Phases of Mining

Learn about the mining lifecycle, key investment decisions at each stage, and how mines advance from resources to reserves

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  • Resources
  • Reserves
The Lassonde Curve: Mining Value Creation
phase 1

Exploration

Timeframe: 1-3 years

fund strategies: RCF opportunities, RCF innovation

Exploration begins once a mineralized region is targeted. The mineral exploration phase involves the search for and discovery of mineral deposits through prospecting and advanced exploration activities. Geologists look for mineral deposits over wide areas using geological mapping, remote sensing, and geochemical and geophysical surveys. When areas of potential are found specialists drill and sample rocks (to test for and analyze the concentration/proportion of minerals or metals of interest). The exploration phase involves the most risk, but technical proficiency, responsible stakeholder engagement, and capital markets experience can help improve the odds of success.

Rafael Gradim | Manager, Geology, RCF Technical
"Exploration creates value where none was recognized before, it is where the value chain starts. Deep experience is needed to identify opportunity. Each discovery is unique, and explorationists need to be resilient and lateral thinkers to deal with uncertainty." – Rafael Gradim, Director, Geology, RCF Technical
There are several tools (like the drill rig seen above) and information that can yield directional results for positive outcomes. Osino Resources, a portfolio company within RCF Opportunities I, is an example of a company that had completed surface work and geological maps that indicated it had high potential for gold. The management team had previously had exploration success in Namibia which resulted in the development of a new mine. The technical work, combined with a strong management team, was key in the investment evaluation.
The Lassonde Curve: Mining Value Creation
phase 2

Discovery

Timeframe: Subset of Exploration

fund strategies: RCF opportunities, RCF innovation

Discovery is a moment in time when exploration yields success. A discovery happens when drilling intercepts potentially economic mineralization (at this early stage this is often established by benchmarking against similar but more advanced deposits). Discovery is followed by more advanced exploration to define the size, geometry, and grade of mineralization. These characteristics help determine the potential economics of a project, while understanding the type and origin of mineralization help drive additional exploration success. At this stage, exploration drilling to provide representative samples ramps up, while still supported by other techniques such as geochemical and geophysical surveys.

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"Mining involves multiple scientific disciplines. Geology. Metallurgy. Engineering. Environmental Sciences. Technical expertise and understanding is critical, particularly in the early stages of mining, to properly assess drilling results." – Kassandra del Greco, Senior Associate, RCF Opportunities
After Geologists have spent the time and effort to systematically collect layers of various types of data that vector toward a target area they look to drill and test their theories. A core box shown above from the Antler Copper Mine in Arizona demonstrates the positive results of drilling that yielded a high-grade copper mineralization and confirms a "discovery".
The Lassonde Curve: Mining Value Creation
phase 3

Resource Definition

Timeframe: 1-3 years

fund strategies: RCF opportunities, RCF innovation

After a discovery has occurred and there is evidence that a location may contain potentially mineable mineralization, the resource definition phase is meant to delineate and quantify the mineral deposit with greater accuracy. It aims to convert the "discovery" into a "resource". More detailed drilling and extensive sampling is completed along with advanced geostatistical modeling. This phase culminates with an estimate of tonnage and grade referred to as a resource statement or Mineral Resource which is used to make a go/no-go decision as to whether to advance to a Preliminary Economic Assessment (PEA), or scoping study.

Rafael Gradim | Manager, Geology, RCF Technical
"Resource definition helps separate an “interesting” discovery from a compelling, must-have asset from both a corporate and investment perspective. Investors who make an early, informed investment can be rewarded with premium valuations when mining corporations acquire the most promising assets before they are constructed." – Russ Cranswick, Partner, Head of Opportunities Fund
The resource definition phase is important as it determines whether a new discovery is small, low-grade, and isolated, or has far more attractive features like large lateral and depth extent, continuity and/or strong economic grades. The video above features a diamond drill rig in action from one of RCF's portfolio companies that is used during this and other early phases.
The Lassonde Curve: Mining Value Creation
phase 4

Scoping

Timeframe: 1-2 years | Accuracy: +/-50%

fund strategies: RCF opportunities, RCF innovation

Once a promising deposit has been explored, discovered, and a resource statement completed, the scoping phase evaluates the potential economic viability of the project. A Preliminary Economic Assessment (PEA) study, also called a scoping or order of magnitude study, uses basic data with minimal engineering involvement to estimate mine size, equipment, workforce, processing, and ESG requirements. Preliminary metallurgical testing is also conducted to ascertain potential recoveries of the targeted commodities. If the PEA is favorable, a Pre-feasibility Study is conducted to explore implementation options and evaluate economic potential with a greater level of certainty.

