Future Battery Minerals: following in the footsteps of Australia’s lithium giants

This article is a sponsored feature from Mining.com.au partner Future Battery Minerals Limited. It is not financial advice. Talk to a registered financial expert before making investment decisions.

When Future Battery Minerals (ASX:FBM) finalised its rebranding at the end of March this year, it marked the end of one chapter and the start of another.

Though the Perth-based explorer had had its sights set on the critical metals driving electrification for some time, the name change represents a renewed sense of zeal for lithium in particular.

Future Battery’s portfolio of assets includes various projects in Australia. But it’s the 100% owned Kangaroo Hills Lithium Project in Western Australia, and the 80% owned Nevada Lithium Project in Nevada, US, which occupy the bulk of the company’s attention. 

Chance comes through in WA

The Kangaroo Hills Lithium Project — in which Future Battery secured its 100% interest in on 7 August — came bursting to life in November 2022, when 2 exploration drillholes completed at the Nepean Nickel Project were re-assayed showing high grades of lithium, including 2m at 3.26% lithium oxide (Li2O) within a broader 6m interval at 1.38% Li2O.

“When we were doing some drilling late last year, we hit a pegmatite, which isn’t uncommon for exploration through that area, but we assayed this intercept and it came back with high-grade lithium in it,” Technical Director Robin Cox says.

We had encouraging early signs of lithium mineralisation, followed that up, and we’ve made what we think is quite a significant discovery”

“And that’s when we started focusing on that area for lithium. It wasn’t a strategic pivot for us at the time to say, let’s not focus on nickel, let’s focus on lithium now. It was purely based on our exploration results. We had encouraging early signs of lithium mineralisation, followed that up, and we’ve made what we think is quite a significant discovery. And we’re in the process of further drilling that out.”

In an effort to give its narrower exploration focus more weight, Future Battery sold its advanced-stage Nepean tenements in mid-June for a total of $10 million but retained the adjacent Kangaroo Hills property it then owned in partnership with Lodestar Minerals (ASX:LSR), which had held a 20% stake. 

To date, 2 drilling campaigns have been completed at Kangaroo Hills, with a third currently underway, focusing on the mineralised pegmatite known as the Big Red prospect. Drilling results have already highlighted the significance of Big Red, with the most notable intercepts including 29m at 1.36% Li2O from 38m and 27m at 1.32% Li2O from 64m.

Now, Future Battery is largely focused on target generation at Kangaroo Hills. The company has already identified multiple high-priority pegmatite targets, which further underscore the prospectivity of the region. Seven ‘large-scale’ targets have been added to the list for drill testing, which combine for a total strike length of over 3km.

“We’ve been trialling a lot of different geophysical methods, and we can see that, specifically, resistivity is detecting the pegmatites, so we’re doing further resistivity work,” Cox says.

We’re currently in our third phase of drilling, and that’s a combination of RC and diamond drilling”

“Ground gravity is also proving quite helpful in detecting the pegmatite. So we’ve expanded our survey area for that, too. And now that we have a number of regional targets in the area, we’re going through and systematically drilling those. We’re currently in our third phase of drilling, and that’s a combination of RC and diamond drilling.”

A lithium strategy takes place

The Nevada Lithium Project, on the other hand, was acquired in June 2022. Located near the township of Tonopah, it covers more than 90km-square and consists of five key prospects — Traction, San Antone, Heller, Lone Mountain and Western Flats.

But unlike the discovery at Kangaroo Hills, the acquisition was more a strategic decision than a happy accident.

“We were looking for a project to complement the work we were doing in Western Australia on the nickel sulphide projects at that point in time, because those projects were quite advanced and we were going through a scoping study, leading on to a pre-feasibility study,” Cox explains.

“We acquired the Nevada project quite cheaply, in an area that was easy to explore”

“We were looking for something that provided the opportunities of a greenfield, early-stage exploration project. And we acquired the Nevada project cheaply, in a safe advanced mining jurisdiction. But at that point in time, we weren’t really looking to make lithium our main focus.

Over the last 6 months we’ve had significant success at Kangaroo Hills and Nevada in the first rounds of drilling resulting in two lithium discoveries which we are now focused on further exploring and delivering maiden mineral resources on both.”

