Zambia Copper Output to Double in 2017, Mines Minister Says

Updated on
  • New mines and increased power supply to spur output increase
  • Production to rise slightly this year as operations recover

Zambia’s copper production will double in 2017 from a projected level of as much as 750,000 metric tons this year, said Christopher Yaluma, the mines minister of Africa’s second-biggest producer of the metal. A CRU Group analyst said the target is “wildly optimistic.”

The increase will come from First Quantum Minerals Ltd.’s Kalumbila mine, a new project Glencore Plc is building at its Mopani mine and known as the synclinorium shaft, and improved power supply, he said Thursday in an interview at a conference in Lusaka, the capital.

Low copper prices, which have fallen for three straight years, and an electricity crisis have hurt production in Zambia, even as Kalumbila began operating last year. Output rose slightly to 711,515 tons in 2015.

The southern African nation may produce 1.5 million tons “if Kalumbila goes full throttle with all the power issues resolved,” Yaluma said. “It will depend on the response of the mining companies -- if they all go full throttle, the power goes on and Mopani’s synclinorium goes fully operational.”

While Kalumbila, also known as Sentinel, is built to produce as much as 300,000 tons of copper annually, the mine hasn’t been able to reach full capacity because of early processing problems and power constraints. Glencore has suspended most production at its Zambian operations while it invests in building new shafts and upgrading existing facilities.

The target of 1.5 million tons next year is “wildly optimistic,” said Piotr Ortonowski, a copper analyst at CRU Group in London. “Based on the current pipeline of projects, impossible.” Production growth will be flat or rise to as much as 800,000 metric tons in 2016, he said in reply to e-mailed questions. Next year, it will rise to just less than 1 million tons, according to Ortonowski.

Copper output may rise in 2016, “but not substantially beyond last year’s levels,” Zambia Chamber of Mines President Nathan Chishimba said in an earlier interview. “I reasonably believe we are on track to reach, at the very least, last year’s levels.”

The ruling Patriotic Front said in its party manifesto published this month it’s targeting production of 2 million tons of copper next year, without detailing how it will achieve that.

(Updates with analyst comment from the first paragraph.)
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