Ivanhoe Mines President, Marna Cloete, has announced that Kipushi Corporation SA (KICO), a joint venture between Ivanhoe and DRC state-owned mining company Gécamines, have broken ground on construction of the processing plant at the historic Kipushi zinc-copper-germanium-silver mine in the country.
In addition, Ivanhoe has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the provincial government of Haut-Katanga to study options for upgrading the DRC-Zambia border crossing in the town of Kipushi for commercial imports and exports.
The ground-breaking ceremony was attended by His Excellency Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde, Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Her Excellency Adèle Kayinda Mahina, Minister of State and Minister of Portfolio, Her Excellency Antoinette N’Samba Kalambayi, Minister of Mines, members of the provincial government of the Haut-Katanga Province and other national, provincial and local dignitaries, in addition to representatives from Ivanhoe, Gécamines and the town of Kipushi.
The delegation was presented with the development plan for returning the Kipushi mine to production by late 2024 – one hundred years since it was first opened and 30 years since it was placed on care and maintenance.
The ceremony follows the release of results of the Kipushi 2022 Feasibility Study, announced in February 2022, as well as the agreement signed between Ivanhoe Mines and Gécamines to bring the Kipushi mine back into production.
The study evaluates the development of an 800,000 t/y concentrator and underground mine, producing on average of 240,000 t/y of zinc contained in concentrate over a 14-year life of mine. The successful commencement of commercial production would establish Kipushi as the world’s highest-grade major zinc mine, with an average head grade of 36.4% Zn over the first five years of production, according to Ivanhoe.
Existing, rehabilitated surface and underground infrastructure allow for significantly lower capital costs than comparable development projects, Ivanhoe said. The estimated pre-production capital cost, including contingency, is $382 million. This infrastructure also allows for a relatively short construction timeline of two years, with the principal development activities being the construction of a conventional concentrator facility and supporting infrastructure, together with the restart of mining activities underground.
Ordering of long-lead equipment is underway and early construction activities have commenced. Financing and offtake discussions, including a pre-payment facility of $250 million, are well advanced with several interested parties, the company added.
Ivanhoe’s Cloete said: “Kipushi is exceptional, not only because of the renowned Big Zinc deposit, which is one of the world’s richest orebodies, but more importantly because of the people of Kipushi and the unique partnerships that make today’s ceremony possible.
“We now have our sights clearly set on the re-start of production in 2024. The re-birth of the historic Kipushi Mine will be a great achievement for Ivanhoe Mines, our partners and shareholders, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
The Kipushi Mine is strategically located less than 1 km from the DRC-Zambia border, which will be the gateway for Kipushi’s products to global export markets.
On August 24, 2022, Ivanhoe Mines and the Province of Haut-Katanga signed a MOU concerning the construction of a dedicated, commercial border post for the Kipushi Mine, together with the upgrading of the existing border post in the town of Kipushi, which currently only serves local traffic between DRC and Zambia.
This new commercial border crossing will provide a significant advantage to the Kipushi Mine as a direct means of importing materials and consumables, as well as clearing customs and exporting products from the mine, and will provide socio-economic benefits to the town and Province of Haut-Katanga, Ivanhoe said.
The Kipushi Mine has a long and storied history as a major producer of copper and zinc. Built and then operated by Union Minière for 42 years, Kipushi began mining a reported 18% copper deposit from a surface open pit in 1924. It was the world’s richest copper mine at the time, according to Ivanhoe. The Kipushi Mine then transitioned to become Africa’s richest underground copper, zinc and germanium mine. State-owned Gécamines gained control of Kipushi in 1967 and operated the mine until 1993, when it was placed on care and maintenance due to a combination of economic and political factors.
Over a span of 69 years, Kipushi produced a total of 6.6 Mt of zinc and 4 Mt of copper from 60 Mt of ore grading 11% Zn and approximately 7% Cu. It also produced 278 t of germanium and 12,673 t of lead between 1956 and 1978.
Most of Kipushi’s historical production was from the Fault Zone, a steeply-dipping orebody rich in copper and zinc that was initially mined as an open pit. The Fault Zone extends to a depth of at least 1,800 m below surface, along the intersection of a fault in carbonaceous dolomites.
Before Kipushi was idled in 1993, Gécamines discovered the Big Zinc deposit at a depth of approximately 1,250 m below surface and adjacent to the producing Fault Zone. The Big Zinc Deposit has not been mined and is the initial target for production as outlined in the 2022 feasibility study.
Since acquiring its interest in the Kipushi Mine in 2011, Ivanhoe’s drilling campaigns have upgraded and expanded the mine’s zinc-rich measured and indicated mineral resources by more than double to an estimated 11.78 Mt grading 35.34% Zn, 0.80% Cu, 23 g/t Ag and 64 g/t Ge, at a 7% zinc cutoff.
In addition, Ivanhoe’s drilling expanded Kipushi’s copper-rich measured and indicated resources to an additional 2.29 Mt at grades of 4.03% Cu, 2.85% Zn, 21 g/t Ag and 19 g/t Ge at a 1.5% copper cutoff.
Once in operation, the Kipushi Mine is expected to be powered by clean, renewable hydro-generated electricity and is set to be among one of the world’s lowest Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emitters per tonne of zinc metal produced, according to Ivanhoe.