China’s CMOC to build TFM Cu-Co mixed ore mine in DRC

China Molybdenum (CMOC) has announced plans to develop a new mixed ore processing project at its Tenke Fungurume copper-cobalt mine (TFM) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Cobalt feedstock producer, announced it will invest US $2.51billion for the project which involves three production lines to process 3.5mn t/yr of mixed ore, 3.3mn t/yr of oxide ore and 5.6mn t/yr of mixed ore respectively. It is projected to be completed and start production in 2023, which will raise TFM’s capacity by 200,000 t/yr metal equivalent for copper and 17,000 t/yr metal equivalent for cobalt from current capacity of more than 200,000 t/yr for copper and 20,000 t/yr for cobalt. CMOC’s wholly-owned subsidiary CMOC DRC will be responsible for the project.

CMOC holds 80pc of TFM and the DRC’s Gecamines owns 20pc. TFM’s main products are copper cathode and crude cobalt hydroxide. Cobalt-copper mining in the DRC, including at CMOC’s TFM mine and Glencore’s Mutanda mine, is transferring to the underground sulphide ore from the overground open-pit oxide ore.

CMOC is the second-largest global cobalt feedstock producer after Switzerland-based Glencore, with its TFM mine producing 15,400t of cobalt and 182,600t of copper in 2020. Cobalt output at TFM during 2011-20 totalled 146,000t, accounting for 13.5pc of global production.

2021 cobalt production guidance

The firm in February raised its 2021 cobalt production guidance to 16,500-20,100t of metal equivalent, up from 14,000-17,000t in 2020, reflecting an anticipated rise in its TFM output. TFM has a copper resource of 24.87mn t and cobalt resource of 2.487mn t. CMOC acquired it from US-based base metals mining firm Freeport-McMoRan in 2016, putting an expansion project at the mine into pilot production last month.

CMOC at the end of 2020 acquired another DRC cobalt mine Kisanfu with 3.1mn t of cobalt and 6.28mn t of copper resources. It will partner Chinese battery manufacturer Contemporary Amperex Technology to jointly develop the mine and underwrite its copper and cobalt products in the future based on their shareholding ratio. More details were undisclosed.

Global electric vehicle and battery manufacturers have been expanding their ownership of cobalt resources, as the metal is a key feedstock in production of battery cathode material. Chinese new energy vehicle sales are forecast to hit 2.4mn units this year compared with an earlier prediction of 1.8mn units, according to the China Automotive Manufacturers Association.

Argus last assessed prices for cobalt hydroxide stable at $21-21.50/lb cif China on 4 August. A producer has already received a spot enquiry for cobalt hydroxide and anticipated more in the coming weeks.

Argus’ weekly index for copper concentrate treatment and refining charges (TC/RCs) increased by 4.9pc to $58.30/t and 5.83¢/Ib today from $55.60/t and 5.56¢/Ib a week earlier, despite a strike threat at copper mines in the world’s largest production hub of Chile.

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