Chile’s state-owned Codelco, the world’s no.1 copper producer, has kicked off commercial production from the $759 million phase one expansion project at El Teniente mine, 15 months ahead of schedule.
With ore reserves estimated at 157 million tonnes and a copper grade of 0.75%, the new section — called Recursos Norte — is expected to contribute about 20% of the ore fed daily to El Teniente processing facilities.
The next steps toward extending the life of the mine will be the Diamante and Andesita projects, both of which are already under construction, and the future Andes Norte project.
Once the full expansion is completed, set for 2023, El Teniente mine’s production is estimated to reach 500,000 tonnes of copper a year, positioning it among the world’s five largest copper operations.
Codelco has also begun building a new 3.5 km access tunnel, which will cost the company $49 million. Once operational, slated for 2022, it will be the main access to the mine and key to El Teniente’s future centralized maintenance.
The overall $3.4 billion-expansion project, which is expected to extend its productive life by 50 years, is part of an ambitious, 10-year, $39 billion investment drive at Codelco to open new projects and overhaul older mines.
El Teniente, located 80km south of Santiago in the Andes mountain range in Chile, already is the world’s biggest underground copper mine and the sixth largest by reserve size.
Codelco holds vast copper deposits, accounting for 10% of the world’s known proven and probable reserves and about 11% of the global annual copper output with 1.8 million tonnes of production.