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Company Spotlight – Antofagasta Minerals is Growing

Overview of Antofagasta Minerals

Antofagasta Minerals is a major international copper producer, listed on the London Stock Exchange, with its activities concentrated mainly in Chile where it operates four copper mines. It also has interests in Pakistan and United States where the company also has projects it is trying to develop but with no current production.

Although not as large as some of its competitors, Antofagasta Minerals has interests in internationally recognized copper mines that are considered low cost. The company has also been very aggressive with expansion plans and the integration of technology into its operations.  

There has been a several major announcements from the company over the last few months that should be watched by the mining community and providers. We have provided a brief company spotlight of Antofagasta Minerals to highlight some of the most important areas.

Antofagasta Minerals  – Current Operations in Chile

  • Minera Los Pelambres –  Los Pelambres is a sulphide deposit located in the Coquimbo region of Chile, 240 kilometers north of Santiago. Los Pelambres produces copper concentrate – which mainly contains gold– and molybdenum concentrate, through a milling and flotation process. The mine started operations in 1999 and is expected to operate until 2050. 
  • Minera Centinela –  Minera Centinela was established in 2014 and is expected to operate until 2061. The mine is located in the Antofagasta region of Chile, 1,350 kilometers north of Santiago, in an important mining area with deposits of sulfides and oxides. Centinela produces copper concentrates – mainly containing gold– through a milling and flotation process in the sulphide line; and copper cathodes using a solvent extraction and electrowinning (SX-EW) procedure on the oxide line.
  • Minera Antucoya – Minera Antucoya is a copper oxide deposit located approximately 125 kilometers northeast of the city of Antofagasta. It has low grades, of the order of 0.35% average. The mine started operating in 2014 and is expected to operate until 2039.
  • Minera Zaldívar –  Minera Zaldívar operates an open pit mine where copper oxide is extracted by heap leaching. It is located at an average height of 3,000 meters above sea level, 1,400 kilometers north of Santiago and 175 kilometers southeast of the city of Antofagasta. The mine has been operating since 1995 and is expected to operate until 2029. 

2023 Production and Financial Results

  • Antofagasta Minerals recently reported a 2% increase in annual copper production in 2023 to 660,600 tonnes thanks to strong performances by its largest mines, Los Pelambres and Centinela.
  • Gold production for the full year 2023 was 209,100 ounces, 18% higher than 2022 due to higher gold grades at Centinela.
  • Molybdenum production for the full year 2023 was 11,000 tonnes, representing a 13% increase year-on-year due to higher throughput rates at Los Pelambres and higher recoveries at Centinela.
  • Cash costs before by-product credits in full year 2023 were $2.31/lb, 5% higher than the prior year, primarily due to local inflation, appreciation of the Chilean peso and the conclusion of labour agreements.
  • Net cash costs for the full year 2023 were $1.61/lb, in line with 2022 and ahead of guidance for the year, reflecting a balance of higher underlying cash costs before by-products, alongside higher production and pricing for by-products.

2024 Forecasts

  • Group production in 2024 is expected to be 670-710,000 tonnes of copper. Output of by-products is expected to be 195-215,000 ounces of gold and 11.0-12.5 tonnes of molybdenum.
  • The expected increase in copper production in 2024 principally reflects the addition of the Los Pelambres Phase 1 Expansion Project in 2023, with increased water availability and ore processing capacity expected in 2024.

New Projects – Centinela Second Concentrator

  • Antofagasta Minerals is set to invest US$4.4bn to build a second concentrator plant at its Centinela copper mine complex in Chile after the project was approved by the board of directors in 2023.
  • The development of Centinela, including the second concentrator plant and a new water system, is considered key to the expansion plans of the company as it will raise output by 170,000t/y of copper equivalent, considering production of 144,000t/y of copper, 130,000oz/y gold and 3,500t/y molybdenum from 2027.
  • Work will include a new 95ktpd concentrator plant incorporating high pressure grinding rolls to reduce energy consumption, the expansion of the existing raw seawater pumping and transport system, a new tailings storage facility, capacity growth in energy and other input supply infrastructure, the expansion of outbound logistics networks such as the concentrate transport system and critical port infrastructure, additional loading equipment, autonomous hauling equipment and a truck-shop for the mine expansion at Esperanza Sur.
  • The project will employ more than 14,000 people, either directly or indirectly, including the construction and operating stages. It is expected to start construction in 2024 and go into production by 2027.
  • Carlos Espinoza, CEO of Minera Centinela, said that the expansion will allow the operation to be extended for at least another 30 years and will put the company into the top cost quartile of the copper mining industry.
  • In terms of sustainability, the production process in Centinela will continue to use non-desalted seawater and electrical energy from renewable sources, in addition to continuing to promote electromobility initiatives, energy efficiency, the circular economy, control of particulate matter, and use of autonomous trucks and drilling rigs.
  • In parallel, Antofagasta Minerals is reviewing a potential outsourcing of Centinela’s water supply which could possibly lower capital costs.

