First Quantum Minerals – Trident project

Special focus

A project without equal

John Gladston, Trident Resource Optimisation Manager, discusses the history and growth of the Trident project, the largest single investment project that Zambia has ever witnessed.

“Trident represents the biggest single project investment in Zambia that has ever occurred, totalling some $2 billion,” states John Gladston, Trident Resource Optimisation Manager. “As is typical of First Quantum, the project is going great guns and is progressing on-time and to budget.”

The initial two mines at Trident are the Sentinel low grade copper mine and the Enterprise nickel mine. The Sentinel processing facility of the former will have a target throughput rate of approximately 55 million per annum of ore at an average grade of 0.5 percent copper. It is estimated that the mine will ultimately provide an annual production rate ranging between 280,000 and 300,000 tonnes of copper.

The Sentinel plant itself will comprise three in-pit crushers delivering to a crushed ore stockpile providing a live capacity of 80,000 tonnes. Two milling trains, each comprising a 40 foot (28MW) SAG mill and a 28 foot (22MW) ball mill, will produce a final grind of 80 percent passing 212 micron for flotation. Four banks of rougher-scavenger flotation cells, each utilising seven cells of 300 cubic metres capacity followed by three stages of cleaning will provide a recovery of over 90 percent, into a concentrate of about 24-26 percent copper. Tailings will then be thickened in three metre by 50 metre diameter thickeners prior to discharge to the tailings storage facility.

A secondary crushing circuit is being installed to maintain the mill throughput to offset a harder ore in the deeper areas of the pit. This circuit will initially comprise two large cone crushers with the ability to add more crushers at a later date. The crushers will treat a portion of the ore feeding the stockpile, crushing the top size to below 40 millimetres. A pebble crusher will also be installed to crush pebbles ejected from the SG mills down to below ten millimetres, to minimise critical size build up in the milling circuit. By June 2013 over 50,000 cubic metres of concrete had been poured and well over 700 tonnes of steel installed.

The Enterprise processing circuit was approved by First Quantum in December 2012 and first concrete is expected to be poured shortly.

Elsewhere, First Quantum is also constructing a new $630 million copper smelter in Solwezi. This facility will accommodate the copper concentrate output from both the Kansanshi mine and Trident.

“Today,” Gladston continues, “we are employing approximately 2,000 people across the project, 1,700 of whom are local Zambians. We prefer not to use foreign contractors, but rather to employ directly and train our people on the construction job for future operations. This is again something that is indicative of First Quantum. If we can employ a local individual to do a job or if we can purchase equipment or material locally then we will. While clearly you can sometimes only do this to a certain extent, particularly when it comes to the sort of highly technical equipment or vehicles required during such a large project, this fact by no means detaches us from our core aspirations for Trident and that is to keep it a Zambian project for Zambian people as much as possible.”

At the same time as it has been concentrating a large amount of effort on the above facilities and developments, the company has also commenced with the initial clearing operations for the Sentinel open pit mine itself and the in-pit crusher box cuts that go with it. Once operational the mining operation will require the use of a state-of-the-art fleet, comprising 15 Komatsu 860E and 21 Komatsu 960E haul trucks, to be fed by three Caterpillar/Bucyrus 1350t rope shovels and three Komatsu PC5500 shovels. Each of the 960E trucks will carry in the region of 360 tonnes and cost around $6 million each to manufacture.

“Obviously we need people to operate these vehicles and these have to be individuals who display the aptitude to operate such hugely expensive pieces of engineering,” Gladston explains. “What we have done to address this need is to embark on a very intense screening process to attract people with the right aptitude. Once selected we placed these individuals on an intensive simulator training course, which required them to complete 40 hours of training before even getting into the vehicle itself. It is an incredibly thorough programme, but one that means we end up with highly skilled, and most importantly Zambian, operators working in the mine.”

To assist in the work being undertaking during the construction phase of the project the company also recruited a small number of experienced Filipino and Indonesian construction workers. “These individuals come equipped with skills sets that we were not able to source in Zambia,” Gladston says, before going on to highlight the real benefit of bringing these workers in to the project. “What we are doing is ensuring that there is a complete transfer of skills to our Zambian employees. This extends to a whole range of areas and trades, be it a boilermaker, high-end electrician or steel and concrete worker. Each and every day we are witnessing this transfer of skills and watching as young men and women gain talents that they will possess for the rest of their working lives. Again, we prefer not to use foreign contractors: this way the skill transfers stay in Zambia.”

During the construction phase at Trident, First Quantum anticipates that local unskilled employees will be able to learn further employment skills, and this will help prepare them for selection processes when the mine comes in to production.

