Top nickel miners ranked by 2017 production

By Michael Allan McCrae

Vale is the nickel king based on 2017 production totals.

Vale produced 242 kilotonnes of nickel in 2017. Note, this is nickel just derived from mines. Total excludes nickel provided by external parties.

Nickel, a key metal for lithium-ion batteries and part of the electrification drive, was on a tear for most of 2018 but has recently fallen to earth. Nickel was up 25 percent this spring when it was trading above $15,000 per tonne, but it has recently succumbed to the base metal rout and is now down to $12,400 per tonne on the LME.

Ranking based on Mining Intelligence data. Annual nickel production is compiled from publicly-traded mining companies, as well as some state-owned mines. Stock exchanges used are TSX, TSX-V, ASX, LSE, LSE-AIM, NYSE and JSE. ranking divides nickel production amongst nickel mines that are jointly owned, such as the Sorowako property that is 59% owned by Vale. and thus is attributed 59% of Sorowako’s total nickel production. Total output at Sorowako was 78 kilotonnes. Vale is attributed 59% of 78 kilotonnes or 46 kilotonnes.

Top Nickel Miners and Total Production From Mines

Vale – 243 kilotonnes – The integrated Brazilian miner is the top nickel producer. It gets a big lift from Canada where both its top-producing mines are located: Vale’s Sudbury Mine produced 62 kilotonnes of nickel in 2017, followed by Voisey’s Bay at 51.8 kilotonnes. The four other mines are Sorowako (46 kilotonnes), VNC-Goro (34 kilotonnes), Onca Puma (25 kilotonnes) and Thompson Operations (23 kilotonnes). Note that the total nickel production for Sorowako, which is 59% owned by Vale, is divided amongst mine owners. Vale also has 95% interest in VNC-Goro.

Norilsk Nickel – 163 kilotonnes – The Russian miner has some of the biggest nickel mines in the world. It’s Kola and Polar Division produced 155 kilotonnes of nickel in 2017. Note that Norilsk doesn’t split out total nickel production amongst the two mines. Production is wholly attributed to Kola. Norilsk’s other mine, Nkomati, produced 8 kilotonnes for the Russian Miner. Norilsk has a 50% interest in the mine.

Glencore – 130 kilotonnes – Glencore’s Integrated Nickel Operations in Sudbury produced 87 kilotonnes in 2017. Murrin Murrin in Australia produced 34 kilotonnes, and Konaimbo in New Caledonia produced 8.5 kilotonnes. Glencore has a 49% interest in Konaimbo.

BHP Billiton – 70 kilotonnes – BHP’s Nickel West produced 70 kilotonnes in 2017.

Anglo American – 44 kilotonnes – Anglo’s Barro Alto and Codemin produced 35 and 9 kilotonnes respectively.

South32 – 41 kilotonnes – All of South32’s production was attributed to its Cerro Matoso Mine that produced 41 kilotonnes.

Sumitomo – 32 kilotonnes – Sumitomo’s Sorowako and Ambatovy produced about 16 kilotonnes each in 2017. Sumitomo has a 21% interest in Sorowako and a 44% interest in Ambatovy.

Western Areas – 25 kilotonnes – Western Areas’ nickel came from its two mines: Spotted Quoll (15 kilotonnes) and Flying Fox (10 kilotonnes).

Lundin Mining – 22 kilotonnes – Lundin got all of its nickel from its Eagle Mine (22 kilotonnes).

Terrafame – 21 kilotonnes – The Finnish miner produced 21 kilotonnes at its Talvivaara Sotkamo mine.

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Creative Commons image of close-up of American nickel courtesy of Jesse! S?.

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BHP ditching ‘Billiton’ from its name, trims CEO pay rise

By Cecilia Jamasmie

World’s largest miner BHP Billiton (ASX, NYSE:BHP) (LON:BLT) is rolling out the second phase of a $10 million rebranding campaign launched last year, which may see it become dropping “Billiton” from its name an attempt to emphasize its Australian roots.

Documents released Tuesday to the Australian Securities Exchange, show the miner will ask shareholders at the annual meeting in October to vote to rename the company as BHP Group.

