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Copper 360's debut Rietberg mine takes a 220% mineral resource leap

Copper 360 CEO Jan Nelson interviewed by Mining Weekly's Martin Creamer. Video: Darlene Creamer.

13th September 2023

By: Martin Creamer

Creamer Media Editor

     

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JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – South Africa’s sole listed copper producer Copper 360 (AltX CPR) has announced a significant upgrade of its mineral resources at the company’s Rietberg mine in the Northern Cape.

The total resource of contained copper increased by 220%, from 25 275 t in 2022 to 81 200 t, with the maiden and indicated resource of 60 800 t of copper declared.

The total indicated and measured resource declared is immediately accessible on five levels with mining expected to commence in the fourth quarter of this year. The company’s modular flotation plant is also scheduled to commission at the same time. 

“We’ll soon be moving the resource into reserve, but if you look at the average value we expect to get from the copper, you're now looking at about R12-billion to R15-billion rands worth of copper in the ground, which is quite significant,” Copper 360 CEO Jan Nelson told Mining Weekly in a Zoom interview. (Also watch attached Creamer Media video.)

“If you relate Reitberg to water sports, we thought we were going to ride a jet ski but what we’ve found is an aircraft carrier. There's no doubt that we're going to have to resync our growth and we’ll definitely need more capital but we will do that mostly out of debt.

“We don't want to dilute our shareholders, but we are going to use more capital because it's one thing to ride a jet ski, it's another thing to steer an aircraft carrier,” said Nelson.

The resource is underpinned by closely spaced drillholes showing ore ready for mining on at least five levels that are open and accessible.

Mining Weekly: How far is Rietberg’s underground mine development from the copper mineralisation?

Nelson: We’re fortunate that there are five levels that go into the mine and all of those levels are open. We've accessed them. Many of those levels are actually almost on reef. You can break away on reef. The open ventilation is in order. The rock mechanics are in order, so when we start mining, it's just a question of breaking away on reef, and that's another major advantage of having this deposit with the predevelopment that is in place.

Copper 360 first announced drilling results at Rietberg in June 2023 with copper mineralisation of over 150 m wide by 200 m in length, with a down-dip strike of over 400 m and open to depth at in situ grades of between 2.5% and 3.5%. But the upgrade changes the growth outlook significantly.

Where one plant was contemplated, building another plant to potentially triple output now has to be worked on.

Multiple levels will have to be mined and much more copper produced than planned, which is good news for the Northern Cape, where there is potential to create more jobs in an area that is presently challenged by unemployment.

Beyond direct employment, the up- and downstream potential of economic development and concomitant employment opportunities that it will create is equally promising.

Mine development is planned to commence in the fourth quarter of this year and a flotation plant is scheduled to commission in November with expenditure forecast to be 8% under planned budget.

The experienced technical and operational team assembled is looking forward to starting the first pure copper mine production in the Northern Cape copper province in over 20 years.

The measured and indicated resource is being converted to reserve and the stating of a maiden resource for the Wheal Julia surface deposit is now expected in the next few weeks.

What role will Rietberg play in Copper 360’s overall 12-mine cluster mining plan?

Rietberg plays a central role and is the core asset. It's the first asset that we’re starting up but we've drilled Wheal Julia and we will be carrying a resource there soon and that is a surface deposit that's yielded fantastic results – 3% to 5% copper on surface, open to depth. We are looking to drill Koeëlkop, another deposit, and what’s nice about them is that they will potentially be openpit deposits and they will feed very nicely with the underground ore that comes from Rietberg, which will remain core, but the other deposits will feed in and it gives us a lot of mining flexibility. So, all in all, we’re very happy with where things stand at the moment

What are the advantages of Copper 360’s copper being shallow, predeveloped and also on surface?

I think people have forgotten about the copper district in the Northern Cape and I think this propels us to ramp up production to 20 000 t of copper and we can easily double that in the next two years as a result of the predevelopment of the orebodies and the shallow nature of the orebodies. All of these bodies sit within a 30 km radius of each other, which will feed into a central processing facility. The bottom line is that this is going to become a dominant copper district and we plan to be the dominant copper player in South Africa.

How is Copper 360 doing as a producer of A-grade copper cathode plate?

That's going very well. Production has ramped up very well despite some issues with loadshedding and generators. We've ramped up very well. We are busy with a major upgrade in the SXEW plant at the moment. When we ordered the mill for the concentrate plant, that we're currently building that'll go into production in November, we had a spare mill and that mill has got the capacity to mill about 40 t per hour where our current requirement is 20 t, so we’re installing that mill and that's going to double the production output in about two to three months from the SXEW, and we're very excited about that and there's also very good progress on that front.

What’s the latest on the single processing centre you’ll have for all 12 mines?

Currently we've got the SXEW that's producing and we are ramping that up. The first concentrate circuit that will take Rietberg’s ore is being built and that will go into production in November and the two plants are close to each other. Then we've already done the foundations to build Circuit B. The plan is that the moment that we finish the first circuit, that will be about 30 000 t from Rietberg, we'll build a second circuit and that'll add another 50 000 t. The nice thing is that because it's all central and close together, we've got shared skills there with a central focus on the technology and excellence, and I think that helps us to just grow faster, and it also makes the production of our copper more efficient.

What, in your view, should be the biggest takeaway from the mineral resource upgrade?

It's simple – jet ski versus aircraft carrier. That's what's now happened to us. We really thought we had a jet ski in terms of our copper production from Rietberg. We thought it was one level. But with the work we've done, we now have an aircraft carrier, five levels, copper all over the place, and that's just changing our entire outlook.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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