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Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold (NYSE: FCX) has invested US$270mn in the development of the Sulfolix project at its 51%-controlled El Abra copper mine in Chile, CEO Richard Adkerson said during a conference call to discuss Q3 results.
The project, which aims at mining and processing sulfide ores to replace the currently depleting oxide copper production and extend mine life by 10 years, will require a total investment of US$725mn through 2015, of which US$565mn corresponds to phase one.
Construction activities in the initial phase are approximately 55% complete, Adkerson said, and phase one is expected to ramp up production to approximately 300Mlb (136,000t) by 2011.
At the same time, the company is advancing studies for a potential large-scale milling operation to process additional sulfide material and to achieve higher recoveries at El Abra, following a drilling program that revealed the promise of significant additional reserves.
Development of the project, which includes new leach pads and modifications to the existing crushing plant at the operation, resumed last December after being halted as a result of the global financial crisis.
El Abra, a 51:49 JV with state copper company Codelco, produced roughly 160,000t of cathodes in 2009, down slightly from the prior year as a result of the ongoing depletion of oxide ores, which were originally scheduled to be exhausted during this year. The mine's designed production capacity is 225,000t/y of cathodes.
The mine produced slightly more than 75,500t of copper cathodes in H1.