The year of living dangerously: ASX companies look back on 2023December 12, 2023
In 2023, many Aussie companies made some big moves despite the global financial challenges. The federal government’s critical minerals strategy led to a boom in critical minerals. The Western Australian government initially introduced the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2021 but later decided to amend the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 instead. ASX-listed mining companies saw a lot of mergers and acquisitions throughout the year.
Many innovative solutions were developed to help mining companies meet global climate goals while reducing maintenance and production costs and enhancing workplace safety, productivity, and efficiency. As we look back on the year that was and anticipate what’s on the horizon for these companies, we can say that 2023 was a year of progress.
A conflict in Ukraine and the northern hemisphere winter served up energy shortages and a stark reminder of the need for more natural gas as a bridge between coal and renewable ambitions which remain well out of reach. It would be a while yet before Australian politics began bickering over a nuclear future, but energy execs were pleased with the confidence gas reserves are very much still in the energy frame for the foreseeable future.
Aruma Resources Ltd (ASX:AAJ) reports high-grade lithium-rubidium intersections at the Mt Deans Lithium-Rubidium Project near Norseman in southeastern Western Australia. The company has confirmed 12 intersections of 1.5% lithium-rubidium, indicating a possible development pathway for the project.
Meanwhile, Critical Resources (ASX:CRR) has high hopes for the Mavis Lake prospect in Canada, following the success of its 2022 drilling program. Managing Director Alex Cheeseman is excited to have commenced another significant drilling campaign in 2023, after delivering some of the highest-grade assay results in 2022. The company has completed 29 more diamond drill holes and is anticipating a continued run of high-grade lithium results.
Kingsland Minerals had a busy and very productive 2023, releasing an inferred uranium resource of about 7m @ 350ppm U3O8 in March and then embarking on a drilling campaign to delineate a graphite resource. “Drilling started in May and was completed in November with 64 holes drilled for about 7,500m,” KNG MD Richard Maddocks reflects. “Exceptional graphite drilling results were returned consolidating Leliyn as a world-class graphite project. Work has commenced on a maiden Mineral Resource Estimate and metallurgical test work. Both of these are scheduled to be completed in the March 2024 quarter. Leliyn is shaping up as a globally significant graphite project at a time when demand for graphite is forecast to increase on the back of burgeoning EV car supply. 2024 will be a transformative year for Kingsland as we progress the Leliyn graphite project.
Altech Group (ASX:ATC) likewise had a busy year releasing first the design and specifications of its CERENERGY® 1MWh GridPack Design battery in late March followed by the same for its 60KWh version in November. During the year, ATC has also selected key German robotic and engineering companies, commenced fabrication of two 60KWh CERENERGY batteries, advanced offtake discussions, permit and license applications, as well as lodged applications for European grants and subsidies.
The DFS for the 120MWh battery plant to be built on Altech’s land in Germany is nearing finalisation. “Altech Batteries has progressed swiftly with its CERENERGY sodium-chloride (common table salt!) battery joint venture with world-leading German government R&D institute Fraunhofer,” ATC CFO Martin Stein reports. The CERENERGY battery is destined for the lucrative and growing industrial grid storage industry, as the world turns to renewable energy solutions.”
Voltaic Strategic Resources (ASX:VSR) made their mark in Western Australia’s Gacyone confirming several thick pegmatites at its Ti Tree Lithium project days later VSR significantly moved the market a second time after reporting a significant rare earth system at its Neo prospect, part of the nearby Paddy’s Well project. VSR’s CEO, Michael Walshe, announced that the company’s strong results had helped secure additional funding, leaving the young explorer in a robust position at the end of 2023. “It was a milestone year for Voltaic, having only listed in Q4 2022,” Walshe reports. “The majority of our time was dedicated to ‘boots on the ground’ fieldwork, actively progressing two early-stage exploration projects to their initial drilling phase. Concurrently, we identified a substantial pipeline of targets for follow-up in 2024. This sets us up for a very exciting year!”