The rebranding, the first since BHP used the late actor Bill Hunter 30 years ago in its “Big Australian” promotion, can also be seen as an effort to regain public trust after the damage to the firm’s image caused by the November 2015 dam burst at its Samarco joint-venture in Brazil.

It also coincides with chief executive Andrew Mackenzie’s receiving a $100,000 pay rise in the last financial year, but missing out on a significantly higher increase due to two fatalities and lower than targeted production of coal, iron ore and copper

The increase bumped up Mackenzie’s salary to $4.66 million from $4.55 million a year earlier. Target remuneration stood at $7.72 million with a maximum of $13.1 million the in the case of “significant outperformance”, BHP said in its annual report published Tuesday.

For almost a year and a half, the mining giant has been using a new logo that simply says “BHP”, also adopting the motto “Think Big” in place of “Resourcing the Future.”

Chief External Affairs Officer, Geoff Healy, said the second phase of the “Think Big” advertising campaign demonstrates the crucial role the company plays in addressing global challenges through the supply of essential resources.

“Each advertisement will focus on a key global challenge and highlight the role of our commodities in helping build a sustainable future,” Healy said. “The first adverts focus on steel; which is crucial for growing cities and is made from iron ore and coal, and electric vehicles; which need four times more copper than conventional cars.”

The campaign, which kicked off on this week, includes television, print, online and outdoor billboards.

You can watch some of the ads below:

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Lithium Power closer to start mining for lithium at Chile’s Maricunga

By Cecilia Jamasmie

Lithium Power closer to start mining for lithium at Chile's Maricunga

Australia’s Lithium Power International (ASX:LPI) is moving forward with its plans to mine for lithium in Chile as it has submitted the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for its Maricunga project to the country’s environmental authority (Servicio de Evaluación Ambiental or SEA).

The company, which operates in the copper and lithium-rich South American nation through its 50%-owned Cerro Blanco firm, said Monday it expected final approval of the study by the end of 2019.

The Maricunga project has seen significant past exploration, with over $30 million expended to date.

Construction will begin as soon as it receives the permit to do so, which Lithium Power expects by as early as the first quarter of 2020.

The 11,400-page document is the culmination of more than two years of work that involved data gathering, a variety of environmental and engineering studies and monitoring campaigns carried out by experienced company management and consulting experts, the miner said.

It also included a process of social engagement with the Colla indigenous communities in the area, it noted.

The little-known and remote Maricunga salt flat is far smaller than the vast Salar de Atacama (actually, less than 5 percent Atacama’s size), where top lithium producers US-based Albemarle and Chile’s SQM dominate.

But Lithium Power says the asset value is “outstanding,” which is expects to prove before the end of the year, when the definite feasibility study is finished.

Bearing Lithium (TSX-V:BRZ), which holds a 17.7% interest in the brine project, goes even further, describing Maricunga as “the highest grade, undeveloped lithium salar in the Americas.”

The Australian junior says the deposit is second in grade only to the Salar de Atacama, which accounts for 100% of Chile’s lithium output and about 40% of global production.

The project has seen significant past exploration, with over $30 million expended to date.

World’s top copper producer Chile may have lost its crown as the No. 1 lithium producer to Australia (14,100 tonnes versus 18,700 tonnes in 2017), but the South American nation has the upper hand when it comes to reserves and cost of production.

According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), Chile hosts an estimated 7.5 million tonnes — about 52% of the world’s known lithium reserves — compared to Australia’s 2.7 million tonnes of lithium reserves.

When it comes to production costs, Chile’s average per tonne comes in at $1,800, far below that of Australia where average lithium production costs are at $5,000 per tonne.

The nation owes its low production costs to the geological nature of its deposits and ideal climate. Unlike in Australia, where lithium is produced from hard-rock deposits, lithium is extracted in Chile from brine deposits with high lithium concentrations and high evaporation rates due to the intense sun and high altitude winds.

The country’s government expects lithium to soon become its second largest mining asset, just behind copper. It’s currently the country’s fourth biggest export.

