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Antofagasta Minerals chairman outlines upcoming challenges

Bnamericas Published: Saturday, May 14, 2022
Antofagasta Minerals chairman outlines upcoming challenges

Recovering copper production and consolidating a position as key contributor to the Chilean economy are the main challenges Antofagasta Minerals is facing, chairman Jean-Paul Luksic told a shareholders' meeting.

More specific challenges relate to declining grades at its Centinela mine and low water availability at Los Pelambres (pictured).

The company reported revenues of US$7.30bn and Ebitda of US$4.77bn in 2021.

Antofagasta Minerals distributed US$6.99bn, of which US$780mn went to the State as taxes, royalties and other payments, US$495mn was for employment and US$4.26bn for payments to suppliers.

According to a press release, Luksic said that 80% of the company’s income is intended to contribute to investments, create quality jobs and ensure supplier development, innovation and technology transfer.

He raised concerns about political risks, saying that authorities should guarantee competitiveness so the sector can receive investments and support the country’s socio-economic development. 

Luksic told the meeting on Wednesday that copper demand will remain strong, despite falling ore grades, longer periods to establish mining projects and stricter environmental requirements in Chile, coupled with global uncertainties.

PRODUCTION

Last year, Antofagasta Minerals produced 721,500t of copper, compared with 733,900t in 2020, due to lower grades and water scarcity, according to the company's sustainability report.

New projects planned to recover and double production at its four open pit copper mines could offset the lower output, however.

Production from Los Pelambres in 2021 was down 9.7% to 324,700t. Forecast production for 2022 is around 300,000t. In Q1, the mine produced 54,100t, 36.3% less year-on-year. 

To increase mine output, the company is planning to add 60,000t/y after the completion of the first stage of its US$1.7bn expansion dubbed Inco, which also includes a 400l/s desalination plant, expected to start operations in the second half. A second stage of the plant will increase production to 800l/s by 2025 and enable a 15-year mine life extension.

The Centinela and Antucoya operations already use desalinated water. 

Centinela’s copper output reached 274,200t in 2021, up 11.1% from 2020 due to higher grades and increased throughput. This year’s forecast is 255,000t. The expansion of the Esperanza Sur pit this year is expected to increase production by 10,000-15,000t/y. A second concentrator is also planned, expected to help boost output to around 900,000t/y by 2026.

First-quarter production was 55,800t, down 16.5%. 

Antucoya produced 78,600t in 2021, 0.9% less than in 2020. Production is forecast to reach 80,000t this year. First-quarter production was 17,400t, down 13.9%, due to lower grades but partially offset by higher throughput.

Zaldívar produced 44,000t in 2021, down 8.7% compared with 2020, mainly due to lower-than-planned recoveries and expected lower grades, but partially offset by higher throughput. The chloride leach project completed in January is expected to help boost output to 55,000t this year.

SUSTAINABILITY

Antucoya and Centinela are running fully on renewable energy. Los Pelambres will follow, once the Pan de Azúcar-Punta Sierra-Los Pelambres line starts operations. All company operations will run on renewable energy by year-end, according to the sustainability report.

Automation efforts are advancing at Los Pelambres with autonomous drills and Centinela with autonomous trucks, and more battery-powered trucks will operate at Antucoya as part of the corporate strategy.

Antofagasta Minerals is among the world’s top 10 copper producers.

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