First Quantum Minerals recently provided an update on the ramp-up progress of its new copper smelter in Zambia, which continues well ahead of expectations. Since the start of hot operations in mid-February, daily throughput of copper concentrate has steadily increased. The daily copper concentrate throughput currently averages 3,000 metric tons per day (mt/d) with periods in excess of its nameplate capacity (3,500 mt/d).

Feed to the smelter is currently comprised of a mixture of stockpiled and fresh concentrate from the Kansanshi mine and fresh concentrate from the new Sentinel mine. The benefits to Kansanshi are increasing as the ramp up progresses. Its concentrate inventory has been reduced to 29,600 mt of contained copper from 59,900 mt at the end of the first quarter of 2015. More than 180,000 mt of sulphuric acid have been produced by the smelter and used in the mine’s oxide and mixed circuits. The mine’s C1 cost of production has been lowered to between $1.36/lb to $1.25/lb from an average of $1.77/lb in the first quarter of 2015.

Training for the 600-person workforce is well advanced and, given the progress to date, commercial production is expected to be achieved in the third quarter of 2015 — ahead of the previous expectation of the first quarter 2016.

“We are very pleased with the performance of the smelter. The achievement of more than 100% of nameplate capacity, in just three months from startup, is unprecedented. It is a credit to the design and project teams and illustrates the strong capabilities of the operations management and staff,” said Philip Pascall, chairman and CEO, First Quantam. “The smelter’s value to our Kansanshi mine in particular is already very evident. For the first time in several years, the mine is able to operate without the constraints of limited availability and widely fluctuating sulphuric acid prices and the lack of smelter capacity in Zambia.

“At our new Sentinel mine, commercial production on the entire facility is expected in the third quarter 2015 following delivery of the full power requirement which is on track for August. This, together with the smelter will complete a significant phase in the expansion of our production capacity,” Pascall said.