Chile’s Codelco kicks off $3.5 billion copper mine expansion

Chilean state-own Codelco, the world's largest copper producer, began construction of the access tunnels to the new level of its El Teniente copper mine on Tuesday.  The expansion is part of a $3.5 billion project that will allow the company to extend the mine life for another 50 years.

The 108-year-old operation, located about 130 kilometers southeast of the country’s capital Santiago, is the largest underground mine in the world, with 2,400 kilometers of tunnels and a copper production that reached 400,297 tonnes last year.

The new mine level, located 300 meters deeper than the current one, will enter production phase in 2017, said the company in a statement (available only in Spanish).

The miner added that the expansion project of El Teniente includes the construction of a mining town and the essential infrastructure Codelco needs to access the new mineral reserves – about 2,020 million tonnes with an average grade of 0.86% and important molybdenum content.

Thanks to this project, El Teniente will produce about 430,000 tons of copper a year, said the division general manager, Octavio Araneda.

The expansion of this copper mine is only one of Codelco’s five major structural projects announced recently. Together, they will require an investment of $20 billion in the next four years, but will allow the Chilean mining company to remain the world's #1 copper producer, with a current production close to 1.6 million tons of fine copper per year.

Image: Construction at El Teniente, courtesy of Codelco (via Flickr)