That’s allowed all of us to visualise what could be possible and how we could make a contribution for future generations.”

Mr Bradford said a similar realisation by governments was the impetus for significant stimulus spending and the large investment in renewable energy and transport innovations as well as a huge groundswell of corporate activity towards decarbonisation.

“Our strategy is to be a globally significant supplier of clean energy metals and a diverse suite of products made safely, ethically, sustainably and reliably.”

More prosaically, Mr Bradford noted that the four metals in its commodity portfolio comprise 55% of the metals in a lithium ion battery. “To my knowledge, we are the only company globally that produces that one-stop for electric vehicle battery metals,” he said.

Kam Leung, vice president for upstream operations at Lynas, the leading non-Chinese producer of rare earths, told delegates the market in the electric vehicles, wind power generation, consumer electronics and smart homes space had shown great resilience through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lynas credited the growing world demand for diversified supplies of the critical rare earth materials for record sales revenues in the June quarter, and Mr Leung said the company was confident that the strong growth would continue into the future.

“As the world is accelerating its efforts to decarbonise, it is very clear there will be a significant need for rare earths for decades to come.”

Mr Leung detailed the company’s development of its significant rare earth mine at Mt Weld in Western Australia and the construction now under way in Kalgoorlie of its $500 million development of a processing facility that will transform concentrate from the mine into rare earth carbonate for its advanced materials plant in Malaysia and another plant proposed in the United States.

One of Western Australia’s highest profile mining executives, Bill Beament, outlined similar purposes for his new corporate role as managing director of base metals business Venturex Resources.

Mr Beament , who stepped away from executive chairmanship of Northern Star Resources after playing a major role in building it into Western Australia’s largest gold miner to take on the junior company role, stressed that Venturex’s aim was to produce clean metals to and help decarbonise the world.

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