copper
Close up detail of Copper Cathodes

Privately owned and funded junior, Central Copper Resources, is looking to bring a well-recognised but unexploited copper-rich area of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to account.

The western region, about 70 km from Kinshasa, is home to the company’s Mbamba Kilenda (MK) copper project, which could be the starting point to opening up a major new copper territory in the country, CEO KEVIN VAN WOUW tells LAURA CORNISH.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 8, 2020
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Historic exploration defined the mineralisation around the MK project during the 1950s and 1960s and has, since then, always been known to contain high copper grades.

“But it also known to have a fairly complex geological structure, which in the past has been a deterrent from developing new mines in the region,” Van Wouw starts.

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With an honorary background and tertiary education in metallurgy, supported by an active role in international business for much of his career over the last 30 years, Van Wouw is well-equipped to understand the metallurgical needs of the project as well as the financial steps and processes to move it forward.

He has fulfilled the role of CEO of Cradle Arc, founded and run various private companies and prior to that was projects director at LionOre Mining International. Previously, he was senior project manager for the Ngezi and Mimosa platinum projects while working for DRA International.

Current focus

Van Wouw established Central Copper Resources just before the commencement of lockdown in South Africa where he is based. The company is supported by its primary shareholder – Cape Town based African Minerals & Exploration Development (AMED), whose parent company is based in Luxembourg.

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“AMED first became involved in the project in 2013 as a private equity player. It has injected over US$20 million into advancing the project over the years through drilling programmes, metallurgical test work, etc.

“Seven years into its involvement, the company brought me on board to move MK from an exploration play to a producing asset,” Van Wouw outlines.

“Ultimately, the company is looking to see a return on its investment and exit from the venture and will do so when we have fully determined the financial viability of the project through a comprehensive mine design and schedule that also takes into account external factors such as logistics.

“Only then would the project be considered fully de-risked. At this point we could see a buy out from a larger company or alternatively, we may look to list the company on a junior mining centric stock exchange such as the LSE,” he continues.

At present, Central Copper Resources is conducting a pre-feasibility study on the MK project which Van Wouw is looking to conclude in October 2020 after which a full-scale feasibility study will commence.

What the CEO can uncover about the project to date is that drilling has confirmed high grade oxide copper, zinc, lead and silver mineralisation and even vanadium, which is open to the west of the maiden JORC (2012) resource statement published in 2017.

“Thus the extension of this resource would be logical via step out drilling with an infill programme to upgrade the resource classification leading to an expanded and upgraded JORC (2012) classification.”

Resource category (JORC)Tonnes (Mt)Copper (%)Copper metal
Indicated4.33.52152 000
Inferred6.83.52238 000
Total11.13.52390 000
Summary of JORC (2021) compliant mineral resources for MK deposit
(0.5% copper cut-off) as of 2017

Test work campaigns to date have identified the use of Dense Medium Separation and flotation in combination, generating two concentrate products: a Direct Shippable Ore (DSO) from the gravity circuit, and a cleaner, higher grade flotation concentrate.

“The MK project comprises a complex oxide ore body born of volcanogenic massive sulphide type origin as the source with 17 mineral species within a brecciated zone on the fault structure in the sedimentary rock. However, the above outlined processing methodology will likely allow us to process the material and extract the high grade minerals.”

“The unique nature of the ore body is further defined as a shallow mineral continuity in a high-grade horizontal seam, which allows for the use of low cost, bulk mining methods with the advantage of automated operation,” Van Wouw highlights.

The MK vision

A scoping level assessment performed in early 2020 shows the potential to establish a large-scale operation at MK, that becomes financially viable when developed in stages, Van Wouw notes.

He outlines the potential five phases:

  • Phase A: Trial mining via a single decline and DSO material generation. Cost of $60 million
  • Phase 1:  1.2 Mtpa ROM, producing 28-32 000 tpa of copper in concentrate. Cost of $180-200 million
  • Phase 2:  Doubling ROM, resource extension within 15 km strike
  • Phase 3:  Doubling ROM to >4 Mtpa (>100 000 tpa of copper metal)
  • Phase 4: Establishing a smelter to produce copper metal

Historic data focused on the western, central and eastern portion of the 85 km strike length which has seen Van Wouw inject more of his attention into drilling out the eastern portion.

“While Phase 1 will focus on building a project in the eastern most 5 km of the ore body – we are clearly seeing the strike extension to the west and with drilling – even just a few kilometres more – we’ll upgrade the definition of the resource necessary to expand our project as indicated,” Van Wouw outlines.

But because of its complex nature, he emphasises the necessity for a trial mining phase extending to between 150 and 250 m in depth. This is scheduled to last for approximately two years.

“This will ensure we truly understand our ore body. But we are eager to begin this phase and hope to kick off early in 2021 after which we have forecast a six-month period to reach mineralisation – providing us with sufficient time to establish the necessary processing infrastructure.” The MK project does already have its mining licence approved, making this timeframe feasible.

Fortunately, the trial mining period will be largely self-financed from which Van Wouw hopes to deliver around 8 000 tpa of copper (from a 500 000 tpa ROM rate).

“As we start to generate copper concentrate successfully, I do expect to see equity interest which will set the pace to fully enter Phase 1 production – which will require in addition to expanded mining and processing, an access road, port upgrades, power supply infrastructure, etc.”

The consequent expansion phases are at this stage proposed to take place every two to three years, eventually reaching that 4 Mpta ROM mark.

Talking challenges

Van Wouw speaks openly about the challenges that lie ahead – none of which is unfamiliar in the DRC or any remote region of Africa. The access road construction to site requires aggregate material still to be identified post lockdowns. This will make transporting equipment to site more accessible.  

“The support network from our service providers will also be limited. Local communities will require extensive training as the region is remote and largely focused on agriculture.”

And while the Mining Code is according to Van Wouw “simple and understandable”, the challenge lies in the decisions made – which are “by decree”.

“Nonetheless, with a great payback period and good copper grade and quality, the project is still a financially attractive option.”

“The development of our first project on the eastern end of the strike area is the company’s priority, initially including the completion of a pre-feasibility and then a final feasibility.

“We intend our first project to bring more than 1 Mt of copper in reserve, while at the same time the exploration and development of new project targets in the remainder of the 85 km strike length will be considered,” Van Wouw concludes.