First Quantum Minerals makes its fortunes by going global
Head office for First Quantum Minerals is 543 Granville Street, 14th Floor, Vancouver, but like many Canadian mining companies, that’s primarily for administrative purposes where the mail is sent, so to speak, because most of the company’s business is taking place thousands of kilometres away from the corners of Granville and Burrard Streets in downtown Vancouver.
In fact, since July 18, 1996, to be exact, the company has spent almost three decades of its entire existence working far away from its head office and since its well-publicized takeover of Inmet Mining Corporation in 2013, the company now has a sizable representative office on Bay Street in Toronto too. It also gained three operating mines and the Cobre Panama copper project, one of the larger and more important private investments in Panama.
With seven offshore mines producing mainly copper, gold, nickel, zinc and platinum, First Quantum Minerals is probably better known to the people of Africa, Europe and Australia than it is to its fellow Canadians.
But in Canadian mining circles, that’s not unusual because as we all know, many of Canada’s top mining companies are often more active and recognized offshore because of the personal and professional investments they offer to foreign countries.
First Quantum Minerals falls into this category because the company’s mining skills that have helped create entire communities and bolster economies in places where neither existed before their arrival.
On a world scale, First Quantum Minerals is not a massive international firm like empires like Barrick or BHP, but with more than 25,000 employees working in Canada and at its seven operating mines in Zambia, Mauritania, Spain, Finland (2), Turkey and Australia plus at major new development projects in Zambia, Panama, Peru and Argentina, the company is now one of the more geographically diversified companies on the globe.
And it’s thanks to this global outlook that the company is now poised to become one of the top-five copper producers in the world, with a strategic plan to achieve 1.3-million tonnes per year of copper production capacity within five years.
It’s an ambitious goal, but when you look at what the company already has in place in terms of operating mines and production facilities, that 1.3-million tonnes number becomes more realistic.
From its Kansanshi copper-gold mine in Zambia, Africa, for example, First Quantum Minerals proudly operates the largest copper mine in Africa, where it is capable of producing approximately 340,000 tonnes of copper and more than 120,000 ounces of gold per year.
They’re impressive numbers, but not satisfying enough, because the company is now in the midst of a multi-stage expansion project aimed at increasing its copper output capacity to approximately 400,000 tonnes by the end of this year.
Mining at Kansanshi is carried out in two pits using conventional open-pit methods by employing a fleet of hydraulic excavators and haul trucks. Ore treatment is flexible to allow for variation in ore type either through an oxide circuit, a sulphide circuit and a transitional ore “mixed float” circuit.
The sulphide ore is treated through crushing, milling and flotation to produce copper in concentrate, while the oxide ore goes through a similar process, plus leaching to produce a sulphidic and gold-bearing flotation concentrate, as well as copper.
Approximately 1,700 people work at Kansanshi, and the current estimated mine life is 15 years.
Farther north on the continent in Mauritania to where First Quantum Minerals’ second African property (the Guelb Moghrein copper-gold mine) is located, is where the company works a single open-pit using hydraulic excavators and haul trucks to mine the ore.
Sulphide ore from the pit is treated on-site in a processing plant that produces copper-gold concentrate at a rate of approximately 15,000 tonnes per month at a grade of 22.5 per cent copper, with credit received for gold in the concentrate.
The mine employs approximately 1,470 people and the current estimated mine life is seven years.
Leaving Africa to take a look at First Quantum Minerals’ activities off of the continent and into Europe reinforces an earlier statement about the company’s scope for global recognition because that’s where four of its seven mines are located.
In Spain, the Las Cruces mine is another open-pit and process plant facility the company operates in the Seville province.
The mine uses leaching and electrowinning technology to produce copper cathode at a rate of approximately 72,000 tonnes per year.
Again, the mine uses conventional open-pit mining methods using hydraulic shovels and haul trucks, with drilling and blasting in the lower ore zones.
Processing at the metallurgical plant relies on an atmospheric leaching process to recover copper from the chalcocite ore. A unique feature at the Las Cruces’ plant is the use of eight reactors to dissolve the copper under conditions of high temperature and high acidity.
