The Phase 3 expansion involves building two new underground mines and establishing a new concentrator plant at the Kamoa-Kakula mine complex. Courtesy of Ivanhoe Mines.

On May 3 Ivanhoe Mines announced the details for its upcoming Phase 3 expansion at its Kamoa-Kakula copper mine complex in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which the company expects will increase annual production of the metal to 600,000 tonnes per year by 2024, making it the world’s third-largest copper-mining operation.

The new expansion phase involves building two new underground mines, named Kamoa 1 and Kamoa 2, and establishing a new concentrator plant with a five million tonne per year capacity. A direct-to-blister flash smelter will also be added to the complex, making possible the recovery and sale of sulfuric acid, for which there is strong demand in Congo, as a by-product.

Construction for Phase 3 has already begun and a pre-feasibility study is expected in the latter half of 2022. Box-cut excavation for the new mines is advancing rapidly, according to Ivanhoe, and decline development is expected to start before June Work on the new smelter has also begun and, once completed, it will boast a nameplate capacity of 500,000 tonnes per year of approximately 99 per cent pure blister copper.

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Kamoa-Kakula is working with the DRC’s state-owned power company to supply the mine with hydroelectricity, as the amount of energy required for the Phase 3 and upcoming Phases 4 and 5 expansions is substantial enough to warrant upgrading a major turbine at the Inga II hydropower facility on the Congo River. Once complete, Kamoa-Kakula could become one of the world’s lowest greenhouse-gas emitters per unit of copper produced according to a 2020 independent audit by Canadian consultant firm Hatch. The firm’s findings stated that the Kakula mine will have one of the most favourable environmental footprints among tier-one copper mines worldwide, with plans for around 55 per cent of tailings to be pumped back into underground workings.

Kamoa-Kakula is a joint venture between Ivanhoe Mines (39.6 per cent), Zijin Mining Group (39.6 per cent), Crystal River Global (0.8 per cent) and the DRC government (20 per cent). At full capacity, Kamoa-Kakula is expected to produce over 800,000 tonnes of copper from 19 million tonnes of concentrate per year. An estimated average grade of 5.1 per cent copper is expected over the first ten years of operations, with the complex’s probable reserve totalling 235 million tonnes of ore containing 10.5 million tonnes of copper grading at 4.47 per cent according to the 2020 integrated development plan for the complex.

“Together with our joint-venture partner, Zijin Mining, we are resolved to expedite future expansion phases at Kamoa-Kakula to meet rapidly rising copper demand, create profitable growth for our shareholders, and long-lasting economic and social benefits for the Congolese nation and people,” said Ivanhoe co-chair Robert Friedland.