Despite some Covid-19 setbacks, the development of the 3.65-million-tonnes-a-year Khoemacau copper/silver project, in north-west Botswana, is progressing well, Khoemacau Copper Mining CEO Johan Ferreira tells Mining Weekly.
In the first quarter of 2020, fourteen months after the launch of the Starter Project construction, underground development began at the site. Key surface infrastructure was completed and had to be in place to enable the mining to start. The Zone 5 mine, with an expected operating life of 20 or more years, has seen the simultaneous development of three underground mines by mining contractor Barminco.
“We have since completed more than 8500 m of underground development. Our first ore was mined in October and is stockpiled on our run-of-mine pad at Zone 5,” Ferreira says.
He adds that all remaining supporting infrastructure for mining has continued to be developed and that Khoemacau Copper Mining expects it to be progressively handed over to operations throughout the first quarter of this year.
The mining project also includes the upgrading of an existing processing facility at Boseto . The plant is being upgraded from its current three-million-tonne-a-year nameplate capacity to 3.65-million tonnes a year to treat the Zone 5 ore.
The plant, once upgraded, will produce between 155 000 t and 165 000 t of high-grade, 40% copper concentrate a year, containing about 60 000 t to 65 000 t of payable copper and 1.9-million ounces of payable silver. The Zone 5 orebody boasts a 92-million-tonne resource at an in situ grade of 2.11% copper and 21.8 g/t silver.
“The most significant impacts of Covid-19 were a direct result of regional lockdowns, disrupting contractors’ access to the site, and slowing work on the Boseto process plant,” Ferreira explains.
He adds that these impacts will lead to a modest delay in the completion of the refurbishment and upgrade of the plant.
“Ultimately, the project’s ramp-up schedule will be driven by ore production from the new Zone 5 underground mines, the development of which remains on track despite the interruption from the pandemic.”
Remaining work on the Boseto processing plant includes volumetric and metallurgical upgrade and refurbishment, which Ferreira expects will be completed in the second quarter of this year.
Meanwhile, Khoemacau Copper Mining is also pursuing exploration at the Mango, Zeta North East and Zone 5 North targets, which are expected to offer about 74-million tonnes at more than 2.4% copper equivalent resources.
The expansion project studies are targeting an increased yearly output of the Khoemacau operations to about 130 000 t of copper and five-million ounces of silver in concentrate.
A range of additional targets, from early ore-grade discovery drill holes to geophysical and geochemical anomalies, are being explored to feed Khoemacau’s project pipeline.
Ferreira says the company continued pursuing its growth strategy through exploration drilling and studies on its Mango, Zeta North East and Zone 5 North resources throughout last year.
“Our exploration work last year has furthered our understanding of these resources and the studies have increased our confidence in the value propositions these orebodies have for our growth portfolio,” he says.
Ongoing travel restrictions remain a challenge for the project, but are being managed.
“We have started mining ore and stockpiling. The stockpile to be built ahead of the plant commissioning, together with a continuous supply of ore from the mine, will allow for continuity of ore supply to the plant to match the ramp-up profile planned for the second half of the year, and will ensure safe, reliable and sustainable production,” Ferreira states.
The team will attend the Investing in African Mining virtual conference on February 2 and 3, as it is regarded as a key value-adding occasion.
“We hope to get an indication from the industry and our peers on how they see the market conditions faring after the Covid-19 pandemic,” Ferreira concludes.