Ivanhoe Electric shocks Saudi geology to spot targets

Ivanhoe Mines CEO Taylor Melvin in front of a Typhoon surveying unit at the Future Minerals Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Credit: Colin McClelland

Ivanhoe Electric (TSX: IE; NYSE AM: IE) has zapped the ground with its Typhoon surveying system to find drill targets in Saudi Arabia and is content with its project portfolio, CEO Taylor Melvin says.

The Arizona-based company co-founded by industry billionaire Robert Friedland found three anomalies in the Al Amar belt about 250 km southwest of Riyadh while exploring since November in an even joint venture with state mining company Ma’aden, they said on Wednesday. The 65-sq.-km area is near Ma’aden’s El Amar gold-copper-zinc mine.

“For us to get results this quickly and identify multiple potential drill targets through the combination of Typhoon and our Computational Geosciences machine learning-based software is a real testament to this exploration platform,” Melvin said in an interview with The Northern Miner outside the Future Minerals Forum in Riyadh. “It’s a big differentiator for our company.”

Ivanhoe Electric is part of a growing number of international mining companies investing in Saudi Arabia as it swings petroleum wealth behind the exploration for minerals enabling the global energy transition away from fossil fuels. The kingdom’s third annual conference on the issue this week has attracted leaders from Rio Tinto (NYSE: RIO; LSE: RIO; ASX: RIO), Barrick Gold (TSX: ABX; NYSE: GOLD), Ivanhoe Mines (TSX: IVN), Vale (NYSE: VALE), Lundin Mining (TSX: LUN) and Anglo American (LSE: AAL).

Electric shocks

The Typhoon system discharges up to 10,000 volts at 200 amps of electrical current into the earth to detect sulphide mineralization. Artificial intelligence programs turn the pulses into subterranean maps.

BMO Capital Markets noted the discoveries come after just two months of surveying.

“A notable success is identification of the western anomaly in a previously unmapped area and interpreted as an extension of the southern anomaly,” BMO mining analyst Andrew Mikitchook wrote in a note on Wednesday. “Prior drilling at the southern anomaly returned promising intercepts of zinc and copper.”

Those results at the southern anomaly were 7.5 metres grading 6.2% zinc, 15 metres at 7.7% zinc and 31.5 metres at 2.98% copper reported by Ma’aden in 2017 and 2018, the company said. 

The joint venture has surveyed 30% of the Al Amar belt with Typhoon and has other targets across some 48,500-sq.-km farther southwest of Riyadh that will occupy the joint venture team through next year, Melvin said. The technology probably won’t be used on geology where related company Ivanhoe Mines extracts copper at Kamoa-Kakula in the Democratic Republic of Congo and explores nearby and in neighbouring Angola, he said.

US projects

Ivanhoe Electric is also advancing its Santa Cruz copper project in Arizona and the Tintic copper-gold project in Utah. Acquiring additional projects isn’t in the near future, Melvin said.

“Ivanhoe Electric is really focused on its portfolio of projects in the United States and on this venture in Saudi Arabia,” the CEO said. “We’ve got plenty under our belt already. The key for us is successful execution with our existing portfolio.”

The joint venture agreement last May with Ma’aden saw the Saudi company invest US$126.5 million for a 9.9% stake in Ivanhoe Electric. The amount is to be split about evenly among Saudi and U.S. projects.

“We’re looking for all the critical metals that are necessary for the global transition to cleaner energy and reduce carbon dioxide footprint,” Melvin said. “Certainly, copper is the head of that list, but we’re also going to be very happy to find precious metals here in the kingdom and elsewhere.”

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