Faraday Copper: Hunting for copper in the ‘land of giants’

Arizona in the United States has a long and storied history, but one of the key modern-day drawcards is its role as one of the world’s major suppliers of copper.

With the red metal high on several global critical minerals lists due to its importance in electrifying the world, supply is only getting tighter as a number of major operations start to wind up and new discoveries are few and far between.

Copper mining has been a key industry in Arizona since 1910 and today accounts for 74% of US output. The Arizona Mining Association says “if Arizona were a country, it would be the seventh largest producer of copper” in the world.

Out of 86 jurisdictions, the US state ranked seventh for both investment attractiveness and policy perception in the Fraser Institute’s 2023 Annual Survey of Mining Companies.

It is home to some of the world’s biggest miners, including Freeport McMoRan (NYSE:FCX), BHP (ASX:BHP), Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO), Ivanhoe Electric (TSX:IE) and Grupo Mexico (BMV:GMEXICOB).

Speaking to Mining.com.au from Vancouver, Paul Harbidge – President and CEO of Arizona-focused explorer Faraday Copper (TSX:FDY) – calls Arizona the “land of giants”.

“You’ve got Freeport McMoRan just down the road in the Morenci District, up the road we’ve got BHP and Rio Tinto at Resolution, there’s Ivanhoe Electric and there’s ASARCO, which is part of Grupo Mexico. So pretty much every major copper mining and general mining company in the world is in Arizona operating,” he says.

Faraday’s Copper Creek Project sits right next to the historic San Manuel Mine that operated for 50 years and was owned by Magma Copper Company before BHP acquired it. BHP shut it down in the early 2000s due to a low copper price.

However, the mine still has a large underground resource in the Kalamazoo deposit that a higher copper price would make a lot more attractive to dig out.

“They’re adjacent to us and therefore there are potential regional consolidation synergies where you could have a single set of infrastructure to exploit two mines,” Harbidge explains. 

“I think all too often there’s been too much duplication in our industry and so being able to efficiently use a plant for multiple deposits is more palatable from a permitting perspective.”

The Copper Creek Project is located in the heart of the prolific southwestern North America porphyry copper province. It lies at the intersection of a major northwest-trending belt, which includes the well-known copper mines in the Miami-Globe and Ray mining districts.

The 3km-long porphyry deposit, which sits less than two hours northeast of Tucson, so far hosts combined open pit and underground measured and indicated resources totalling 421.9 million tonnes @ 0.45% for 4.2 billion pounds of contained copper.

“It’s one of the largest undeveloped copper resources in the US in the hands of a junior, but for us it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” Harbidge says

“Over 90% of all the historical drilling has been done in the resource area and we’ve got two big structures which are basically the plumbing system to the mineralised system. They extend for several kilometres north and south of the resource and host a portfolio of untested targets for future drill testing.”

No alien discovery at ‘Area 51’

Drilling continues to uncover mineralisation outside the resource, with the most recent program returning intercepts including 42.05m @ 0.41% copper from 48.55m at the Area 51 prospect.

“The first reconnaissance drill hole that we completed outside of our resource in Area 51 hit mineralisation right away. Since then, we have drilled a number of holes and we have defined this new area of mineralisation,” Harbidge says.

Faraday completed 10,000m of drilling last year and is midway through a 20,000m program currently, with the goal of releasing an updated resource in H1 of 2025.

This would then dovetail into an updated Preliminary Economic Assessment investigating a significant expansion in production from the originally anticipated 30,000 tonnes per day to 45,000 tonnes per day.

A PEA released in May 2023 estimated Copper Creek could have a net present value of US$713 million ($1.08 billion) and an internal rate of return of 15.6%, based on a copper price of US$3.80 per pound.

The copper price has since risen higher and is just under US$4.40 a pound, which improves the economics of the project.

While Copper Creek is a copper-molybdenum porphyry system, with 95% of revenue to come from copper and the rest from molybdenum, there is also potential for a gold byproduct that was not previously considered.

“In certain phases of the mineralisation, particularly in certain breccias and the Keel porphyry, we are seeing an enrichment in gold,” Harbidge says. 

“I’m not talking about multiple grams per tonne, but sufficient that it is a viable byproduct. We’re seeing that the gold would report into the copper concentrate and we’re getting recoveries of just over 80%.

“So certainly significant value to be had and we’re working to include gold in our next resource update.”

From humble beginnings to blue-chip backing

Prior to earning its current day moniker, Faraday Copper was known as CopperBank Resource because it had been set up like a bank in which to store copper assets.

With no real direction and a portfolio of projects that had been forgotten about, Harbidge saw an opportunity to turn the company’s prospects around.

“The company didn’t have a management team, it was just the founder and a small board. I was introduced to the founder and really liked what I saw about the project in Arizona,” Harbidge tells this news service.

After two to three months of due diligence and combing through all the historic data, which confirmed the potential, Harbidge tabled a proposal in September 2021 to take over the running of the company.

“We put together a full management team, we refreshed the board and we rebranded ourselves. We wanted to give ourselves our own identity,” he says.

Faraday is also part of the Lundin Group of Companies, which as of April 2024 was collectively worth around C$24 billion ($26.39 billion).  

“Having the Lundins as a backer, who are long-term investors, that blue-chip shareholding really helps to differentiate us in the junior world,” Harbidge says.

Inspiration from a copper genius

For the rebrand, which took effect in 2022 at the same time the company began trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange, Harbidge and his team drew inspiration from Michael Faraday – an English scientist who changed the course of history with his groundbreaking discovery of electromagnetic induction.

Faraday’s use of copper in his experiments was instrumental in his discovery, and it paved the way for the development of modern electrical power generation and distribution systems.

Rather apt considering the increased focus on clean energy, which requires an abundance of copper to help meet global net zero emissions targets.

While Harbidge says the global electrification roll out appears to be taking a bit of a breather at the moment, the floodgates will open at some point in the future.

“The problem is, I feel that in the west we’re still sort of asleep at the wheel, and we haven’t got clear policies, we haven’t got clear strategies and suddenly countries are reneging on their commitments,” he explains.

“You can put barriers up and try and stall it, but you can’t stop that tsunami, it’s going to happen.”

According to BHP, estimates suggest the world will need up to 140 new copper mines by 2030 to keep up with demand.

But right now, the majors are focused on buying existing production and not actually exploring for new resources. This is evidenced by BHP’s recent aggressive takeover attempt of Anglo American (LSE:AAL) following its buyout of OZ Minerals, Rio Tinto’s full acquisition of Turquoise Hill and Hudbay Minerals’ (TSX:HBM) purchase of Copper Mountain.

Harbidge says the majors are buying production because there is angst from shareholders about companies deploying capital on new projects over concerns of cost blowouts.

“But all that’s doing is rearranging the furniture, moving it from one company to another, it’s not actually bringing in any new production.”

To continue its aggressive pursuit of more resources, Faraday recently closed a fully underwritten bought-deal financing that added a further C$23 million to the coffers.

Harbidge says Faraday is now fully financed to deliver on these milestones through to the end of 2025.

Write to Angela East at Mining.com.au 

Images: Faraday Copper & Getty Images 
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Written By Angela East
Managing Editor Angela East is an experienced business journalist and editor with over 15 years spent covering the resources and construction sectors and more recently working as a communications specialist handling media relations for junior resources companies.