The process involves adding oxygen into the reactors to complete the reaction. The feed to the leaching reactors is mine ore that has passed through three stages of crushing and a single stage of grinding.
Once leached, the liquid is separated from the ground solids to become the feed for the solvent extraction area. It’s here the copper is passed to an organic solution and then to the electrolyte that feeds the electrowinning cells.
The cells produce copper cathodes weighing approximately 50 kg each. An automated crane and stripping machine then harvests and packages the cathodes for shipment.
About 250 employees and 650 contractors work at Las Cruces and will do so until the end of the estimated mine life in 2022.
On the Black Sea coast of northeastern Turkey, First Quantum Minerals is once again proud to operate the largest underground copper and zinc operation in the country.
The Cayeli mine produces copper concentrate, copper and zinc bulk concentrate, and zinc concentrate with a mill capacity of 1.2 million tonnes per year.
Unlike the previously mentioned mines, Cayeli’s mine design is based on underground bulk mining methods using delayed backfill to extract ore in a sequential manner.
The primary mining method is retreat transverse and longitudinal long hole stoping with paste fill and loose or consolidated waste rock backfill.
The stopes are mined in primary, secondary and tertiary sequencing.
Ore processing includes three stages of crushing primary and secondary ball mill grinding, conventional flotation using either standard or column cells, and water removal by thickening and pressure filtering to produce copper and zinc concentrates.
The current estimated mine life is to 2019 with almost 500 employees.
First Quantum Minerals’ most northerly European mines are both located in Finland; one in the central part of the country, and the second in the extreme north about 150km north-northeast of Rovaniemie, the capital of Finish Lapland.
Starting in the centre of country with the company’s Pyhasalmi mine, it’s one the older and deeper underground mines in Europe.
The mine features a 1450-m deep automatic hoisting shaft and produces copper, zinc and pyrite. The mine uses non-entry, bulk open-stope methods in a primary and secondary sequence.
On average, stope size varies from 50,000 tonnes for narrow primary stopes to more than 100,000 tonnes for wider secondary stopes.
Milling includes crushing, three-stage grinding, conventional flotation using three separate circuits, and water removal to produce the concentrates.
The current estimated mine life is four years. The mine employs 210 people.
And now for a look at First Quantum Minerals’ most northerly mine on the globe, its Kevista nickel-copper mine near the tip of Finland.
Mining is carried out, and will be for an estimated mine life of another 27 years, in an open pit. Processing is traditional where mined ore is crushed in a primary crusher where product is screened and sent to an autogenous grinding mill media and stockpiled, with mid product to secondary crushing for pebble storage.
Copper and nickel ore is recovered in separate flotation circuits and each product is thickened and filtered to produce concentrates stored separately for transport. Two concentrates are produced: a nickel-copper-gold concentrate and a copper-gold concentrate.
The copper content in both concentrates produces approximately 17,000 tonnes of copper metal per year.
Approximately 290 people work at Kevista.
Far from Europe and Africa but clearly on First Quantum Minerals’ list of global achievements is its Ravensthorpe nickel mine in Western Australia, located 550km south-east of Perth.
Acquired as a decommissioned nickel operation in 2010, the company has invested in significant modifications to the processing plant and the redesign of the crushing, conveying, storage, reclaim and rejects areas.
Operations at the mine involve open-pit mining and beneficiation of nickel laterite ore, pressure acid leaching, atmospheric leaching, counter current decantation, precipitation and filtration to produce a mixed precipitate product containing approximately 40 per cent nickel.
Sulphuric acid for the leaching process is produced on site in a 4,400-tonnes-per-day, sulphur-burning, double-absorption acid plant with waste heat being recovered to produce steam through three 18MW steam turbines for the generation of power and to provide heat for the leaching process.
Innovation and a commitment to the future are two ingredients for the success of the Ravensthorpe mine and why that its current estimated mine life of 30 years gives hope to its 405 employees.
But First Quantum Minerals’ business plan to innovate and commit to its Ravensthorpe mine goes beyond Australia because as we’ve already seen, the company is dedicated to all of its operating mines, and that’s why it has earned a spot on this year “Top 40” for an outstanding performance by a Canadian mining company.