MELBOURNE, Sept 18 (Reuters) - China-backed miner MMG Ltd , looking to expand beyond copper, zinc and lead, has tied up with a tiny company to explore for nickel in the Fraser Range in Western Australia, where a major nickel deposit was found three years ago.
Interest in the Fraser Range was sparked in 2012 when Sirius Resources made a big nickel discovery, called Nova, which catapulted the company from a penny stock to a $1.4 billion takeover target this year.
MMG has agreed to spend up to A$14 million ($10 million) on exploration by 2021 to snare up to a 70 percent stake in the Plumridge nickel project, owned by Segue Resources.
Up to now, MMG's exploration has focused on acreage close to its copper mines in Laos and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The move into nickel exploration is part of MMG's strategy to become a top mid-tier base metals miner by 2020. That aim has so far been driven by its acquisitions of most of OZ Minerals , Anvil Mining and the $7 billion Las Bambas copper project in Peru, due to start producing in early 2016.
The company, backed by China Minmetals Corp and run from Australia, is focused on completing Las Bambas - which will be the world's third-largest copper mine - and expanding its existing assets before making any further acquisitions.
"We've got to deliver Las Bambas, then earn the right to continue to grow," said MMG spokeswoman Jo Lynch.
($1 = 1.3868 Australian dollars)
Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Tom Hogue