That first round of drilling in Nevada, the results for which were released in April, included a 109.7m hit at 766 parts per million (ppm) lithium from 135.6m, including 29m at 1,010ppm lithium. As Cox noted, such an intercept puts the Nevada Lithium Project in the same ballpark as two of its much-lauded neighbours — American Battery Technology Company’s (OTCMKTS:ABML) Tonopah Flats and American Lithium’s (TSXV:LI) TLC projects.

Since then, the company has completed a phase two drilling program, with the results — measuring up to 179.8m at 766ppm lithium from 39.6m, including 19.8m at 1,010ppm lithium from 80.8m — confirming the ‘significant scale’ of the lithium mineralisation at the Lone Mountain prospect.

The results validate the significance of the initial discovery and highlight a mineralised footprint currently spanning 3km by 1.3km, with a further 2km of prospective strike open to the south. Future Battery Minerals is now targeting a maiden mineral resource estimate in the first quarter of 2024.

“The assay results from the second round of drilling confirm the outstanding thick intercepts of lithium mineralised claystone, highlighting the significance of the discovery in Nevada. Importantly, the intercepts are shallowing to the south with mineralisation now identified at less than 40m down hole and up to 180m in down hole thickness,” Cox said in an announcement to the ASX at the start of August.

“The significance of the scale is highlighted by the current mineralised east-west strike of 3km and north-south strike of 1.3km, which still remains open to the south for a further 2km.”  

Building out the team

But Future Battery’s recent major developments go even further than exploration successes.

In June this year, the company appointed Paul Brown as Non-Executive Director. Having held senior positions at diversified mining giant Mineral Resources (ASX:MIN) — including CEO of both its Commodities and Lithium departments — Brown’s 20-plus years of experience have covered everything from operational management and technical leadership to resource evaluation and mine planning.

“Mr Brown holds a Masters in Mine Engineering (M.Eng) from Federation University in Victoria and possesses mechanical trade qualifications, further enhancing his technical knowledge and proficiency,” Future Battery said in an announcement at the time.

The appointment of Mr Brown as a Non-Executive Director brings valuable insights and a wealth of industry experience to FBM”

“The appointment of Mr Brown as a Non-Executive Director brings valuable insights and a wealth of industry experience to FBM. His strategic vision and extensive expertise will significantly contribute to the company’s growth and success.”

Tapping into the downstream playbook

Brown’s appointment is, among other things, a clear sign of Future Battery’s commitment to the lithium space.

The company’s aim over the next 6-9 months is to drill out the Big Red prospect at Kangaroo Hills, as well as the Lone Mountain prospect in Nevada. The company believes this is achievable by end of Q1 2024 which will then lead onto the companies next steps in the lithium market.

“In terms of the lithium, we are  looking at  our option to  have an integrated business model where it’s not just selling at the mine gate, but being part of the downstream value add processes,” he says.

The proposed strategy is perhaps one taken from the Mineral Resources playbook, which enjoyed a monumental earnings boost earlier this year after it began selling lithium hydroxide directly to battery manufacturers rather than shipping it from the mine to third-party processors.

Recent reporting by the Australian Financial Review suggests fellow lithium producer Pilbara Minerals (ASX:PLS) is contemplating a similar move, having engaged Macquarie Capital to hunt down a partner with which to build a $1 billion processing facility. The plant, which would convert spodumene to battery-ready lithium hydroxide, would be an addition to the company’s lithium processing joint venture with Korean behemoth POSCO (KRX:005490). 

Clearly, the downstream angle is one that’s brought lithium players a good deal of success already. And with that demonstrated record — plus a rather chasmic lithium production deficit — it might be reasonable to suggest that that success is merely the tip of the iceberg. 

There are, of course, a tremendous quantity of variables. But the companies best placed to ride the wave to multi-billion-dollar market capitalisations will be the ones with the right projects, the right expertise, a sound strategy, and an appropriate measure of ambition. Future Battery Minerals certainly appears to tick those boxes, but the question remains — can it deliver? And to what extent?

Write to Oliver Gray at Mining.com.au

Images: Future Battery Minerals Ltd
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Written By Oliver Gray
Originally from Perth, Oliver has a keen interest long-form journalism. He has written for a number of publications and was most recently Contributing Editor of The Market Herald’s opinion section, Art of the Essay.