Michael Kavanagh Kinshasa

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC’s) state mining firm, Gecamines, aimed to boost copper output 46 percent this year, even as it sought funding for new projects, chief executive Ahmed Kalej Nkand said this week.

Part of the production might come from a deal with Trafigura Beheer, the second-largest minerals trader, to process a copper tailings stockpile at Gecamines’s Lupoto mine, Nkand said on Monday at company headquarters in Lubumbashi, the capital of the DRC’s mineral-rich Katanga province.

“There’s still some preparation work” on a processing plant, he said. “Once we’ve finished that, we can start operations”, producing about 3 000 tons of concentrate a month over 33 months.

Gecamines was once one of the biggest copper producers, shipping 476 000 tons in 1986, until years of mismanagement and war in the DRC almost destroyed the company. This year it was set to produce 60 000 tons of copper, up from 41 000 tons last year, Nkand said. Copper prices are down 9.4 percent this year.

“It will be a great challenge because of electricity problems” and a 300-megawatt deficit forcing the country to ration supply to mining companies, he said.

A plan to build a 500MW coal plant had not yet reached the feasibility study stage, a year and a half after the company first announced the development, Nkand said.

Gecamines is also trying to find financing for its fully owned Deziwa and Ecaille C mining concessions, among DRC’s largest with 4.85 million certified tons of copper and 401 900 tons of cobalt reserves.

“It’s a dream concession,” Nkand said.

The company took control of the project, which may eventually produce 200 000 tons of copper a year, after settling a dispute with its former partner in January 2013.

The DRC was the sixth-largest copper producer last year, according to CRU Group, and the largest producer of cobalt, used in rechargeable batteries.

Most production came from projects run by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, Glencore Xstrata, and Eurasian Natural Resources. Gecamines has minority stakes in joint ventures with all three producers.

The company had put on hold its plan to sell its 20 percent in Glencore’s Kamoto Copper Company (KCC) to finance Deziwa’s development, Nkand said. “Given the moment, given many parameters, it wasn’t interesting to make that transaction,” he said.

DRC’s mines ministry and several national and international NGOs complained about the company’s plan to sell the stake in KCC, currently DRC’s biggest mine. That led former US president Jimmy Carter to appeal to the DRC’s government in November last year to ensure the sale process met international standards of transparency and accountability. – Bloomberg