Production at Champion Iron's (TSX: CIA; ASX: CIA) Bloom Lake iron ore mine near Fermont, Que., inched upward 1% in the year ended Mar. 31, 2021 to a record 8 million wet metric tonnes (wmt) of 66.4% iron ore concentrate – despite Covid-19 restrictions that included a month of reduced operations early in the pandemic.
For its most recent quarter, production was 2 million wmt of 66.5% iron ore concentrate, up 6% from 1.9 million wmt in the year earlier quarter. The company reported free on board total cash costs of US$43 per dry metric tonne, up from US$40.1 per dry metric tonne in the previous period.
During the quarter, Champion was able to increase throughput by 7% to 5.2 million tonnes of ore – and take advantage of elevated iron ore prices – thanks to continuous improvement and operational innovations that boosted mill productivity.
"The commitment and agility of our workforce, partners and communities enabled us to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic, allowing our company to capitalize on rising global demand for high-grade iron ore,” said Champion CEO David Cataford, commenting on the strong quarter. “With our high-grade iron ore concentrate already contributing in reducing emissions in the steel industry, we produced and sold additional DR (direct reduction) quality iron ore concentrate during the period, further improving our ability to positively impact emissions for our customers."
During the quarter, the company produced an additional 374,400 wmt of DR quality iron ore concentrate, grading 67.6% iron with a combined silica and alumina content of 2.8%.
DR ore represents a growing subset of global steelmaking capacity. Champion made its first shipments of DR quality concentrate last year. In its third-quarter financials, Champion said the shipment confirmed that “Bloom Lake is one of the few producing deposits globally that can transition its product offering in response to potential shifts in steelmaking methods in the coming years.”
Bloom Lake expansion
An expansion of Bloom Lake, which will double production to 15 million t/y from 7.4 million t/y, is under way and on track to be completed by mid-2022. There are currently 200 employees and contractors working on the Bloom Lake Phase II expansion. (The company has a recently expanded, onsite rapid testing Covid-19 lab to screen all site personnel.)
During the quarter, Champion also inked an agreement for the shipping of higher production volumes to support the expansion with Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway; ordered long lead time items, and received and installed most spirals in its Phase II plant.
As of Mar. 31, Champion had cash on hand and restricted cash of $680.5 million. It has a total undrawn credit facility of US$220 million available.
A 2019 feasibility study put the capital cost of the Bloom Lake expansion at $589.8 million.
In addition, the company closed its acquisition of the neighbouring Kami iron ore project, located only a few kilometres away from Bloom Lake in southwest Newfoundland, on Apr. 1.
As part of the acquisition, Champion secured an additional 8 million t/y of port capacity, including a pre-payment of port-related fees, at the multi-user berth at the port of Sept-Îles which is currently being uses to export Bloom Lake's iron ore concentrate.
Champion's full fourth-quarter and full year results will be released ahead of a conference call scheduled for May 27. For more information, visit Champion's website.