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By Shapi Shacinda

LUANSHYA, Zambia (Reuters) – Luanshya Copper Mines (LCM) plans to lift total annual finished copper output to 96,000 tonnes in the next few years from 24,000 tonnes this year, a senior company executive told Reuters.

Derek Webbstock, the LCM chief operating officer, said feasibility studies were currently under way at a new smaller unit known as Mashiba mine, while construction works at the $354 million Mulyashi mine had peaked to commence full operations in February 2009.

Additionally, the Baluba mine, which is forecast to produce the 24,000 tonnes copper for LCM in 2007 will be expanded to a capacity of 30,000 tonnes, while the little Mashiba mine will add another 6,000 tonnes finished copper per year when it commences operations, Webbstock said.

He did not give a timeline for Mashiba mine to start production.

Webbstock said production at Baluba mine will rise to 30,000 tonnes per year from the current 24,000 tonnes.

He said Mulyashi, which is touted as the future of LCM operations will initially have an annual output of 60,000 tonnes and this together with production at the other units will lift total LCM output to 96,000 tonnes in the long term.

“The (Mulyashi project) is planned for commissioning and production of the first copper by the end of February 2009. The project is on track and the studies have been completed and physical works have commenced on site,” Webbstock told Reuters in an interview.

He said further feasibility studies were under way at Mulyashi in plans to raise annual output beyond the initial 60,000 tonnes.

LONG TERM

“Mulyashi is an investment for LCM in the long term. When commissioned, it will result in production of 60,000 tonnes of LME (London Metals Exchange) A grade copper per annum or 5,000 tonnes per month,” Webbstock said in Luasnhya, 330 km north of Lusaka.

Webbstock said Mulyashi mine, which would consist of open casting mining operations would be sustainable and give the LCM many advantages in the future should the copper prices decline.

“The cost for Mulyashi is indicated to be in excess of $354 million and that will obviously include working capital,” Webbstock said.

Webbstock said the Luanshya Concentrator had also been upgraded to process 10,000 tonnes of copper ore per day while upgrades had also been done to the Baluba mine under a $50 million investment in the last four years.

“We will spend a significant amount of money once we finalise the detailed studies to improve the capacity of Baluba especially vertical hoisting (of copper ore) from under ground,” Webbstock said.

Webbstock said LCM also planned to find ways of using redundant materials to produce more copper.

“A lot of studies have been done on the Baluba mine on how to improve efficiency of the operation and that programme is ongoing,” Webbstock added.

LCM has spent nearly $50 million since new joint shareholders, the International Mineral Resources (IRM) and Bein Stein Group Resources (BSGR), took over the mine four years ago, Webbstock said.

Webbstock said a new processing plant which will comprise heap leaching and agitated leaching methods of producing copper would be constructed.

LCM employs 2,400 people while Mulyashi will employ another 1,500 people during the construction phase and retain only 400 people when full production commences, due to modern mining technologies that would be used at the mine.

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