Large-scale copper and nickel development projects in Zambia are expected to consolidate the country’s status as Africa’s largest copper producer, and will increase sub-Saharan Africa’s copper production from 1.2-million tons in 2011 to 1.7-million tons by 2015.
This is according to consulting firm Frost & Sullivan mining industry analyst Wonder Nyanjowa, who says Zambia is currently “generating about $5-billion in copper exports a year and exports are likely to increase to between $8-billion and $10-billion by 2015”.
Nyanjowa says the Konkola Deep Mining Project (KDMP), owned and operated by Zambia-based copper miner Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), a subsidiary of diversified miner Vedanta Resources, is one of the ope- rations expected to increase the country’s copper production.
The KDMP aims to extend the life of the Konkola copper mine and increase its copper production from two-million tons to 7.5-million tons a year.
The project, which KCM claims is the deepest new shaft-sinking project in Africa, will access the orebody that lies beneath the existing mine, about 1 500 m below ground.
Further, Nyanjowa says, once the Sentinel copper project has been completed by Kalumbila Minerals, a subsidiary of base metals miner First Quantum Minerals, the operation will also significantly add to Zambia’s copper production.
Sentinel, which is part of Kalumbia’s Trident project, should be commercially ope- rational by 2014 and will have an estimated mine life of 12 years.
Activities at Sentinel will target sulphide ores, which will be processed on site to produce a 30% copper concentrate for transportation to smelters for extraction and refining.
First Quantum was awarded a large-scale mining licence that gives it the exclusive rights to carry out mining activities in the area of interest for a period of 25 years.
First Quantum reports that, based on an internally generated resource estimate, it expects to initially produce 150 000 t/y of copper concentrate that will ramp up to 300 000 t/y.
Rest of Africa
Nyanjowa sees potential growth in the African base metals industry stemming from the copper sector in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Kabanga nickel project, in Tanzania.
“After several years of civil unrest in the DRC, which has halted formal mining operations, the peace that currently prevails – coupled with the reintroduction of the country’s mining industry to direct foreign investment – will consolidate the country’s position as the second-largest producer of copper in Africa,” notes Nyanjowa.
He says the Kabanga nickel joint venture between Canada-based Xstrata Nickel and gold miner Barrick Gold will improve Tanzania’s ability to position itself as a significant producer of nickel in Africa.
Xstrata Nickel reports that Kabanga has an estimated resource of 58-million tons and is regarded as one of the best undeveloped greenfield nickel/sulphide deposits in the world.
Xstrata adds that, owing to the depth of the resource, Kabanga will be developed as an underground mine with an expected mine life of about 30 years.
The mine will use conventional underground mining and processing technology, and also export a nickel concentrate to international markets.
Creamer Media’s Research Channel Africa ‘Base Metals Report 2011’ says the Kabanga project has a total estimated measured and indicated resource of 37.2-million tons, grading at 2.63% nickel, and an inferred resource of 21-million tons, grading at 2.6% nickel.
Many significant challenges are being faced by the African base metals mining industry.
Issues such as inadequate smelting facilities, resource nationalism agitation, influential unions, high operating costs and environmental concerns, as well as unreliable railway networks, road networks and power supply, have proved challenging.
“In key base metals producing regions, the lack of new major discoveries, resource nationalism agitation and the long lead periods between the construction and commissioning of new mines are also challenges faced by the base metals industry,” Nyanjowa highlights.
Production and Consumption
The construction, transportation and industrial sectors are the major end-users of base metals, notes Nyanjowa.
Over the past decade, the demand for base metals has risen sharply owing to increased infrastructure spending by many governments globally, while base metals supply has been constrained by challenges such as aging mines.
Since 2000, China overtook the US as the largest consumer of base metals.
Nyanjowa points out that the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of developing countries like China and India are expected to continue driving the growth of the base metals industry for the foreseeable future, and they have the potential to boost the base metals production of key producing African countries.