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Grid instability in DRC challenging but not a showstopper

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Despite intermittent grid instability since the end of 2022 and maintenance shutdowns last month, Kamoa-Kakula still achieved record quarterly production at one of the top copper mines in the world. Image credit: Ivanhoe Mines

Grid instability in DRC challenging but not a showstopper

Ivanhoe Mines is working alongside DRC’s state-owned power company, La Société Nationale d’Electricité (SNEL), to identify the causes of instability across the southern DRC’s electricity grid, which has affected operations at the company’s Kamoa-Kakula Complex.    

Despite intermittent grid instability since the end of 2022 and maintenance shutdowns last month, the mine still achieved record quarterly production at Kamoa-Kakula, one of the top copper mines in the world.

According to a statement by the company Kamoa Copper’s engineering team is working towards insulating the complex from future instability by expanding on-site backup generation capacity, as well as sourcing additional power imported from the Zambian grid.

“The team has identified a series of upgrades and has outlined a project plan to deliver the improvements. Mobilisation of resources is underway, with vendor selection and equipment procurement having commenced.”

According to Ivanhoe President Marna Cloete, on-site back-up power generation capacity will increase via a phased roll-out over the next 12 to 18 months.

During the second quarter, 11 megawatts (MW) of new generator capacity was installed, bringing the total on-site backup-power generation capacity to approximately 48 MW.

Delivery of a further 32 MW in backup generation capacity, sufficient to power Kamoa-Kakula’s entire Phase 1 and 2 operations in the event of grid disruptions, will commence later this year.

Over 100 MW of further backup generation capacity has been ordered and is expected to be installed in 2024, in time for the completion of the Phase 3 concentrator and smelter that are currently under construction.

Discussions are advancing to secure up to 100 MW of additional power via the Zambian grid interconnector, the initial phase of which is expected to be ready in the third quarter.

Record quarterly production (Grid instability in DRC challenging but not a showstopper)

Despite these challenges the mine produced a record 103,786 tonnes of copper in concentrate during the second quarter of 2023.

“Kamoa-Kakula’s Phase 1 and 2 concentrators are now operating at an increased throughput rate of 9.2 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) following the ahead-of-schedule completion of the debottlenecking program during the first quarter.

“The Phase 1 and 2 concentrators set a monthly production record of 35,856 tonnes of copper in concentrate for May and produced 33,104 tonnes of copper during the shorter month of June,” says Cloete.

Kamoa-Kakula’s Phase 1 and 2 concentrators milled approximately 2.2 million tonnes of ore during the second quarter at an average feed grade of 5.2% copper. This included high-grade, run-of-mine ore from the Kakula Mine, supplemented with ore from the surface stockpiles to achieve throughput in excess of original design capacity.

“Strong copper recoveries continued for the quarter averaging 87.2%. The second quarter brings Kamoa-Kakula’s year-to-date production to 197,389 tonnes of copper in concentrate, which includes the ramp-up of the debottlenecking initiatives since February 2023. The 2023 annual production guidance for Kamoa-Kakula is maintained at between 390,000 to 430,000 tonnes of copper in concentrate.

A force to be reckoned with (Grid instability in DRC challenging but not a showstopper)

Meanwhile Ivanhoe’s Executive Co-Chair Robert Friedland says that the Phase 3 expansion project at Kamoa-Kakula, which includes the construction of Africa’s largest direct-to-blister flash smelter, which is well on schedule for first production in the fourth quarter of 2024.

“Kamoa-Kakula is set to become the fourth-largest copper producer in the world and the biggest copper mine in Africa, with an annual production of approximately 650,000 tonnes at industry-leading cash costs.

“It is a force to be reckoned with in terms of economic prosperity, consistently providing strong returns on investment and generating exceptional free cash flow in the near term. A new era has begun for the Central African Copperbelt, which will be a vital source of essential metals for future generations,” says Friedland.

Grid instability in DRC challenging but not a showstopper

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Grid instability in DRC challenging but not a showstopper

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