ASX-listed diversified mineral development and investment company, Cape Lambert Resources, is targeting production start-up from its DRC-based Kipushi cobalt-copper tailings project by year end and in so doing will generate significant new profits on the back of soaring cobalt prices.
"And this is just the start as the company looks to confirm a ‘super high’ grade cobalt resource at its nearby Kasombo project which will position the company as a quality cobalt focused producer," says executive chairman Tony Sage.
This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa, Edition 4 2018
Cape Lambert is fast-tracking the start-up of its Kipushi project, comprising a process plant and tailings dam, on the back of escalating cobalt prices.
The company acquired the project in May 2017 after signing a 50/50 joint venture with DRC-based Paragon Mining which led to the establishment of a new joint venture company - Soludo-Lambert Mining SAS (SLM) - to develop and operate FELimited’s cobalt-copper assets in the DRC.
This also includes the Kasombo project (including three cobalt-rich mineralised areas in the Kasombo region).
The Kipushi and Kasombo projects are both located in the Katanga Copperbelt, in Haut-Katanga Province.
They are approximately 25 km from Lubumbashi and benefit from excellent infrastructure and mine services and suppliers.
Entering the cobalt space is on everyone’s radar, but purchasing exploration assets requires years of work and effort before any material gains can be made.
Cape Lambert’s approach made strategic sense – the acquisition of an asset that included an already-built process plant has enabled the company to move quickly up the development curve and will see it produce cobalt before the year closes – 18 months after purchasing the asset.
Kipushi action plan
An action plan to get Kipushi to production is well underway and entails laboratory test work by South Africa-based research institute Mintek to conduct test work on the tailings material in order to determine what circuitry adjustments would be required to convert the three-year old, never-been-used US$15 million Kipushi processing plant from a predominantly copper-focused process to a copper and cobalt focused process.
This evaluation will also consider whether to produce a combined concentrate or separate elements.
With a 4 Mt resource – which extends over 1 km in length, over 400 m in width and an average depth of 8 m - Cape Lambert will look to produce between 2 000 and 3 000 tpa of cobalt and between 7 000 and 8 000 tpa of copper for around five years after processing about 800 000 tpa of material through the plant.
“These volumes are slightly less than our original targets, but thanks to the cobalt price, even at lower production volumes we’ll generate bigger profits,” says Sage.
And while the company is happy with the resource and its ability to deliver good cobalt and copper recoveries, it has determined the necessity for some extension work to be undertaken on the plant – specifically the addition of a leach circuit.
“Metallurgical test work, which will be completed within the next four months, will determine how the leach plant can be effectively incorporated into the process plant and how the metals will be separated,” Sage further explains.
The plant gradient was also not optimally designed and essentially lies flat, as opposed to flowing on a downward angle – which requires more electricity to operate so this is another area of improvement that needs to be considered and rectified.
Fortunately, the plant’s electrical reticulation is one of plant’s most impressive features, Sage points out, noting that it is also connected to the country’s main grid system.
“This is a major advantage considering power supply is one of the mining industry’s greatest challenges in the DRC.”
Cape Lambert has subsequently appointed South African based engineering consulting firm, GWCH
Consulting, to complete a detailed engineering review of the Kipushi plant on behalf of SLM.
GWCH’s initial assessment will be completed imminently and will allow the joint venture to finalise the detailed engineering budgets and schedules according to current objectives.
“It is a pain staking exercise to be so thorough but because the cost to bring Kipushi into production may be between $4 and 5 million, we need to follow the correct procedures and do this properly.”
A company game-changer
Situated just 2 km from the Kipushi process plant, the Kasombo tenements represent the possibility for a longer operational lifespan beyond reprocessing the Kipushi tailings dam.
The Kasombo 7 deposit in particular, one of three deposits including Kasombo 5 and 6, is expected to confirm high grade cobalt resources following completion of further drilling programmes.
“Artisanal miners in the area are panning and producing a 5% cobalt concentrate which they are selling to local Chinese operators.
"Should our drill results confirm an ore body containing above 1% pure cobalt we will mine and transport this material to the Kipushi plant for processing for blending to improve the overall grade,” Sage reveals.
This will require the further addition of an upfront crushing and grinding circuit to the plant, but will not impact on the production schedule as it currently stands.
“This has the potential to be a company game-changer. There are so few mines which operate primarily as cobalt producers with copper credits. In our case however we would look to produce high grade cobalt and copper from this specific deposit.”
Cape Lambert has to date discovered cobalt at depths as shallow as 17 m – meaning the deposit could be mined on surface.
Kasombo 5 has also delivered “fantastic numbers” to date including 5% copper-containing drill holes and 0.16% cobalt at 15 m.
“We need to complete a feasibility study at Kasombo to truly understand the contents of these deposits and our intention is to complete this in the next 18 months.”