Canada-based Ivanhoe Mines has unveiled plans to raise its group exploration activities and budget for next year.

The company aims to increase the budget to around $90m (C$122.17m) in 2024, quadrupling the prior amount.

Its exploration activities are expected to focus mainly on the 2,654km² Western Foreland exploration project in the DRC.

This budget raise follows the company’s announcement last month of the Kitoko copper discovery, a high-grade discovery and the release of maiden mineral resource estimates for the Makoko and Kiala copper discoveries in the Western Forelands.

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The Kitoko discovery is reputed to host a globally significant copper mineralising system.

This is hosted in near flat-lying siltstone of lower Grand Conglomerate, similar to the geologic setting observed at the Kamoa, Kakula, Makoko and Kiala discoveries, which are also said to host high-grade, sedimentary copper.

However, the differentiating factor between the Kitoko discovery and others is that the Kitoko discovery exhibits two different characteristics. The mineralisation hosted within grand conglomerate directly overlays Kibaran basement rocks with no underlying Mwashia sandstones.

The company’s team previously perceived that sandstones are sedimentary aquifers that allow the circulation of oxidised copper-bearing basinal fluids, which precipitated copper when came into contact with overlaying pyrite-rich reduced sediments.

This discovery proves that copper mineralisation can occur in a great variety of underlying aquifer conditions and may not be limited to areas where Mwashia sandstones are present.

In addition, Kitoko mineralisation happens across at least two distinct, sedimentary horizons.

This has disrupted Ivanhoe Mines’ exploration model, significantly increasing the proportion of Western Foreland that is prospective of high-grade, sedimentary copper systems.

Thus, increasing the groupwide exploration budget will support a focus on activities around the Kitoko discovery as well as help test more new targets developed as per the company’s new geological insight.

The company is also in talks with several potential investors including major international companies and sovereign wealth funds about accelerating the development of the Western Foreland project.

Ivanhoe Mines founder and executive co-chairman Robert Friedland said: “Given the ongoing exploration success across the Western Foreland, highlighted by the recently announced high-grade Kitoko copper discovery and the release of the Makoko and Kiala maiden mineral resource estimates, we are really accelerating our exploration drilling into 2024.

“The goals of this expanded exploration effort will be threefold. Firstly, we will continue to expand the Kitoko copper discovery with additional drill rigs, thereby increasing our knowledge of its substantial exploration opportunities. Kitoko highlights the potential for high-grade copper mineralisation across a much greater area, and within a wider variety of geological conditions, than previously conceived by our geologic team who have decades of experience in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia.”

Last month, the company received greenfield prospecting rights in Angola and is set to start mining exploration activities. The grant covers 22,195km² in the provinces of Moxico and Cuando Cubango.