i-80 Gold has potential JV partner to advance base metals development at Ruby Hill

There is an active heap leach at the Ruby Hill gold-silver mine in Nevada. Credit: i-80 Gold

Nevada-focused i-80 Gold (TSX: IAU) (NYSE: IAUX) is close to securing a partner to help unlock the base metals potential of its Ruby Hill property located in the Eureka district, which is expected to be its largest mining operation on an all‑metal basis.

On Tuesday, i-80 announced that it has signed a non-binding agreement with an arm’s-length third party for a potential joint venture, under which the prospective partner will acquire a minority interest in the Ruby Hill property.

The Ruby Hill property represents one of the company’s primary assets since its spinout from Premier Gold Mines in 2021. In addition to gold and silver, it is host to multiple polymetallic (base metal) deposits that, according to i-80, collectively represent one of the largest development-stage projects in the state.

The gold miner is currently advancing permitting for an underground mine to be constructed from the current pit at Ruby Hill, and the precious metals mineralization is expected to be trucked to its Lone Tree complex for processing.

Per the terms of the agreement, this potential partner will have an exclusivity period of 120 days, with a 60-day extension option, to complete metallurgical due diligence and negotiate definitive documents. During the exclusivity period, i-80 will complete a drill campaign funded by the potential partner to accelerate knowledge of the metallurgical properties of the multiple polymetallic base metal deposits at Ruby Hill.

The plan, as noted by i-80, is to process the polymetallic mineralization on-site at the existing Ruby Hill plant. The company is currently completing additional work regarding a possible retrofit of the existing Ruby Hill processing plant to a floatation plant that would recover both base and precious metals.

“Given the company’s extensive growth plan, which includes the development of multiple mining operations, securing an accretive partner to advance base metals in addition to gold mineralization has been a priority in recent months,” Matthew Gollat, executive vice-president of i-80 said in a news release.

“Upon closing, and the signing of definitive documentation, we expect to be in a position to immediately pursue underground development at Ruby Hill and advance to full feasibility on an expedited basis with a plan that will include the conversion of the Ruby Hill processing facility to floatation for base metal production and accelerate our ultimate goal of building a mid-tier Nevada-focused producer.”

Base metals exploration

i-80 highlighted four main initiatives that started at the Ruby Hill property in 2023, including a large-scale exploration drilling program, initial economic work for the planned Ruby Deeps underground gold mine, permitting to allow for the commencement of underground development, and metallurgical work to better define the expected recoveries of gold and polymetallic base metal mineralization for mining and processing planning.

The drilling focused on expanding mineralization in the primary known zones as well as testing several new exploration targets on the Ruby Hill property. New discoveries were made in the early part of the 2023 with Carlin-type (gold) and CRD (polymetallic) mineralization intersected in several new target areas located in close proximity to the underground infrastructure being planned for the project.

“I believe that the results of our multi-year exploration program have demonstrated that the polymetallic deposits at Ruby Hill are some of the highest-grade deposits of this type anywhere in the world,” said Ewan Downie, CEO of i-80 Gold. “The fact that these deposits occur on a permitted mine site in one of the world’s safest mining jurisdictions we believe only makes Ruby Hill more attractive.”

During the remainder of the year, the company said it will focus on continued metallurgical and exploration drilling, as well as the compiling of drill data to be incorporated into an inaugural polymetallic mineral resource, expected to be completed during the first half of 2024.

Shares of i-80 Gold gained 4.1% by 12:30 p.m. EDT on the announcement. The company’s market capitalization stood at approximately C$570 million ($414m).