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Petra Diamonds CEO to leave following shares value dip, debt increase

By Cecilia Jamasmie

Shares in Petra Diamonds (LON:PDL) climbed more than 6% on Monday after the South African miner reported a 37 percent increase in full-year earnings thanks to higher output at its mines.

Adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) jumped to $195.4 million from $142 million in the previous year, Petra said.

However, the diamond producer posted a net loss after tax of $203.million, versus a profit of $20.7 million in fiscal 2017, as it had to take a $66-million impairment charge related to its Koffiefontein mine and recorded a $104.3-million loss as it discontinued some of its operations.

News follows a 43 per cent fall in the company’s share price this calendar year.

The company, owner of the iconic Cullinan mine, where the world’s biggest-ever diamond was found in 1905, also announced that its chief executive was stepping down.

Johan Dippenaar has held the top position since 2005, when Petra merged with Crown Diamonds, taking the company’s annual production from about 175,000 carats in fiscal year 2006 to 4.6 million carats this year.

Investors reacted positively to the company’s results, with Petra’s shares trading up 5.96 percent in London to 38.87p by 12:44 p.m. local time. However, the stock has lost 43 percent of its value so far this year.

But the road has not been free of obstacles. Petra has accumulated a hefty debt in the last 18 months as it borrowed heavily to expand its mines, particularly Cullinan.

It has also faced illegal mining at its operations, weak prices, a surging South African rand and setbacks in Tanzania, where the government seized last year a diamond parcel from it Williamson mine of about 71,000 carats. The move, part of the country’s ongoing probe into alleged wrongdoing in the diamond and tanzanite sectors, has been costly for Petra, as it shares lost around half of their value last year after the incident.

Petra had to raise $170 million in June as the series of challenges faced also left it cash-strapped, though it would have been on a better place had the eastern African country not owed Petra about $25 million (£19.1 million) in value added tax (VAT) refunds to date, Dippenaar told Reuters.

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Lucapa introduces Lulo diamonds into Angola’s new diamond marketing system

By Valentina Ruiz Leotaud

Lucapa Diamond (ASX:LOM) said it supports the recent diamond sector reforms announced by Angola’s government and that it will sell certain select large premium-value diamonds from its prolific Lulo mine through the country’s new marketing channels.

In detail, the Australian miner and its partners Empresa Nacional de Diamantes and Rosas & Petalas selected six top white diamonds from Lulo, weighing between 114 and 43 carats, and a 46-carat pink diamond to be sold.

“We look forward to marketing these exceptional diamonds as soon as the necessary arrangements are in put in place to continue showcasing Angolan diamonds to the world,” Lucapa’s Managing Director, Stephen Wetherall, said in a media statement.

According to Lucapa, the policy shifts in Angola allow management to plan for the sale of such high-value stones, something the company was not able to do before because previous rules forced producers to sell their gems to middlemen below international prices.

Changes in the diamond sector were introduced by the Joao Gonçalves administration in the first half of the year with the idea of helping producers have greater autonomy on selecting their own buyers and boosting foreign investment.

Angola is the world’s No.4 diamond producer by value and No.6 by volume. Its industry, which began a century ago under Portuguese colonial rule, is successfully emerging from a long period of difficulty as a result of a civil war that ended in 2002.

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How an Aussie miner and American tech company plan to extract lithium quickly in Argentina

By Valentina Ruiz Leotaud

Australia’s Lake Resources NL (ASX: LKE) and America’s Lilac Solutions recently announced that they had established a partnership with the idea of developing the Kachi Lithium Brine Project in Argentina.

Lake owns the project, which is located in the northwestern Catamarca province, some 100 kilometres south of FMC’s Hombre Muerto lithium brine operation. Back in 2017, Kachi received results of over 200 mg/L lithium, recorded from near-surface auger brine sampling. The results maxed out at 204 mg/L lithium. Meanwhile, Lilac is the company in charge of providing its ion exchange technology to produce lithium at the 54,000-hectare site.

What sets this partnership apart is that both the miner and the techie claim they can produce lithium carbonate or lithium chloride more rapidly and at a lower cost than others. According to Lilac, this is possible because its system eliminates the need for sprawling evaporation ponds, which are expensive to build, slow to ramp up, and vulnerable to weather fluctuations.

