Ivanhoe Mines has signed a new joint venture (JV) agreement with Gécamines, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s state-owned mining company, to restart the ultra-high-grade Kipushi zinc-copper-germanium-silver mine. Activities to restart Kipushi on the surface and underground are well underway with first production expected in Q2 2024. The signing of the new JV heralds the beginning of a new era of production for the Kipushi mine, which will resume operations 100 years after first opening in 1924 as the world’s richest copper mine.
“The relaunch of the Kipushi mine is a source of pride for all of Gécamines’ employees, the local communities of Kipushi town, the Haut-Katanga Province as well as our country as a whole,” Gécamines’ Chairman, Guy-Robert Lukama Nkunzi said. “The restart of operations of a mine as emblematic as Kipushi, after 30 years of inactivity, is a strong signal of the desire and commitment of Gécamines, and its partner Ivanhoe Mines, to contribute to the DRC’s economic development, in accordance with the vision outlined by His Excellency, the President of the Republic Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo. “
Gécamines will immediately increase its stake in KICO to 38%, then to 43% in 2027, strengthening its position in the joint venture.
“Together we will make Kipushi great again!” said Ivanhoe Mines’ Founder and Executive Co-Chairman, Robert Friedland. “Kipushi is an extraordinary mineral endowment, holding not only the world’s richest zinc orebody, but also significant quantities of copper, lead, silver, germanium and gallium. Kipushi is another great example of the unparalleled opportunities in the DRC for mineral development. There is no better place on our planet to build a mine.”
As announced on February 14, 2022, Gécamines, Kipushi Holding and Kipushi Corp. (KICO) signed a term sheet to return the Kipushi mine to commercial production. The agreement has now been fully executed and Kipushi Holding, a subsidiary of Ivanhoe Mines, transfers to Gécamines an additional 6% of the share capital and voting rights in KICO. As a result, Gécamines’ ownership in Kipushi Holding increases from 32% to 38%.
The new Kipushi concentrator is 79% complete and ahead of schedule for first production in Q2 2024. The 800,000-mt/y concentrator includes dense media separation, milling and a flotation circuit, and is expected to produce more than 250,000 mt/y of zinc over the first five years of production. Design recoveries are targeted at 96%, with a concentrate grade averaging 55% contained zinc. The project is 79% complete and is tracking ahead of schedule, with commissioning expected to take place in the second quarter.
Underground development ahead of schedule, with over 4,500 m of lateral and decline development completed since September 2022. Mining will focus on the zinc-rich Big Zinc and Southern Zinc zones, with an estimated 11.8 million mt of measured and indicated mineral resources grading 35.3% zinc.
Following the complete mobilization in Q4 2023 of the underground equipment fleet, as well as the development crews, the current underground development rate is approximately 400 m per month. The underground mining operation is fully mechanized, highly efficient and designed to enable a quick ramp-up to steady state. The underground mining team consists of four mining crews. Each mining crew is made up of five miners per shift and equipped with a primary fleet consisting of an Epiroc 282 Twin Boomer, a ST 14 Scooptram (LHD) and two MT42 dump trucks. In addition, Simba long-hole drill rigs have been deployed for stope production and have commenced long-hole drilling for stoping.
The mining method of the Big Zinc orebody is transverse sublevel open stoping, with high-grade ore extracted from the stopes in a primary and secondary sequence. The void of the mined-out stopes will be filled with cemented aggregate to maximize the extraction of the ultra-high-grade ore.
The height of each long-hole stope is approximately 60 m, comprising an upper 30-m-high stope and a lower 30-m-high stope. Stopes will be separated by a 15-m-high sill pillar. The long-hole stopes will be mined with a bottom-up mining sequence, with the lower stope extracted first followed by the upper stope.
Underground development is taking place concurrently on multiple access levels around the Big Zinc orebody. Perimeter and access drives are under development on the 1,335-metre and 1,365-metre levels, concurrently with the profiling of the stope drill and extraction drives into the Big Zinc orebody. In addition, stope extraction drives (used for accessing and extracting blasted ore from the stopes) and stope drill drives are being developed on the 1,260-metre, 1,290-metre and 1320-metre levels inside the Big Zinc orebody.
Stoping of Kipushi’s ultra-high-grade Big Zinc orebody commenced in December. Ore will be stockpiled on surface adjacent to the concentrator ahead of commissioning in the second quarter.