Mine expansion commences at the Las Bambas copper mine

News Analysis




Mine expansion commences at the Las Bambas copper mine

An increase in copper output from the troubled Peruvian mine would also see additional molybdenum production.

The Las Bambas open pit mine is a large porphyry copper deposit located in Cotabambas, in the Apurimac region of southern Peru. Las Bambas is a joint venture between Chinese operator MMG (62.5%), Guoxin International Investments (22.5%) and CITIC Metal (15%). The mine was commissioned in July 2016 and has an operational mine life of 18 years. The mine primarily produces copper concentrate, with molybdenite concentrate, gold and silver as by-products.

Over the past few years, Las Bambas has produced considerably less than its capacity of 400,000tpy due to ongoing protest action by local communities. These protests intensified in 2021 and have disrupted mining activities, blocked access roads and set back expansion plans.

In 2022, MMG received authorisation by the Peruvian government to build the Chalcobamba pit at its Las Bambas operation, however, construction could not start due to local opposition. However, in 2024, MMG and the local community apparently reached an agreement to start construction of the new pit. As a result, preparations for mining at the new Chalcobamba pit have begun with MMG hopeful that excavation of copper from the new open pit could commence by the end of this year. If this materialises, the additional output could see Las Bambas production increase to approximately 400,000tpy Cu in 2025. As a result, an increase in molybdenum by-product production is also expected.

Copper prices have risen steadily over recent months over concerns that global supply will fall short of rising demand from renewable energy projects and electric vehicles. With ongoing supply concerns and high copper prices, a number of miners have been looking at potential options to expand their current operations. Greenfield/brownfield copper projects are important too, however, their development timeline from discovery to first ore production can take decades. As a result, the expansion of existing mines is one option to ensure that supply increases to meet demand over the medium term.

Another upside of these expansions, particularly in the South American porphyry copper region, would be increased volumes of by-product metals such as molybdenum, gold and silver. Not only would these expansions help to sustain global copper requirements, but they would also boost future supplies of other metals that are becoming increasingly important for the energy transition.