“Even for the world’s best lithium reserves in the Atacama desert, conventional evaporation ponds take many years to ramp up and remain vulnerable to weather volatility. Lilac’s projects will run at full capacity from year one of commissioning and maintain that output regardless of weather or brine chemistry. We have done benchtop testing in other brines and we saw recoveries over 95% in less than 2 hours versus 9-24 months in evaporation ponds,” the company’s CEO, Dave Snydacker, told

Snydacker explained that the reason why the processes run by his company are so fast is that his engineers have developed ion exchange beads that absorb lithium directly from the brine. Once they do that, the beads are then loaded into ion exchange columns and brine is flowed through such columns. As the brine contacts the beads, the beads absorb the lithium out of the brine. Once the beads are saturated with lithium, the alkali metal is recovered from them as a lithium solution, which is later on processed into battery-grade lithium carbonate or lithium hydroxide using streamlined plant designs.

According to Snydacker, this technology can economically access brines with
low lithium concentrations and high concentrations of other salts, such as magnesium. “With conventional lithium processing, very large quantities of lime and sodium carbonate need to be trucked in to remove magnesium and calcium from the brine. Lilac dramatically decreases the volumes of reagents that need to be trucked in, so we can unlock resources in remote locations. On top of this, our technology is modular so the physical footprint of our facilities is approximately 1,000 times smaller than conventional lithium brine projects using evaporation ponds,” he said.

Lake and Lilac plan to install on-site pilot plants in early 2019 and start commercial production in 2020 with the idea of selling their product to battery companies and affiliated chemical companies producing cathode powders such as NMC, NCA, and LFP.

“We currently have four process engineers working on the Lake project. For the on-site pilot plant next year, we will add three field engineers and three technicians. Each commercial plant will employ dozens of people, and we’re excited to develop positive ties with the communities where we operate,” the executive said.

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Chile lawmakers mull additional mining tax for copper, lithium

By Cecilia Jamasmie

The Lower Chamber of Chile’s Parliament has begun studying a project that would set a 3% mining royalty for all companies operating in the country, which is the world’s top copper producer and the one with the largest known reserves of lithium.

The proposed tax, to be applied on the nominal value of extracted metals, would affect copper miners that produce more than 12,000 tonnes of the metal annually and those extracting 50,000 tonnes a year of lithium, used in batteries that power electric cars.

The idea is to have miners contributing part of their profits to the regions where they operate, Radio Universidad de Chile reported (in Spanish).

The last time Chile increased mining royalties was in 2010, following an 8.8 magnitude earthquake that left the government scrambling for additional funds to rebuild the devastated areas.

The bill, put forward by lawmakers from a number of small parties pushing for Chile’s decentralization, is not thought to have the backing of the government or larger opposition parties.

The last time Chile increased its mining royalties was in 2010, following an 8.8 magnitude earthquake that left the government scrambling for additional funds to rebuild the devastated areas.

At the time, mining taxes went from between 4 and 5 percent to 4 percent to 9 percent of sales on a sliding scale. The royalty rose again early this year to between 5 to 14 percent.

After the lost crown

Chile, which holds about 52% of the world’s known lithium reserves, recently lost its top lithium producer crown to Australia. But both companies and the government are working hard on reversing that.

Over the past several months, Chile’s SQM — the world’s number two lithium producer — has been expanding its mines. The company recently finished the first stage of a lithium carbonate ramp-up in Chile’s Salar del Carmen, reaching a capacity of 70k million tonnes a year.

“Our next step will be to work towards our goal of 120k MT/year, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2019,” chief executive officer Patricio de Solminihac said last month.

The firm actually believes it will soon overtake US-based competitor Albemarle as the world’s top lithium miner, by 2022 to be exact. SQM expects to boost its production capacity that year to 28% of the world’s total versus Albemarle’s 16%.

Chile expects lithium to soon become its second largest mining asset, just behind copper. It’s currently the country’s fourth biggest export.

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De Beers steps up hunt for fake diamonds with new detector

By Cecilia Jamasmie

De Beers, the world’s top diamond producer by value, has unveiled a new device to detect whether that bling ion your piece of jewellery is or not a man-made stone, in an effort to bring greatest transparency to the synthetics market.

