Zambia is to get a second nickel mine with the decision by First Quantum Minerals (FQM) to implement its Enterprise nickel project in Zambia’s North Western Province.
Located 150 km to the west of Solwezi, the new mine will be a substantially larger operation than the Munali nickel mine south of Lusaka, currently the country’s sole dedicated nickel producer.
The decision by First Quantum Minerals to go ahead with Enterprise (and also with a major expansion of its Kansanshi operation) was announced at 2022’S Mining Indaba in Cape Town. It reflects not just a more buoyant nickel price but also a thawing of previously frosty relations between the Zambian government and the country’s mining industry.
The new administration of President Hakainde Hichilema has improved the mining fiscal regime providing, as First Quantum Minerals has pointed out, the certainty needed to support large capital investments in Zambia. President Hichilema attended the ground-breaking ceremony on site at Enterprise on 26 July 2022.
Enterprise forms part of FQM’s Trident project, the cornerstone of which is the huge Sentinel open-pit copper mine, constructed over a four-year period starting in 2012. Both the Sentinel and Enterprise deposits were acquired by First Quantum Minerals in 2010 when it purchased junior explorer Kiwara.
A sulphide deposit, Enterprise is located 12 km north-west of Sentinel and has proven and probable reserves of 34.7 Mt of ore at 0.99% nickel. While it can be classified as a Greenfields project in terms of the mining operation contemplated, it will utilise the existing 4 Mtpa nickel circuit that was previously built as part of the original Sentinel processing complex.
FQM originally intended to bring the two projects online at roughly the same time but eventually decided to defer Enterprise given the then nickel price – but not before it had started some initial waste-stripping in the Enterprise pit area. The flotation circuit of the nickel circuit was commissioned and operated on Sentinel ore before being placed on care and maintenance while the milling circuit was completed, except for conveyor belting installation.
The new mine will consist of a single, main open pit and one extension to the south-west. The mining contractor for the project has been mobilised and the pre-strip began in May 2022. It is expected to take 12 months to complete.
According to FQM’s most recent technical report on Trident, mining operations at Enterprise will utilise 250 t dieselelectric excavators loading into 180 t capacity diesel trucks. These trucks will haul waste to the external dump located to the north and east of the pit and to a surface ROM pad on the south side of the pit.
In a recent update on the project, FQM says that mine facilities, including a satellite administration office, a workshop, a fuel storage facility and dewatering boreholes, are being developed. In addition, plant refurbishment, completion and commissioning activities have begun and are aligned to the pre-stripping duration.
The total capital expenditures associated with the Enterprise nickel project are estimated at approximately US$100 million. Expected first nickel production of 5 000 to 10 000 t of nickel in 2023 is included in FQM’s three-year guidance.
At full production, the new mine is expected to produce an average of 30 000 tpa of nickel in high-grade concentrate, making it Africa’s biggest nickel producer. Based on an ore production rate of 4 Mtpa, the mine plan spans 11 years.
Source: Mining Review Africa