LONDON, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Global copper production has been dogged year after year by supply shortages due to falling ore grades, industrial disputes and equipment problems.
But the time may be ripe for projects in the African Copperbelt to step in and breach that gap.
Production in the region, encompassing Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), had been ravaged for decades.
But hopes for a turnaround grew around the start of the millennium and production has risen in recent years.
Last year Zambian output reached 697,860 tonnes and is forecast to rise to 750,000 tonnes in 2010, a level last seen in 1973. A target of one million tonnes has been mooted for 2012.
DRC copper mine production was little more than 20,000 tonnes in 2000 compared with over half a million tonnes in the mid-1980s.
It has picked up since then and the start-up last year of the Tenke Fungurume mine, in which Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold (FCX.N) holds a majority stake, has quickened the pace.
From the early 1970s Zambia production suffered from a lack of appropriate re-investment, falling ore reserves, as well as a depleted workforce because of AIDS-related deaths.
The decline of the DRC’s (then Zaire’s) copper industry in the 1980s was largely down to civil disorder and the plundering of state-owned producer Gecamines.
Much of what remained was destroyed in a 1998-2003 war.
But investment has risen in both countries in recent years, particularly by Chinese firms. As concerns about political risk recede further, more companies are developing projects and joining the hunt for new mines in the region.
That trend looks set to continue and gather momentum.
Industry consultants CRU Group estimate the Copperbelt holds around 55 million tonnes of copper, or about 10 percent of the world’s copper reserves.
Below are details of some of the main operators in and around the African Copperbelt and also of projects which have recently started up, are planned or are under consideration there.
Current operators - their mines and projects
CHINA NONFERROUS MINING CORPORATION (CNMC) - On Dec 22, company said plans to double annual output at Baluba mine to about 40,000 tpy over five-year period starting in 2011. Plans to spend a total of $400 million on Baluba and its Mulyashi project, which has yet to be developed. [ID:nLDE5BL1B1] Also operates Chambishi mine.
FIRST QUANTUM (FM.TO) - Kansanshi copper mine produces around 75,000 tpy of copper in concentrates and 170,000 tonnes of cathode. Company said late January it expects only modest output this year from Bwana Mkubwa plant. Seeking alternative ore sources. Company also has minority stake in Mopani Copper Mines.
On Nov. 23, company agrees to buy Kiwara Plc, which owned Kalumbila project. An analyst at Macquarie Equities Research said mine could eventually compare in size to First Quantum’s Kansanshi mine, also in Zambia. [ID:nGEE5AM0E2]
KONKOLA COPPER MINES (KCM) - owned by Vedanta VED.L
Operating assets include Konkola and Nchanga mines, Nchanga smelter and Nkana smelter and refinery. Current average production put at 200,000 tpy.
On Dec 19, Zambia’s mines minister said KCM will launch in April Konkola Deep, the extension of its Konkola mine. Forecast to produce 180,000 tonnes of copper per year when it reaches maximum output in 2011. KCM’s output to double to 500,000 tonnes by 2011. [ID:nLDE5BF0ZN]
METOREX MTXJ. - Operates small Chibuluma mine. Potential development projects include the central African Copperbelt deposits at Musonoi and the Kinsenda and Lubembe project in the Congo.
MOPANI COPPER MINES - a unit of Glencore International AG. First Quantum holds a minority stake.
Assets include Mufulira mine, smelter and refinery, Nkana concentrator and cobalt plant.
On Feb 5, MCM said plans to spend $100 million to sink a new shaft at Nkana mine and extend life of mine by 25 years. Zambia’s mines minister said company also planning to start building an open pit mine in the Mindolo ore body, located within Nkana mine, starting this year. [ID:nLDE6141UM]
Lumwana mine - On Jan. 21, company said ramp-up phase of mine and process plant to continue through H1 2010. Targeting production for 135,000 tonnes in 2010. Came on stream in late 2008 and initially expected to produce 170,000 tonnes of copper in concentrate in 2009. But ramp-up slowed due to equipment and productivity problems and lower than expected ore grades. Produced 109,413 tonnes in 2009.
Other companies and their projects
AFRICAN RAINBOW MINERALS (ARM) (ARIJ.J)/VALE VALE5.SA
Konkola North - On Feb 2, ARM CEO said company would consider the project later this year before announcing its terms, although it looked viable at this stage. [ID:nLDE6110YU] Feasibility study envisages mine production rate of 2.5 million tonnes per year, equating to about 45,000 tpy of copper.
No recent news on the Mwambashi project.
Chinese companies are exploring other sites. Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Zambia in 2007 and pledged $900 million in investments in mining while China’s Zhonghui Mining Group said last July it will invest $3.6 billion in Zambian projects over the next five years.
However, opposition politicians have tapped into anti-Chinese sentiment, fed by clashes between workers and management at Chinese-run enterprises in Zambia.
Current operators - their mines and projects
Feb 2 - Company said it plans to start producing 40,000 tonnes of copper at its Kinsevere mine in 2011 before increasing output to 60,000 tonnes of copper in 2012. Dikulushi and Mutoshi units remain suspended.[ID:nWEA8179]
Kalumines - Significantly larger operation planned at the producing small-scale mine.
Frontier - Mine produced 92,300 tonnes of copper in 2009. Holds a 65 percent stake in the $550 million Kolwezi project. Seeking arbitration after Congo last August cancelled its permit and then ordered it to close the project down. On Feb. 9 DRC pledged to accept the outcome of international arbitration.
Production at Kolwezi was due to start this May, with annual output ultimately put at around 70,000 tonnes of copper. [ID:nLDE61829G]
FREEPORT MCMORAN COPPER & GOLD/LUNDIN (LUN.TO)
Tenke Fungurume - Came on stream last year and building up to full capacity of about 113,000 tonnes. Produced around 70,000 tonnes of copper in 2009. Company said it began a feasibility study in Q4 2009 to evaluate a second phase, which would include optimising the current plant and increasing capacity by about 50 percent. Study seen completed by around mid-2010.
KATANGA MINING (KAT.TO)
On Feb 11, company says expects to produce 82,000 tonnes of copper cathode this year, versus 41,964 tonnes in 2009. Katanga to switch production from open pit T17 mine to its KOV open pit in Q3 in line with accelerated development plan. Expects to continue the plan up to a production capacity of 150,000 tpy by Q2 2011. Ultimate aim to get to 310,000 tpy copper capacity. [ID:nLDE61A23D]
On Jan 29, company said had embarked on a $100 million capital raising programme and revised a debt package for its existing. Ruashi copper mine. Potential development projects included the central African Copperbelt deposits at Musonoi and the Kinsenda and Lubembe project in the Congo. [ID:nLDE60S1PH]
Company seeking to develop the Kalukundi copper-cobalt project.
On Oct 8, Chinese companies signed an amended $6 billion infrastructure and loan deal with DRC, a step seen clearing the way for debt relief for the African nation. Chinese investors subsequently were seen beginning construction on a $3 billion copper and cobalt project as part of that $6 billion package. (Compiled by Karen Norton; edited by Sue Thomas)