The SYNTHdetect XL, and an advanced version of a screening device De Beers launched last year, has a larger base unit that allows multiple volumes of jewellery to be screened simultaneously.

The technology allows users to scan larger necklaces, multiple solitaire rings and multiple bracelets, while retaining the ease of use of the original device, said Jonathan Kendal, President of The International Institute of Diamond Grading & Research (IIDGR), a division of De Beers Group.

The world’s top diamond producer by value has led industry efforts to both verify the authenticity of diamonds and ensure they are not from conflict zones.

Anglo American’s De Beers has led industry efforts to both verify the authenticity of diamonds and ensure they are not from conflict zones where gems may be used to finance violence.

Earlier this year, it announced it had successfully tracked 100 high-value diamonds from miner to retailer using its end-to-end blockchain system Tracr. The event was the first time a diamond’s journey had been digitally-tracked along the supply chain.

Shortly after, the company announced a shocking decision to start selling jewellery containing synthetic diamonds rather than mined ones, for the first time in its 130-year history.

The pivotal shift for the world’s No.1 diamond producer, which vowed never to sell synthetic stones, was followed by another unusual move. Last week, De Beers let customers delay acquiring smaller stones, which took a toll on its sales.

Based on the miner’s own analysis, consumer demand for diamond jewellery in the US — where its synthetic diamonds will be first offered this month— represents more than half of global demand; it touched $43 billion last year versus $82 billion globally.

By the time De Beers $94 million synthetic diamonds plant outside Portland, Oregon, is fully online (by the end of 2020), it will produce about 500,000 carats of diamond rough a year. The figure is a far cry from the company’s forecast of 34m-36m carats of gem-quality mined rough for 2018.

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Top cobalt mines ranked by production in 2017

By Michael Allan McCrae

Glencore’s Mutanda Mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo produced 23.9 kilotonnes of cobalt in 2017 making Mutanda the world’s biggest producer of the blue metal that is also owned by a publicly-traded company.

Ranking was compiled using data from Mining Intelligence. Annual cobalt production is gathered from publicly-traded mining companies, as well as some state-owned mines. Mining complexes are excluded. Stock exchanges used are TSX, TSX-V, ASX, LSE, LSE-AIM, NYSE and JSE.

China Molybdenum’s Tenke Fungurume came in second and with an asterisk, since cobalt production is based on 2016 numbers when the mine was run by Freeport McMoran, which released the mine’s last production results in its annual report. The Arizona-based copper giant sold Tenke Fungurume in 2016 to China Molybdenum for $2.65 billion. China Molybdenum doesn’t publish cobalt production numbers.

Mutanda and Tenke Fungurume are the powerhouses of our cobalt listing, accounting for 60 per cent of the total annual cobalt production of the companies compiled. Both are copper-cobalt mines operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, source of most of the world’s cobalt. S&P Global estimates that global mined cobalt production was 115 kilotonnes in 2017, down slightly from 116 kilotonnes in 2016.

Cobalt has been on a tear. Metal Bulletin (paywall) says low grade free market cobalt hit a high of US$42 lb in the second quarter of 2018. Two years ago the metal could be had for less than US$12 lb.

Mutanda will not be the top cobalt mine for long. Glencore restarted its Katanga Mine, also located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at the end of 2017. Katanga is expected to produce 11 kilotonnes of cobalt in 2018 before tripling output in the following year to 34 kilotonnes.

Top Cobalt Mines By 2017 Production

Mutanda – Glencore’s Mutanda mine produced 23.9 kilotonnes of cobalt in 2017. The open-pit mine started production in 2011 and is locate in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Congo state miner 'strongly opposed' to Lundin's sale of stake in Tenke Fungurume

Aerial view of the processing plant at the Tenke Fungurume mine.(Image: Screenshot from Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold’s video.)

Tenke Fungurume* – China Molybdeum’s Tenke Fungurume produced 16.05 kilotonnes of cobalt in 2016, thus the astericks. Freeport McMoran sold Tenke to the Chinese company for xx in 2016.

