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LUSAKA (Reuters) – Zambia’s Lumwana copper mine has commenced pre-production tests and is stockpiling crushed copper ore in preparation for commissioning and final copper production this month, its owners said on Friday.

Australia’s Equinox Minerals Ltd., said it was preparing to commission the remainder of Lumwana mine’s processing plants and that it would produce an average of 172,000 tonnes per year of copper metal contained in concentrates for the first six years of its 37-year mine life.

Equinox Minerals said Ait expected to reach full production in 2009 at which time Lumwana is projected to be Africa’s largest copper mine.

Equinox said crushing operations had started and crushed material was being stockpiled in preparation for commissioning of the remainder of the Lumwana project process plant.

“The company expects to commence commissioning the plant with ore in November 2008,” Equinox said in a statement.

Equinox said it had accepted from its contractor handover of the Lumwana project primary crushing and conveying circuit and successfully commissioned and put into production its first large scale Hitachi EX5500-6 electric shovel.

“In testing prior to hand-over, the crushing circuit, which includes the company’s 4.5 kilometre overland conveyor, had crushed and transported over 150,000 tonnes of material easily exceeding its design throughput rate of 3,309 tonnes per hour,” Equinox said.

It added that consistent rates in excess of 4,000 tonnes per hour were also achieved as part of this process and that these rates represented approximately 30 million tonnes per annum.

Equinox announced in July that a fire had caused damage to an electric power transformer and a power substation at its Lumwana project, facilities and equipment which forms part of the process plant, thereby delaying commissioning of the mine.