"The Scoping Study provides the earliest estimate of potential value on a project. While data will provide more accuracy over time, technical experience is critical to understand how the minerals were deposited." – Jani Kalla, Director, Geology, RCF Technical
Advanced imaging tools are employed in the Scoping phase to help determine a project’s economic viability before ore is excavated. These tools help complete the PEA. Arizona Sonoran Copper Company, discussed in the video* above, demonstrates some of these tools at work.
The Lassonde Curve: Mining Value Creation
phase 5

Pre-Feasibility

Timeframe: 1-3 years | Accuracy: +/-25%

fund strategies: RCF opportunities, RCF innovation

When the scoping phase results justify further investigation and investment, it is followed by the longer, costlier, and more detailed feasibility phase which begins with a pre-feasibility study (PFS). The PFS is conducted to assess engineering requirements, implementation options for extracting and processing minerals, and related capital and operating costs within 25% accuracy. It is a critical step towards identifying areas that require further investigation. This is the earliest that a Mineral Reserve can be defined and is an important step in the overall mining opportunity assessment. The next step is a feasibility study and these stages can overlap.

"Engineering is a core part of mine planning and execution. During the pre-feasibility stage, we evaluate the potential mining extraction methods to further estimate costs, value and efficiencies, while also planning for safety and minimized environmental impacts." – Alessandro Dotta, Director, Mining Engineering, RCF Technical
The video above, prepared and presented by Talon Metals, a portfolio company in RCF VI, is mining the Tamarack Project in Minnesota for Nickel, Copper, and Cobalt. The video above demonstrates many of the activities that are completed during a pre-feasibility study*.
The Lassonde Curve: Mining Value Creation
phase 6

Feasibility

Timeframe: 1-3 years | Accuracy: +/-15%

fund strategies: RCF private equity, RCF innovation

Once the PFS is completed and an economically viable option is found and selected, a Feasibility Study is conducted to provide a more comprehensive technical and economic evaluation of the project to within 10% accuracy. The study includes defined resources and reserves, extensive metallurgical testing (and pilot testing where necessary), and ESG considerations, and sets out the plans for the mine. If a decision is made to move forward, pre-construction begins. The team creates a detailed plan to construct a working mine and starts to hire contractors for front-end engineering and design (FEED). The permitting process also starts in this phase, or earlier, and can take years to complete.

"A positive Feasibility Study does not necessarily guarantee a successful project. Independent technical due diligence is required to establish whether the project can meet the desired outcomes. The metallurgical review will determine project complexity and extent to which new or novel technology has been adopted. This stage is critical for assessing risk and determining future funding decisions." – Simon Ford, Senior Director Metallurgy & Processing, RCF Technical
Orezone Gold is a portfolio company in RCF VII where RCF’s Technical Team helped to advance and publish a feasibility study to demonstrate expansion value and eventually move towards a first pour of gold shown above.
The Lassonde Curve: Mining Value Creation
phase 7

Financing

Timeframe: 3 months - 1 year

fund strategies: RCF Private Equity, RCF Innovation, RCF Private Credit

Once a feasibility study has been completed and released, which demonstrates the technical and economic viability of a mining project, the financing stage begins. Financing a mining project will involve numerous parties, including strategic partners, offtakers, streaming groups, equity and credit providers. Experienced mining investors will conduct extensive due diligence on all aspects of the project in order to validate the development plan set out in the feasibility study, and to examine all potential risks and opportunities of the project. There are a variety of funding solutions available to companies including, debt, equity and royalty and streamlined instruments.

"Companies consistently underestimate the complexity of financing a new mining project and the time required to successfully complete this phase of the development process. With the public equity markets and traditional credit providers having less appetite to finance mining projects than previously, it is important to engage with experienced mining investors." – David Halkyard, Partner, Head of Private Credit Strategy
Over the last 25 years Resource Capital Funds has financed more than 220 companies allowing them to advance their projects and create value for their investors and stakeholders. Resource Capital Funds has invested in companies and projects active in 50+ countries and across 30+ different underlying commodities. Our financing support, technical expertise, and patient capital has helped bring more than 25 mines into production.
The Lassonde Curve: Mining Value Creation
phase 8

Construction

Timeframe: 1-3 years

fund strategies: RCF private equity, RCF credit, RCF innovation

Once economic viability is established and financing is in place, detailed engineering and construction begins: building the infrastructure and facilities needed to extract, process, and transport mined minerals. If the site is in a remote location - which is not uncommon - the process typically starts with roadbuilding, which enables processing plants, worker housing, and equipment to be brought in. Just as important, a company must recruit and establish a strong management team with the right skillsets and hire a large workforce ready for operations. Significant planning and efforts are be made to minimize environmental and community impacts. As this phase ends, there's a commissioning process that involves testing equipment, water systems, and performance testing to transition from construction to operations, along with a training transfer from the construction to operations group.

"Many mining construction projects are delivered on-time and on-budget. However, achieving desired production levels requires the successful and early integration of a strong operations team who must transition the project to an efficient, operating mine. This transition must be carefully managed to ensure positive outcomes." – Jacqui Murray, Partner, Head of RCF VIII, RCF Private Equity

Construction of a new and technologically sophisticated mine has the potential to bring socioeconomic benefits to a region. RG Gold, a portfolio company in RCF VII, shown in the video above, has built a gold processing facility in Kazakhstan that RCF helped deliver on budget and on time. Learn more about RG Gold’s Grand Opening in 2022.

