Bolivia's Comibol mulling refinery at Colquiri zinc mine

Bnamericas Published: Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Bolivian state mining company Comibol, which is struggling to stem production declines, is dusting off a project to build a small-scale refinery at its zinc unit.

Union, Comibol and mining ministry officials were scheduled to hold talks on Monday on the project at the Colquiri underground zinc-tin mine in La Paz department, according to a Comibol statement.

Comibol, which awarded a US$77mn expansion contract at Colquiri to local firm Carlos Caballero in April, has been studying a project to build a 30,000t/y refinery at the mine since 2012. Bolivians in recent years have been pressuring for more jobs in the mining industry.

“This necessity is of national interest. The technical justification is the constant ore stockpiles that are sold at low prices,” the union said in a document. “If this commitment isn’t met, the workers won’t be responsible for measures that may be taken.”

Colquiri, which is in arbitration with Swiss trader Glencore over its expropriation in 2007, has been battling declining production and mineral theft for several years. The government in March appointed geologist Sabino Arando as the company's third CEO this year.

Colquiri’s zinc production fell 1.6% to 14,997t last year, while tin output was down 1.4% to 3,700t, marking the second straight year of declines for both metals.

The Colquiri refinery, which would be dwarfed by Mexico's Met-Mex Peñoles (570,000t/y) and Nexa Resources' Cajamarquilla in Peru (320,000t/y), is part of President Evo Morales' drive to invest about US$2bn in the mining and metallurgical industries, including mines, smelters and foundries.

Bolivia’s mining industry, led by Sumitomo and Pan American Silver, produced 527,206t zinc concentrates in 2017, according to the mining ministry. The country currently operates the Vinto (tin) and Karachipampa (lead-silver) smelters, both of which have seen production declines in recent years due to technical problems.

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