 

INCO Phase 1 –  Los Pelambres Update

  • The INCO Phase 1 Project started construction in 2019 and is focused on optimising the production. The $1.8bn expansion project was expected to add an average of 60,000t of copper a year to the mine’s production and solve water issues the mine was facing.
  • Due to the pandemic and other issues the company faced when building the project, construction has only wrapped up in 2023 and the final cost of the project increased to USD$2.2b.
  • The successful ramp up towards the plants design capacity of 400 litres per second is nearing completion, with an average output of approximately 307 litres per second during December 2023.
  • The fourth concentrator line at Los Pelambres is successfully completing its commissioning phase, with an additional two million tonnes of ore processed as of the end of the year.
  • In November 2023, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) approved phase 2 of the project which will double the size of the Los Pelambres’ desalination plant to 800 litres per second, as well as replacing the concentrate pipeline and the construction of certain planned enclosures at the El Mauro tailings storage facility. This work represents one part of the Los Pelambres Phase 2 Expansion Project, approval of which will be considered by the Board of Directors during Q1 2024.
  • During the construction phase, it is expected that 2000 workers will be needed for the US$1bn project that will extend the Los Pelambres mine life to beyond 2035.

Zaldifar

  • In June 2023, Zaldívar submitted an EIA application to extend its mining and water environmental permits through to 2051.
  • This includes a proposal to develop the primary sulphide ore deposit and extend the current life of mine at an estimated investment over the mine life of $1.2 billion.
  •  It also includes a plan to change the mine’s water source from the local aquifer to either seawater or water provided by third parties. This will follow a transition period during which the current continental water extraction permit is extended from 2025 to 2028.
  • The project involves works such as expanding the open pit, the waste dump, the leach pad, the sanitary landfill area, and the dynamic leach heap, as well as adjusting the tailings dump, incorporating new electricity transmission lines and relocating the primary crushing installations, among others.

Technology

  • Antofagasta Minerals opened its first integrated remote operations centre (IROC) in 2022 for its Centinela copper mine at a cost of USD$66 million dollars.
  • Antofagasta Minerals deployed the first of its Komatsu autonomous trucks at its Esperanza Sur in December 2021. It is set to have up to 36 autonomous trucks in this phase − but in the future the operation has plans (not yet finalised) to have over 100 autonomous trucks. It is the second operation in Chile to have a fully autonomous fleet.
  • Antofagasta Minerals previously stated that it has plans for a trolley assist pilot project at Los Pelambres copper mine. The costs equate to about $5 milllion per km of trolley line built, and an additional USD$1m for the truck conversion. 
  • Antofagasta Minerals launched in 2023 an electric fleet made up of 50 pickup trucks, plus eight units of mining equipment for the Esperanza Sur open pit copper mine.
  • Antofagasta Minerals is using Pitcrew AI autonomous tyre inspection stations to monitor front and rear tyres, and the AI software searches thermal imaging video footage for anomalies such as hot spots, belt edge and tread separations.
  • Antofagasta Minerals continues to progress test work on its patented Cuprochlor-T technology for the leaching of primary sulphides, which has now achieved recovery rates of more than 70% after 220 days. The Company is now evaluating the feasibility of advancing this technology across other mining operations, including third parties.

Conclusion

Antofagasta Minerals has been aggressive with their plans to not only increase production but to improve the sustainability of its operations which includes already have 100% of their energy needs supplied by renewable energy.  After several years of missing production guidance due to water issues, the company has built its first desalination plant to minimize water usage from aquifers and rivers.  It will return its water rights to local communities. These initiatives have earned the company a Copper Mark at all its Chilean which is certifies the sustainability of copper from mines.

With several significant project announcements in recent weeks, Antofagasta Mineral’s is well on its way to increase overall production over the next few years. The goal is to reach production levels of 900 thousand tons compared to Codelco who last year produced just over 1.3 million tons. 

For technology providers, Antofagasta Minerals has been very aggressive with deploying technology which is focused on electrifying its mines, automating its equipment, and using sensors and software to improve the various mining processes. For the right providers whose solutions fit within their technology roadmap, Antofagasta Minerals can be a great partner who are willing to test technologies that can improve their operations. 

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