It was also a milestone year for Brookside Energy (ASX:BRK) and its relentless development of onshore oil wells in Oklahoma, now at 4 operated wells and with at least another 20 more to monetise. “We delivered our highest IP24 rate to date in May this year with 2,034 BOE per day (88% liquids) achieved from our Wolf Pack well in the SWISH AOI,” BRK MD David Prentice proudly reports. “Great people plus excellent rock and prudent capital allocation equals success in our business. We have it all in spades. Bring on 2024!”
James Bay was the spot for lithium exploration but became a little too hot after wildfires broke out across the region and put a temporary halt to a wave of ASX-listers looking to claim LCT-fertile territory in the fastest-emerging North American jurisdiction.
But they had to play the role of greyhounds straining in the slips waiting for an abatement, and not something looked back on fondly for an announcement-hungry market.
On July 7, when Maximus Resources (ASX:MXR) started its initial gold resource drilling just outside Kambalda, it would lead to a 250% increase in resources at its Wattle Dam gold project. Less than a month later, the Goldfields-focused explorer updated the Mineral Resource Estimate (MRE) at the Wattle Dam Gold Project to 320,600 oz Au @ 1.6 g/t Au. The company has reached a significant turning point as it now possesses a growing gold resource and exciting nickel prospects and has partnered with KOMIR to explore the Lefroy Lithium Project as part of its lithium strategy. The project is situated in the “lithium corridor” of Western Australia’s Eastern Goldfields, which is 20 km south of Mineral Resources Ltd (ASX:MIN) Mt Marion Lithium mine.
“Maximus has had a successful year in most aspects, Wither says understatedly. “At Lefroy, spodumene was confirmed at Kandui prospect with a 6-meter-long vein containing 1.11% Li2O, including a 3-meter-long vein with 1.99% Li2O at a depth of 91 meters. The Wattle Dam Offset Drilling discovered a geological sequence like the Wattle Dam high-grade lode, confirming a structural offset and potential for repetition. A larger lithium drill program is planned at Lefroy in early 2024 with our partner KOMIR.”
Meanwhile, Antilles Gold (ASX:AAU) had an epiphany, finding that by adding a two-stage fluidised-bed roaster and CIL plant, and an arsenic leaching circuit to the proposed La Demajagua gold, antimony, and silver mine in Cuba, the resultant gold dore, and increased antimony production should significantly increase the profitability and NPV for the project.
Lithium legend Iggy Tan brings together a team of world-leading experts in the lithium industry, including Patrick Scallan, Dr Jingyuan Liu, Terry Stark, John Loxton, Roger Pover, and Huy Nguyen, who have all been instrumental in designing, constructing or operating either Greenbushes, Mt Cattlin or the Jiangsu Lithium Carbonate Plant. With such a talented team, the company is poised for success. Lithium Universe CEO Alex Hanly has been given the responsibility of realising Tan’s ambitious vision of building the Québec Lithium Processing Hub that will provide the critical materials for batteries, helping the world transition towards cleaner energy. “We’ve had an exceptional start since August,” reports Hanly. “The share price increase of +185% on our first day of trading was our highlight, the market recognised the experience of our team and the Company’s unique business strategy.”
Lots was riding on Elixir Energy’s Daydream-2 well in Queensland and it delivered. After the successful drilling of the high-impact Daydream-2 well in Queensland’s Taroom Trough to a total depth exceeding 4,200 metres. To date, the well has exceeded all of its pre-drill objectives. “In the next six months the Company plans to undertake a significant stimulation program and an extended production test from the well – to book material new contingent resources and ultimately put the project on a firm pathway to commerciality,” Elixir Managing Director Neil Young reports.
Lithiumm prices were down, but interest in its explorers was high, and the previously uninterested major miners during a boom period came circling now-undervalued juniors in the more likely-looking jurisdictions. Chris Ellison came sniffing around Wildcat shareholders and Tabba Tabba in the Pilbara, and Rio Tinto snapped up an interest in Charger Metals looking for a slice of Lake Johnston in the wake of TG Metals’ Burmeister discovery.
Most mining execs would no doubt prefer lithium keeps consolidating all time-highs as it did in recent memory but will take a signal of intent from the big boys that massive volumes of lithium will still be needed for an ascendent EV industry.
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