Ivanhoe Mines (TSX: IVN) announced on Monday it is accelerating the construction and commissioning progress at the Phase 1 Kamoa-Kakula concentrator plant in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The target date for C4 commissioning (milling of ore and first copper concentrate production) has been advanced to the end of May or early June — several months ahead of schedule.
Overall construction of the Kamoa-Kakula project’s first phase 3.8-Mtpa concentrator plant is essentially complete (98%), the company says, with the majority of the C1 (construction complete) certificates signed off.
The plant is energized with permanent power and C2 commissioning, which involves electrical, control and instrumentation checks, all well advanced. Water is being circulated in certain areas of the plant, marking the beginning of C3 commissioning, Ivanhoe said.
C3 commissioning involves checking for leaks, certain instrument calibration, control loop checks, and is the precursor to C4 commissioning (hot commissioning), which involves processing ore through the plant to produce a copper concentrate.
Overall plant commissioning is running well ahead of schedule, with the first ore expected to be added to the mill by the end of May. Lower-grade ore will be fed into the plant during the C4 commissioning phase, to ensure plant performance and copper recovery are satisfactory before increasing the head grade.
The 409,000 tonnes mined in April comprised 357,000 tonnes grading 5.70% copper from the Kakula mine, including 121,000 tonnes grading 8.40% copper from the mine’s high-grade centre, and 51,000 tonnes grading 5.85% copper from the Kansoko mine.
The project’s pre-production surface stockpiles now contain approximately 3 million tonnes of high-grade and medium-grade ore at an estimated blended average of 4.74% copper. Kamoa-Kakula now has reached the 3-million-tonne target of mined high-grade and medium-grade ore, several months ahead of the timeline estimated in the 2020 pre-feasibility study.
Contained copper in the stockpiles increased by approximately 23,000 tonnes in April to a cumulative total of more than 140,000 tonnes.
Kamoa-Kakula also set another monthly mine development record in April, with advancement of more than 3,625 metres, bringing total underground development to approximately 42.2 kilometres — more than 15 kilometres ahead of schedule.
Drift-and-fill stoping operations are progressing well at the Kakula mine, with the majority of the ore production coming from stoping operations and the remainder coming from mine development activities.
The backfill plant, which will mix tailings from the processing plant with cement to produce paste backfill, will begin pumping backfill to the underground operations in July.
“The start of production at Kakula marks the beginning of a multi-generational copper mining district, consisting of numerous high-grade mines. We now turn our focus to scaling up this expansive copper region in a manner that is ethically and socially responsible, and setting a new global benchmark for the elimination of greenhouse gases in the production of copper that the world urgently needs,” Ivanhoe co-chair Robert Friedland said in Monday’s press release.
Kakula is projected to be the world’s highest-grade major copper mine, with an initial mining rate of 3.8 million tonnes per annum at an estimated average feed grade of more than 6.0% copper over the first five years of operations. Kakula is the first of multiple high-grade mining areas planned on the 400-square-kilometre Kamoa-Kakula mining licence.
The copper project is a joint venture between Ivanhoe (39.6%), Zijin Mining Group (39.6%), Crystal River Global Limited (0.8%) and the DRC government (20%).