(Left to Right) Mark Farren, Kamoa Copper’s CEO; Steve Amos, Kamoa Copper’s head of projects; and Wimpie Steyn, risk control manager, hold some of Kamoa Copper’s first copper concentrate. (Photo: Ivanhoe Mines)

Copper concentrate production started at Kamoa Copper’s Kamoa-Kakula mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at the Phase 1, 3.8-million-metric-ton (mt) concentrator. On May 20, the first ore was fed into the mill in order to undertake preliminary “hot” commissioning tests on the mills and other equipment. Shortly after the mill startup, the first mill feed grade reached between 4% to 6% percent copper.

The mine is expected to ramp up to 7.6 million mt/y in the third quarter of 2022. The Kamoa-Kakula mine is expected to be the world’s highest-grade large copper mine. The project is a joint venture between Ivanhoe Mines (39.6%), Zijin Mining Group (39.6%), Crystal River Global Ltd. (0.8%) and the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (20%).

His Excellency Félix Tshisekedi, president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said, “The start of production of copper concentrate at the Kamoa-Kakula mine indicates that the DRC is open for business and investment. We congratulate Ivanhoe Mines for having reached this milestone on this world-class discovery.”

Phase 1 is planned to generate 200,000 mt of copper per year, while Phases 1 and 2 combined are expected to generate 400,000 mt of copper per year. The second 3.8-million-mt/y concentrator plant is making good progress, with the present focus being on earthworks and civil works, which are running ahead of schedule, according to the company.

“This is a historic moment for Ivanhoe Mines and the DRC,” Ivanhoe Mines Co-Chair Robert Friedland said. “Discovering and delivering a copper province of this scale, grade and outstanding ESG credentials, ahead of schedule and on budget, is a unicorn in the copper mining business. This accomplishment reflects the outstanding cooperation of thousands of individuals, and all of our joint-venture partners at Kamoa-Kakula.”

Exploration at the project began more than 20 years ago, but the Kakula deposit was disovered a little more than five years ago, which is “remarkable progress by the mining industry’s glacial standards,” Friedland said.

Ivanhoe’s guidance for contained copper in concentrate expected to be produced by the Kamoa-Kakula Project for the balance of 2021 assumes a ramp-up from first production in line with published technical disclosures, and includes contained copper in concentrate of 80,000 to 95,000 mt.

The company plans to provide an update on Phase 1 copper concentrate off-take arrangements in the near term.

In April, the Kakula Mine mined 357,000 mt of ore grading 5.70% copper, including 121,000 mt grading 8.4% copper from the mine’s high-grade center. The company will update May’s production in early June, and will continue with its practice of monthly progress updates.

Given the current copper price environment, Ivanhoe and its partner Zijin are exploring the acceleration of the Kamoa-Kakula Phase 3 concentrator expansion from 7.6 million mt/y 11.4 million mt/y, which may be fed from expanded mining operations at Kansoko, or new mining areas at Kamoa North (including the Bonanza Zone) and Kakula West.