Zambia: Equinox on expansion path

By Nawa Mutumweno – Equinox Minerals is to spend between $450 million to $550 million for plant expansion, mainly on the concentrator to accommodate increased copper ore from the Chimiwungo East shoot within its mining area in North-Western Zambia.

According to an update on the expansion strategy for its Lumwana copper mine issued by Equinox Minerals president and chief executive Craig Williams on February 3, 2011, the expansion investment decision was expected in early 2012 with expanded production anticipated to commence in 2015.

Following the discovery of the Chimiwungo East shoot at Lumwana in early 2010, a continuous six rig drilling programme of 45 000 metres has been concluded to delineate the extent of copper mineralization at Chimiwungo  East and down plunge  on  the Chimiwungo Main shoot

“The results of the 2010 drill programme indicate the potential to substantially increase the previously stated Chimiwungo resource within the pits (defined at a copper price of $1.20 per pound) being proven mineral resources of 82 million tonnes at 0.7% copper. Probable mineral resources of 119 million tonnes at 0.6% copper and inferred mineral resources of 413 million tonnes at 0.6%

Pit optimization studies utilizing the new drill data and applying various long-term pricing scenarios that are more consistent with current copper price expectation, indicate scope to extend the Chimiwungo pit substantially to the south and east, potentially increasing the scale of the resource in the range of 1 billion to 1.5 billion tonnes of copper ore at a similar grade to the current resource.

“A first feasibility study is due to be completed on the Lumwana expansion project by the second quarter of 2011. When this study commenced in early 2010, it was based on the resources defined at that time and was evaluating a plant expansion from the Lumwana plant nameplate capacity of 20 million tonnes per annum of ore to an increased capacity of 35 million tonnes per annum. However, as a consequence  of the potential for a substantial increase in the Chimiwungo resource and the upward shift in the outlook for copper prices, the study is now being conducted on the basis of a mining inventory of 1 to 1.5 billion tones at 0.6% copper,”  the statement adds.

The assumed mining inventory would support a much larger scale operation with a throughput rate of 45 million tonnes per annum of ore. Under this assumption, Lumwana would have a mine life in the range of 27 to 37 years.

An expanded copper concentrator processing 45 mtpa of ore would be expected to produce approximately 260 000 tonnes per annum of copper in concentrate. The expansion of the concentrator would essentially be a replication of the existing Lumwana concentrator with a preliminary capital estimate of approximately $450 to $$550 million for the plant expansion. Ongoing expansion study activities will include completion of the resource drilling programme, mine scheduling, mobile fleet studies, detailed design and costing of the plant expansion (including timing of a second crusher) and an evaluation of concentrate offtake scenarios.

Equinox Minerals is an international mining company dual-listed on the Canadian (Toronto) and Australian stock exchanges.

The company is currently focused on operating its 100% owned large-scale Lumwana copper mine in Zambia and construction of the Jabal Sayid copper-gold project in Saudi Arabia.

Equinox acquired the Lumwana project in 1999 and following nearly 10 years of feasibility,  financing and construction, commissioned the mine, plant and infrastructure in December 2008. Situated 220 km north-west of the Zambian Copperbelt, Lumwana is now a major copper mine which has established Equinox as one of the world’s top 20 copper producing companies.

The company recently acquired the Jabal Sayid project  as the project entered  the construction phase with first production scheduled for 2012. Jabal Sayid is located within the Arabian Shield minerals province, 350 km north-east of the Red Sea port of Jeddah, the commercial capital of Saudi Arabia, and 120 km south-east of Medina.

Equinox also owns several other advanced exploration projects in Saudi Arabia, including the Jabal Shayban and Jabal Baydan gold-base metals projects, the Lahuf gold project and the Bari Porphyry gold-copper project.