First Quantum Minerals announced three decisions in late November and early December 2009 that, combined, greatly expand the company’s geographic scope while adding nickel to its product mix, which until now has consisted primarily of copper and gold produced in Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mauritania in Africa. On December 8, First Quantum announced that it had entered into a binding agreement to acquire BHP Billiton’s currently shuttered Ravensthorpe nickel-cobalt operation in Western Australia for $340 million. Eight days earlier, on November 30, First Quantum reported that it is proceeding with development of its Kevitsa nickel-copper project in Finnish Lapland at a cost of about $400 million. And, on November 23, First Quantum said it had entered into an agreement to acquire Kiwara plc, which holds a promising exploration license in northwest Zambia, for about $260 million.
At Ravensthorpe, where BHP Billiton suspended operations indefinitely in January 2009 due to low nickel prices, First Quantum believes that it can restart production “within a realistic timeframe.” Ravensthorpe is an open-cut laterite mine and hydrometallurgical plant that produces a mixed nickel-cobalt hydroxide intermediate product. First Quantum expects the project to produce an average of about 39,000 mt/y of contained nickel during the first five years following restart of production and an average of about 28,000 mt/y of contained nickel over the full mine life of 32 years.
At Kevitsa, First Quantum will develop an open-pit nickel-copper project 142 km north of Rovaniemi, the capital of Finnish Lapland. The project is based on estimated reserves of 107 million mt, grading 0.272% nickel in sulphides and 0.418% copper, plus recoverable platinum group metals and gold. Commercial production is being targeted for mid-2012 at a mining rate of 5 million mt/y. Mine life is estimated at 20 years.
The Kevitsa concentrator will produce two concentrates, a nickel concentrate grading approximately 12% nickel, which will contain the majority of the platinum group metals, and a copper-gold concentrate grading 28% copper. Off-take arrangements for the separate treatment of both concentrates will target international as well as local smelters.
In Zambia’s North-Western Province, First Quantum’s acquisition of Kiwara brings with it a controlling interest in a prospecting license that covers an area of 2,850 km2 on the periphery of the Kabombo Dome. The license area includes three drill-investigated deposits: the Kalumbila copper-nickel-cobalt deposit, the Kawanga uranium deposit, and the Kawako nickel deposit. At Kalumbila, a study by Snowden Mining Industry Consultants has identified a potential open-pit area containing an estimated resource of 340 million mt, grading 0.78% copper at a 0.55% copper cutoff.