S&P Global Market Intelligence research highlights that budgets for nonferrous metals exploration projects increased by 19% to US$10.1 billion this year.
The appetite for electric vehicles has particularly lured explorers, with cobalt and lithium exploration projects holding appeal among those looking to make precious or base metal, diamond, uranium or industrial mineral discoveries.
Iron ore, aluminium, coal, and oil & gas exploration was excluded from the research which sets its focus on nonferrous metals efforts.
Junior explorers tipped an extra 35% into their budgets as the number of companies on the hunt went up for the first time since the last major contraction, in 2012.
Active exploration companies now number 1,651, an 8% gain.
READ: Technology and Low Emission Minerals Conference hears WA ready to leverage battery power revolution
Canada, Australia and the US hold notable appeal, with exploration in the tier 1 jurisdictions recording increases at higher levels than typically seen.
S&P said its data “confirms that the industry recovery, which began in late 2016, is continuing at an accelerated pace.
“Global nonferrous exploration budgets increased for the second consecutive year, rising 19% year-over-year to US$10.1 billion from US$8.5 billion in 2017.”
S&P metals and mining research associate director Mark Ferguson said: “Improved metals prices and margins since 2016 have encouraged producers to expand their organic efforts the past two years.
“Over the same period, equity market support for the junior explorers has improved, leading to an uptick in the number and size of completed financings, according to the new CES report.
“This allowed the group to increase exploration budgets by 35% in 2018."
The research, published in the Corporate Exploration Strategies series (CES), showed nonferrous exploration budgets had increased for the second consecutive year, up 19% year-over-year across the world.
Estimated global nonferrous exploration budgets, 1996-2018
Battery minerals attract dollars, gold still gains
S&P’s research highlighted battery metals exploration budgets, including for cobalt and lithium, had risen a collective 500% since 2015, including 82% this year.
S&P put the rises in context, reporting “these allocations remain relatively small when compared with planned exploration allocations for traditional base and precious metals-focused efforts”.
READ: Vanadium critical for renewable energy storage, hears Technology and Low Emission Minerals Conference
Besides uranium, which had a decline, budgets were up for all targets including gold and base metals such as copper and zinc.
Gold budgets increased US$810,000, or 20%, to $4.86 million, reflecting US$100 an ounce gold price band, while base metals allocations increased US$600 million, or 0.19%, to $3.04 billion.
Among these, copper attracted the largest share of budgets but zinc budgets increased the most - by 37%.
Canada holds top appeal
Canada attracted the most cash again this year, with a US$1.44 billion nonferrous exploration budget, which was a 31% year-over-year increase in allocations.
Second-placed Australia chased Canada’s heels, attracting an extra 23% for a US$1.33 billion budget figure.
In both tier 1 countries, gold budgets made up 55% of the total sum.
Number three, the US, attracted 34% higher budgets in 2018.
The top three countries — Australia and the US — each experienced above-average increases.
Four of the top 10 destinations were in Latin America, with Peru, Mexico and Chile taking fourth to sixth place.