All the copper from giant new Congo mine destined for China

Trucks transporting bulk copper concentrate from the Kamoa-Kakula to the Lualaba smelter via by-pass road connecting the mine to Kolwezi. (Image courtesy of Ivanhoe Mines.)

Canada’s Ivanhoe Mines (TSX: IVN) has inked deals with China’s Zijin Mining’s subsidiary and trader Citic Metal to sell each 50% of the copper production from the recently-launched first phase of its Kamoa-Kakula mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The copper concentrate and blister copper off-take agreements will see wholly-owned Zijin unit Gold Mountains (H.K.) International Mining Co Ltd and Citic Metal split the initial offtake from Kakula, Ivanhoe’s first of the two mines at the concession.

Ivanhoe said it won’t have any issues holding its end of the bargain as the DRC government has fully authorized it to export blister copper and concentrate to international markets.

Ivanhoe said the DRC government had fully authorized the company to export blister copper and concentrate to international markets

The permit came as Ivanhoe inked a 10-year agreement with the Lualaba Copper Smelter, located outside the town of Kolwezi, for the processing of a portion of Kamoa’s copper concentrate production.

The miner delivered its first copper concentrates to Lualaba on June 1, and will receive first blister copper ingots within 30 days of delivery, it said.

Congo, the world’s no.1 cobalt producer and Africa’s biggest copper miner, reinstated a ban on exports of concentrates last month to encourage miners to process and refine the ore locally.

It said at the time it would grant exceptions on a case-by-case basis following an application by an interested party.

Ivanhoe said buyers will be responsible for arranging freight and shipment of the copper to its final destination, initially via the port of Durban, South Africa.

Citic Metal and the Zijin unit will each provide an advance payment of up to $150 million, which can be drawn on by Kamoa Copper from June 10 this year until May 31, 2023.

“The facility will bear an annual interest rate of 8% and will be offset against provisional payments due to Kamoa Copper from product deliveries,” the miner said.

Ivanhoe anticipates Kamoa-Kakula’s first-phase output to be about 200,000 tonnes of copper per year.

World’s no.2, and the greenest

Operations at Kamoa-Kakula are set to ramp up this year to reach between 80,000 and 95,000 tonnes of copper in concentrate. After several phases of expansion, the mine’s peak annual copper production will be more than 800,000 tonnes.

Ivanhoe’s co-chairperson Robert Friedland believes the project will become the world’s second-largest copper mine and also the one with the highest grades among major operations. The concentrator is slated to produce concentrate grading around 57% copper.

“If we came from Mars and we were sent in our flying saucer to orbit the Earth to find copper, we would definitely go to Katanga in the southern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the richest place on the planet for copper,” Friedland said in a Bloomberg interview on Tuesday.

See how Kamoa-Kakula fares among the world’s top 10 biggest copper mines:

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Ivanhoe has also vowed to produce the industry’s “greenest” copper, as it works to become the first net-zero operational carbon emitter among the world’s top-tier copper producers. Friedland has not set a target date for achieving that goal.

Kamoa-Kakula is a strategic partnership between Ivanhoe Mines (39.6%), Zijin Mining Group (39.6%), Crystal River Global Limited (0.8%) and the DRC government (20%).

The Lualaba smelter, which began operations in early 2020, is 60%-owned by Beijing-based China Nonferrous Metal Mining Group (CNMC). Yunnan Copper, based in Kunming, China, owns the remaining 40%.