In race for EV metals, BHP casts wider net to locate copper, nickel

BHP, the world’s largest mining company, earns most of its money from digging iron ore and coal, an emissions-intensive fossil fuel that contributes significantly to climate change. But it has made no secret of its intention to push deeper into the metals of the future that stand to benefit from growing global efforts to reduce emissions and electrify transport, through expanding its existing copper and nickel resource assets and looking externally as well.


Last year, it completed the sale off its global oil and gas division to Woodside, partly to free up its ability to spend more on nickel and copper. Last month, it signed a binding $9.6 billion takeover offer to acquire Adelaide-based copper and nickel producer Oz Minerals, which has two copper and gold mines in South Australia. And last week, it struck a deal with Canada’s Mundoro Capital, which gives it the option to take a stake in three copper-exploration lease areas Mundoro holds in eastern Serbia.

The launch of the Xplor program is a sign that BHP is starting to think outside the box, too, casting an even wider net for potential growth options.

When you consider the extraordinary scale of how much more copper and nickel is required to achieve countries’ increasingly ambitious targets to neutralise their carbon footprints by 2050, it’s not hard to see why.

According to BHP’s latest projections, the world’s supply of copper needs to double by mid-century, while nickel needs to quadruple. “These are really hefty numbers,” Scarselli says.

“We need to find the resources before we need them – we need to find more copper mines than we have today if we want to supply the amount of copper, if we want everyone to have an EV, if we want solar panels, if we want wind [turbines] and so on.”

In the mining industry, exploration comes with inherent risk – profitable mineral deposits might be there, but equally, they might not. Because the success rate is often low, mining giants want to be able to test a large portfolio of exploration activity for results. “Doing that all internally becomes very hard,” Scarselli says.

“The context of Xplor was to see how we can, in a much shorter amount of time, be testing opportunities globally, especially in areas we are not familiar with”.

Nordic Nickel, an ASX-listed exploration company focused on two projects in northern Finland, says it is excited to have been selected to take part in the Xplor cohort for 2023.

“The non-dilutive funding provided by BHP, together with the ability to access their world-class networks and expertise, will put Nordic Nickel in an exceptional position to unlock the full potential of this asset over the next 12 months and beyond,” managing director Todd Ross says.

Another company, Impact Minerals, is looking for minerals across Australia. Its managing director Mike Jones says it is a thrill and honour to have been chosen to “partner with the world’s largest mining company”.

“We are looking forward to working with them to accelerate exploration at Broken Hill and also upgrading our skills company wide by gaining access to their global network,” he says.

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