Kamoa-Kakula confirmed as world’s lowest carbon-emitting major copper mine

3D visualization of the new Kamoa-Kakula Smelter site. Credit: Ivanhoe Mines

Ivanhoe Mines (TSX: IVN) said on Thursday that a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions assessment has established its Kamoa-Kakula copper complex, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as the market-leading major copper producer in terms of carbon footprint.

The assessment — carried out by independent consultants Skarn Associates of London, England, and WSP Group of Montreal, Canada — confirms that in 2022, Kamoa-Kakula produced among the lowest emissions per unit of copper out of any major copper mine in the world.

This, the Canadian miner says, is partially due to the incredibly high-grade orebodies at Kamoa-Kakula with ore milled at an average grade of 5.5%, roughly ten times higher than the estimated average copper head grade globally of 0.6%.

It is also a function of the DRC grid being among the world’s cleanest, with 99.5% of grid power generated from hydroelectricity, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

This includes investments in hydropower generation that Kamoa Copper has made in partnership with DRC state utility, such as the completed 78 MW Mwadingusha hydroelectric facility and the ongoing work at Turbine #5 of the Inga II dam.

Credit: Ivanhoe Mines

The report also highlighted the significant reduction in combined Scope 1, 2 and 3 GHG emissions intensity following the completion of the direct-to-blister copper smelter, which is part of Kamoa-Kakula’s ongoing Phase 3 expansion and is expected in the fourth quarter of 2024.

The smelter is projected to be one of the largest, single-line copper flash smelters in the world, and the largest in Africa. The smelter will have a nameplate production capacity of 500,000 tonnes per annum of 99+%-pure blister copper anodes.

The 100-hectare smelter complex is under construction adjacent to the operating Phase 1 and Phase 2 concentrator plants. The smelter has been designed to incorporate direct-to-blister technology supplied by Metso of Finland, and will meet the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) emissions standards.

According to the assessment, the smelter will have one of the world’s lowest Scope 1 and 2 GHG emission intensities with a projected carbon intensity of 0.36 CO2-e/t Cu. Out of the approximately 100 copper smelters analyzed globally, the smelter is estimated to rank fourth lowest in terms of GHG emissions, it says.

Also part of Phase 3 is the refurbishment of Turbine #5 at the Inga II hydroelectric facility, which Ivanhoe says is approximately 50% complete and is advancing on budget and on schedule. This will supply an additional 178 megawatts of clean hydroelectric power to the national grid, which is sufficient to meet the power requirements of the Phase 3 concentrator and smelter.

Low carbon intensity

On a Scope 1 and 2 basis (reported from ore to mine gate), Kamoa-Kakula’s GHG emissions intensity in 2022 was 0.16 equivalent tonnes of carbon dioxide per tonne of contained copper produced (CO2-e/t Cu), the study shows. This ranks Kamoa-Kakula almost at the bottom of the Scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions curve.

Including the partial Scope 3 emissions, Skarn Associates and WSP Group estimate that Kamoa-Kakula’s GHG emissions-intensity in 2022 was approximately 2.42 CO2-e/t Cu. Following the completion of the Phase 3 expansion and the smelter, the emissions intensity of Kamoa-Kakula, on a Scope 1, 2 and 3 basis, is estimated to almost halve to 1.31 CO2-e/t Cu, which ranks it within the bottom decile.

The significant reduction in GHG emissions, according to Ivanhoe, results from the improvement in Scope 3 emissions from the on-site smelter. This is partially due to the smelter being inherently lower in GHG emissions-intensity compared with typical smelters currently used.

The most significant impact is in terms of the transportation of a higher-grade copper anode instead of shipping copper concentrate, as the former has double the contained copper content.

To support the further reduction of downstream (Scope 3) GHG emissions, Ivanhoe says it is working with its offtake partners. This includes targeting low-emission copper refineries, where commercially feasible, as well as supporting lower carbon-intensive logistics routes.

Commitment to decarbonization

“We have said it before – there will absolutely be no energy transition to ‘net-zero’ without a transformational increase in the amount of primary copper produced by the mining industry,” Ivanhoe Mines’ executive co-chair Robert Friedland said in a statement.

“The achievements at Kamoa-Kakula demonstrate that mining can indeed be re-invented to sustainably provide the metal that we so desperately need, without compounding the problem of global warming,” Friedland said.

In line with the company’s proactive response to climate change, Ivanhoe has appointed advisory firm BDO to assist with the development of its long-term decarbonization strategy and net-zero roadmap.

Shares of Ivanhoe Mines were up by 3.3% by 12:30 p.m. EDT on the back of this news release. The Vancouver-based copper miner has a market capitalization of C$12.7 billion ($9.2bn).