Modern Mining: Featured News

Robert Friedland, Executive Chairman of TSX-listed Ivanhoe Mines, and Lars-Eric Johansson, Chief Executive Officer, have jointly announced that negotiations are underway with government agencies – Gécamines, the state-owned miner and Ivanhoe’s partner at Kipushi, and SNCC, the DRC’s national railway company – and potential project financiers to advance agreements to launch a new era of commercial production at the upgraded Kipushi mine in the DRC.

The Kipushi zinc-copper-silver-germanium mine is owned by Kipushi Corporation (KICO), a joint venture between Ivanhoe Mines (68 %) and Gécamines (32 %). Kipushi is on the Central African Copperbelt in the province of Haut-Katanga, approximately 30 km south-west of the provincial capital of Lubumbashi and less than 1 km from the international border with Zambia.

New era of production draws closer at KipushiInspection of a new underground scoop tram loader at Kipushi (photo: Ivanhoe).

Built and then operated by Union Minière for 42 years, Kipushi began mining a reported 18 % copper from a surface open pit in 1924. It was the world’s richest copper mine at the time. Then it transitioned to become Africa’s richest underground copper, zinc and germanium mine. State-owned Gécamines gained control of Kipushi in 1967 and operated the mine until 1993.

Over a span of 69 years, Kipushi produced a total of 6,6 Mt of zinc and 4,0 Mt of copper from 60 Mt of ore grading 11 % zinc and approximately 7 % copper. It also produced 278 tonnes of germanium and 12 673 tonnes of lead between 1956 and 1978. There is no formal record of the production of precious metals as the concentrate was shipped to Belgium and the recovery of precious metals remained undisclosed during the colonial era; however, drilling by Ivanhoe Mines has encountered significant silver values within Kipushi’s current zinc- and copper-rich deposits.

Most of Kipushi’s historical production was from the Fault Zone, a steeply-dipping orebody rich in copper and zinc that initially was mined as an open pit. The Fault Zone extends to a depth of at least 1 800 m below surface, along the intersection of a fault in carbonaceous dolomites.

The founding era of mining at Kipushi ended in 1993, when it was placed on care and maintenance due to a combination of economic and political factors.

Before Kipushi was idled, Gécamines discovered the Big Zinc deposit at a depth of approximately 1 250 m below surface and adjacent to the producing Fault Zone. The Big Zinc’s mineral resources have never been mined. Ivanhoe’s drilling has upgraded and expanded the Big Zinc deposit’s measured and indicated mineral resources to an estimated 10,2 Mt grading 34,9 % zinc, 0,65 % copper, 19 g/t silver and 51 g/t germanium, at a 7 % zinc cut-off, containing an estimated 7,8 billion pounds of zinc.

Now, the planned restoration of production at Kipushi is based on initial mining that will be focused on the Big Zinc deposit.

According to Ivanhoe, excellent progress has been made by KICO in modernising the Kipushi mine’s underground infrastructure as part of preparations for the mine to resume commercial production. With the underground upgrading programme nearing completion, KICO’s focus now will shift to modernising and upgrading Kipushi’s surface infrastructure to handle and process Kipushi’s high-grade zinc and copper resources.

The current mine redevelopment plan, as outlined in the May 2016 independent, preliminary economic assessment (PEA), has a two-year construction period with quick ramp-up to a projected, steady-state, annual production of 530 000 tonnes of zinc concentrate.

A pre-feasibility study (PFS) is underway to refine the findings of the PEA and to optimise the mine’s redevelopment schedule, life-of-mine operating costs and initial capital costs required to return the mine to production, taking into consideration the significant capital already invested to date on critical rehabilitation work. Ivanhoe expects to complete the PFS before the end of this year.

“The KICO team, which includes more than 390 Congolese nationals, has done a fantastic job in safely upgrading the mine’s underground infrastructure in anticipation of restarting production,” said Friedland.

“Given the extremely high zinc grades at Kipushi, the mine has the potential to become one of the world’s largest and lowest-cost zinc producers, while also producing significant quantities of copper, silver and germanium. With the current, long-term, bullish market sentiment for zinc, we look forward to working with our partner, Gécamines, prospective project financiers and our team at Kipushi to fast-track completion of the remaining development at the mine. “

The PFS will focus on the mining of the Big Zinc deposit, whose exceptional grade is more than twice as high as the measured and indicated mineral resources of the world’s next-highest-grade, major zinc project, according to Wood Mackenzie, a leading international industry research and consulting group.

In addition to the Big Zinc deposit, Kipushi has several copper-rich zones that also contain silver, germanium and zinc. Measured and indicated mineral resources contained in the copper-rich Série Récurrente Zone, Fault Zone, and Fault Zone Splay total 1,63 Mt at grades of 4,01 % copper, 2,87 % zinc and 22 g/t silver, at a 1,5 % copper cut-off, containing 144 million pounds of copper.

The main production shaft for the Kipushi mine, Shaft 5, has been upgraded and re-commissioned. The main personnel and material winder has been upgraded and modernised to meet global industry standards and safety criteria. The Shaft 5 rock-hoisting winder, which had an annual hoisting capacity of 1,8 Mt, is being upgraded and is expected to be fully operational early next year.

Underground upgrading work is continuing on the crusher and the rock load-out facilities at the bottom of Shaft 5 and the main haulage way on the 1 150 metre level between the Big Zinc access decline and Shaft 5. This work is expected to be completed before the end of the first quarter of 2018.

The planned primary mining method for the Big Zinc deposit in the PEA and PFS is sublevel long hole, open stoping, with cemented backfill. The crown pillars are expected to be mined once adjacent stopes are backfilled using a pillar-retreat mining method.

The deposit is expected to be accessed via the existing decline and without any significant new development. The main levels are planned to be at 60-m vertical intervals, with sublevels at 30-m intervals.

Based on recent, additional metallurgical test work and trade-off studies, Ivanhoe has revised the planned process-plant design for the PFS. The optimised plant utilises dense media separation (DMS), followed by milling and a flotation recovery plant. The addition of milling and a flotation recovery plant improved the combination of concentrate grades and recoveries from what the recent metallurgical test work determined was achievable from a DMS plant only.

Ivanhoe has initiated a new cooperation agreement with SNCC to rehabilitate the inactive spur line that connects the Kipushi mine to the Congolese national railway and to the overall north-south rail corridor that links the DRC Copperbelt to Durban in South Africa.

“Ivanhoe and SNCC are negotiating details of an infrastructure financing agreement for the railway rehabilitation works and the terms of operation for the spur line,” said Johansson. “This cooperation on public infrastructure projects mirrors Ivanhoe Mines’ successful, ongoing partnership with the DRC’s state-owned power company, La Société Nationale d’Electricité, for the rehabilitation of three hydropower plants.” 

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