Antofagasta plc announced the approval of the expansion of its subsidiary Minera Los Pelambres, which is 60% owned by Antofagasta and 40% owned by consortiums led by JX Nippon and Mitsubishi. The expansion will add an average of 60,000 metric tons (mt) of copper per year to the mine’s production over the first 15 years of operation.

“The expansion of our world-class Los Pelambres mine is an important step forward in the advancement of the group’s organic growth pipeline,” Ivan Arriagada, the CEO of Antofagasta plc, said. “The expansion project will add 60,000 mt a year of low-cost copper production at this long-life operation and will ensure that it remains a first-quartile producer for many years to come.”

The project includes $500 million for the construction of a desalination plant and water pipeline to benefit the existing operation in cases of prolonged or severe drought, and for a potential further phase of expansion, the company said.

Construction of this $1.3 billion project will start at the beginning of 2019 and first production is expected in the second half of 2021. Throughput at the plant will be increased from the current capacity of 175,000 mt of ore per day to an average of 190,000 mt of ore per day. The plant expansion includes an additional SAG mill, ball mill and the corresponding flotation circuit with 24 additional cells.

Annual copper production will increase from 40,000 mt in the first year at the expanded throughput to 70,000 mt toward the end of a 15-year period, as the hardness of the ore increases and the benefit of the higher milling capacity is fully realized.

A subsequent phase of expansion may follow, dependent on the receipt of the necessary environmental and regulatory approvals, the company said.