The Lassonde Curve: Mining Value Creation
phase 9

Operating

Timeframe: 10-27 years

fund strategies: RCF private equity, RCF credit, RCF innovation

Many years after ore has been discovered, the mine begins extracting and processing minerals - and generating revenue. Mine operations involve cycles of drilling, blasting, loading, and hauling ore to a processing plant where it is treated to extract minerals; waste material (tailings) are disposed of in designated areas. This phase starts with a ramping up process which can take several years of intensive effort, with new skillsets brought in to reflect the transition away from construction. Strong leadership and well-structured organizational processes are needed to bring the mine to the desired output level; at that point the focus shifts to steady-state operating performance and a focus on optimizing efficiency, removing bottlenecks, and for some minerals, building new markets. Further exploration efforts are made to identify replenishment for what has been extracted, or if possible, expand the reserve. The mine's operating life ends when the deposits are depleted, or it becomes uneconomical to continue.

"While mining certainly leverages innovative technology and follows controlled processes, the most important element to source effectively and engage on any project is people. Moving from exploration to mining operations requires a new set of talents and skills to build a commercially successful organization." – Calum Semple, Partner, Head of Technical, RCF Technical
Railveyor, a portfolio company within RCF Jolimont Innovation Fund II, designs and manufactures ingenious, fully autonomous, emissions- and battery-free material hauling systems for underground and surface mining use. It is an example of innovation used during mine operations to help increase efficiency and reduce environmental impact.
The Lassonde Curve: Mining Value Creation
phase 10

Closure

Timeframe: 1-5 years

fund strategies: RCF innovation

Although it may extend over decades, mining is a temporary use of land. Closure planning must be prioritized at an early stage of mine development to ensure an overall positive legacy. It is a fully integrated, dynamic, and iterative process that takes into account environmental, social, and economic considerations. Strategic closure planning and cost estimation is integrated into operational activities, based on defined principles, objectives, and a post-closure vision. The goal is to restore mined land back to a state that can support a range of post-mining uses, from biodiversity habitat to economic diversification.

"While ESG considerations are critical during mine closure, a comprehensive environmental, social, and governance plan is established early on the project to mitigate risk, and create ESG value for the long-term. We always begin with the end in mind." – Jessica Jones, Director, ESG, RCF Technical
Phibion, a portfolio company with RCF Jolimont Innovation Fund II, is addressing the problem of mine tailings by providing Accelerated Mechanical Consolidation to extract and recover water and reduce the capacity required in tailings dams. Phibion's tailings management solution is an example of innovation used during mine closure.

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Disclaimer

*The video is part of a group of case studies created to illustrate our investment process. It is presented here to illustrate several tools used in the scoping phase. Past performance is not indicative of future results. There can be no assurance that operations or processes described in the video will continue, and such processes may change, even materially. The actual investment process for any or all of RCF’s investments may differ materially from the process described in the video.

Certain information contained herein relating to any goals, targets, intentions, or expectations with respect to Environmental, Social and Governance (“ESG”) considerations is subject to change, and no assurance can be given that such goals, targets, intentions, or expectations will be met. There can be no assurance that RCF’s ESG policies and procedures as described herein will continue; such policies and procedures could change, even materially, or may not be applied to a particular investment. RCF is permitted to determine in its discretion that it is not feasible or practical to implement or complete certain of its ESG initiatives, policies, and procedures based on cost, timing, or other considerations.

Statements about ESG initiatives or practices related to portfolio companies do not apply in every instance and depend on factors including, but not limited to, the relevance or implementation status of an ESG initiative to or within the portfolio company; the nature and/or extent of investment in, ownership of or, control or influence exercised by RCF with respect to the portfolio company; and other factors as determined by investment teams, corporate groups, asset management teams, portfolio operations teams, companies, investments, and/or businesses on a case-by-case basis. ESG factors are only some of the many factors RCF considers in making an investment, and there is no guarantee that RCF will make investments in companies that create positive ESG impact or that consideration of ESG factors will enhance long term value and financial returns for limited partners.

To the extent RCF engages with portfolio companies on ESG-related practices and potential enhancements thereto, there is no guarantee that such engagements will improve the financial or ESG performance of the investment.  In addition, the act of selecting and evaluating material ESG factors is subjective by nature, and there is no guarantee that the criteria utilized or judgment exercised by RCF will reflect the beliefs or values, internal policies or preferred practices of investors, other asset managers or with market trends. 

Important Information 

This material is provided for educational purposes only and should not be construed as research. The information presented is not a complete analysis of the mining landscape.  

The opinions expressed may change as subsequent conditions vary. The information and opinions contained in this material are derived from proprietary and non-proprietary sources deemed by Resource Capital Funds and/or its affiliates (together, “RCF”) to be reliable. No representation is made that this information is accurate or complete. There is no guarantee that any forecasts made will come to pass. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader.   

None of the information constitutes a recommendation by RCF, or an offer to sell, or a solicitation of any offer to buy or sell any securities, product or service. The information is not intended to provide investment advice. RCF does not guarantee the suitability or potential value of any particular investment. The information contained herein may not be relied upon by you in evaluating the merits of any investment.  

Investing involves risk, including possible loss of principal.