BHP plans copper concentrate output at 2 Chile mines

  • Thursday, April 11, 2013
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  • Keywords:BHP copper concentrate
BHP Billiton Limited plans to start producing Copper concentrates at its Spence mine in northern Chile where it could produce up to 200,000 tonnes a year of the raw material for sale to the market in a move to expand capacity and adapt operations to changes in Copper Ore qualities at the site.

Mr Peter Beaven BHP Billiton’s President of Base Metals said that last week the company is considering installing crushing and concentrating equipment at Spence whose final product is copper cathode, a semi processed form of the metal produced by leaching or electrolysis. A move into copper concentrate production is also under study at BHP’s Cerro Colorado facility which currently also produces cathodes only. The main obstacle is securing capital from within the organization to go ahead with the project.

Chile, the world’s biggest Copper producing country is facing changes in ore types which threaten to significantly boost mining costs. Oxide containing Copper ore which is suitable for higher value cathode production and is nearer the surface is depleting at some mine sites after years of mining, leaving sulphate containing ore which is deeper down. This is suitable only for concentrates production as it cannot be directly treated by solvent extraction or electrolysis.

BHP Billiton grouped together its wholly owned Spence and Cerro Colorado operations in Y 2010 to form its Pampa Norte operation which comprises the two open pit mines and associated processing facilities. Extending operations to use sulphate ore would make Pampa Norte into a 300,000 tonne a year cathode and concentrate facility as 100,000 tonnes a year of Copper cathode would continue to be made from the remaining oxide ore.

The move would also tally with changes in buying practices by major copper consumer China, which is set to import more copper concentrates and fewer cathodes as it boosts domestic smelting capacity.

Mr Beaven said that “With a concentrator in Spence, we could get another 200,000 tons out of it it would be like a mini Escondida with concentrate and cathode going at the same time. It is possible that we could also do that at Cerro Colorado but we are still in the study phase. There is no target date for this at the moment, and there is a huge fight for capital within our company.”
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