Ruashi – The third Democratic of the Republic of the Congo mine produced 4.64 kilotonnes in 2017. The mine is owned by Jinchuan Group International and Gecamines.

Moa – Owned by Sherritt and the Government of Cuba, Moa produced 3.6 kilotonnes in 2017. It is also the first mine in our list that is outside of Africa.

Ramu – The Papua New Guinea nickel mine produced 3.31 kilotonnes for its owner Highlands Pacific Limited in 2017. Cobalt 27 announced a streaming deal with the company in May 2018.

Ambatovy – Located in Madagascar, this nickel laterite mine produced 3.05 kilotonnes in 2017. In the future the company expects the mine to produce 5.6 kilotonnes every year for the next three decades.

VNC-Goro – The nickel-cobalt mine located in New Caledonia produced 2.78 kilotonnes in 2017. The mine owners are Vale and SPMSC.

Bou-Azzer –Bou-Azzer, in Morocco, reports 1.92kt of cobalt production in 2017. The underground mine is one of Managem’s oldest mines.

Vale confirms coming ‘announcement' about Canada's Voisey's Bay mine

The Voisey’s Bay mine and concentrator is located on the north coast of Labrador, Canada. (Image courtesy of Vale.)

Voisey’s Bay – Voisey’s Bay is an open-pit mine located in Labrador, Canada. It was created in 1999 and contains cobalt, copper and nickel. It’s owned by Vale and in 2017 it’s cobalt production was 1.83kt.

Kevitsa – The open-pit mine is owned and operated by Boliden since June 2016. It is one of Finland’s largest mineral deposits discovered containing cobalt, nickel, copper, gold, palladium, platinum, and sulphur. In 2017, 0.59kt of cobalt was extracted.

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Creative Commons image of Cobalt, Ontario courtesy of pkdon50

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Mitsubishi, Sumitomo said to be after Teck’s Quebrada Blanca mine

By Cecilia Jamasmie

Japanese trading Mitsubishi and Sumitomo are said to be interested in becoming a partner of Teck Resources (TSX:TECK.A | TECK.B)(NYSE:TCK) at Canada’s largest diversified miner’s Quebrada Blanca copper mine in northern Chile.

Teck, which last month received regulatory approval for a $4.8-billion extension of the mine, has been looking for a development partner that could invest $2billion for up to 30% to 40% stake in the project.

Other companies interested in partnering with Teck include Freeport-McMoRan, China’s Aluminum Corp of China (Chinalco) and Canada’s base metals miner Lundin Mining.

Other than Mitsubishi and Sumitomo, companies that could bid for a stake in the project include Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE: FCX), the world’s largest publicly-traded copper company, China’s state-owned Aluminum Corp of China (Chinalco), and Canada’s base metals miner Lundin Mining (TSX:LUG) , which recently abandoned its quest for fellow miner Nevsun (TSX, NYSEMKT:NSU), sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

In the past two years, Japanese trading companies have been grabbing assets and increasing their stakes on a few of them thanks to higher commodities prices, which have boosted their profits.

They have been particularly keen on copper assets as supply of the metal is expected to significantly outstrip supply from 2020, due to increasing demand for power generation and electric vehicles (there’s 300kg of copper in an electric bus and nine tonnes per windfarm megawatt).

Early this year, Mitsui & Co. increased its stake in Chile’s Collahuasi copper mine to 11.03%. In June, Mitsubishi Corp upped its interest in Anglo American’s Quellaveco copper project in Peru by 21.9% for $600 million, taking its holding to 40%.

Last year, Quebrada Blanca produced 23,400 tonnes of copper, generating a $182 million-revenue.

The upgrade for which Teck wants a partner is expected to boost mine production to 300,000 tonnes of copper a year. The project includes building a new 140,000-tonne-per-day concentrator and the first large-scale use of desalinated seawater for mining in Chile’s arid Tarapacá region.

The Vancouver-based miner owns 90% of the mine and the country’s national mining company — ENAMI — holds a 10% preference share interest in it, which does not require the state agency to fund capital spending.

Copper, one of four business units at Teck besides steelmaking coal, oil and zinc, is considered a company’s priority.

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