In preparation for the Trident project, First Quantum signed a multi-million dollar partnership agreement with the Ministry of Science, Technology and Vocational Training to build a new Technical Training Facility. With the project underway exceptional Zambian employees at Trident have the opportunity to be enrolled on First Quantum’s Accelerated Development Programme. In addition First Quantum provides scholarships for exceptional Zambian school leavers. Currently, 17 Zambian students receive scholarships to the University of Zambia and the University of Cape Town at a cost of $10,000 per year.

First Quantum is fully aware that what it is undertaking with Trident is ground breaking for Zambia and thus it has always anticipated that it would encounter legislative gaps and that is something that it has had to navigate around. “Such navigation requires patience,” Gladston highlights, “and we have that in abundance. Nevertheless, when it comes to getting things done we always look to move quickly when the time is right and we do so decisively.”

In order for this approach to be as successful as possible First Quantum ensures that it actively engages with all relevant parties, from local communities to government ministers and agencies to forge strong relationships and allow them to see and understand the positives that this project can and will bring to the region.

“I strongly believe that the government of Zambia understands that the employment and investment opportunities that we are presenting with the Trident project are and will be hugely beneficial for the country as a whole,” Gladston says. “By the time we are fully operational it is possible that, on top of the 2000 jobs we already provide, and depending on the multiplier effect to the local community, there could be as many as 8,000 spin off in direct employment opportunities.”

Of course, as Gladston highlights, there is much more to Trident’s contributions to Zambia than just employment. “By the time we are operational we will be contributing revenue to the country in the form of royalty and profit taxes, the proceeds of which will go directly to the Zambian exchequer providing a much needed boost to the economy.”

In addition, First Quantum is developing a properly planned and fully serviced town for the habitation of its workforce at Trident. The town will lie outside the mining lease and be open to investment for Zambian and other third parties. “It is difficult to attract Zambian talent to North Western Province, because housing and schooling are limited,” Gladston states, “so we are constructing new and better facilities. We have no desire to become property developers, rather we believe that our Zambian workers should own their family home, as this will provide them the collateral and the opportunity to save and create wealth.”

First Quantum is also applying for a Multi Facility Economic Zone at Trident to attract retail, commercial and light industrial companies to invest in the town. “It is part of effort in developing local business and local procurement that we are encouraging businesses to establish at Trident, and we believe development of such secondary and tertiary industries will leave behind a truly sustainable town and region,” says Gladston.

Further to its investment at Sentinel, First Quantum’s Trident project and Solwezi smelter will catalyse further infrastructure development in North Western Province. First Quantum is partnering with ZESCO Limited, the state power utility, to build 600 kilometres of 330kV transmissions through the Western Corridor of Zambia. The Kalumbila transmission line project is of enormous strategic benefit to Zambia as a whole, further opening up the western provinces of Zambia to rural electrification and improving power security.

Associated investment in roads, airports and other infrastructure is expected to provide further development opportunities. Trident itself is located some 150 kilometres by road from Solwezi on the main T5 road to Mwinilunga. In order to improve access to the project a new 30 kilometre all-weather road is to be developed to the mine and town.

In future years an access road will also be constructed to link to the Enterprise mine, which will subsequently be used to haul ore back to the Sentinel plant to ensure all services can be effectively shared. The project also provides a platform for further road (and possibly rail) infrastructure development in Zambia. It is First Quantum’s belief that implementation of Trident will create a trigger point for better transport connections overland to Namibia, Botswana and Angola.

The decision to go ahead with the Trident project, initially at the Sentinel mine, is recognised by the international community as a very positive endorsement of the continuing emergence of Zambia as a destination for capital investment. For its part First Quantum has a long-term commitment to the Government and people of Zambia. First Quantum anticipates that the development of the project will be a major contributor to the continuation of Zambia’s strong economic growth record over the past few years, providing development, employment, increased government revenues, growth of diversified industries and enhancements to the sustainability of local communities.

“There is no doubt in my mind,” Gladston enthuses, “that within five to ten years from now Trident will be rightfully recognised as a flagship mining project, not just in Zambia, but in Africa as a whole. We are going to be producing up to 300,000 tonnes of copper in concentrate form per year and by then we hope that after Sentinel comes Enterprise which will produce a nickel concentrate. So we see the whole of the Trident project as being a great success. Similarly, I have no doubt that there are other mining majors looking with great interest at how we are proceeding with the project and that we are going to be able to demonstrate to them in due course that Trident represents a great and long-lasting success story.”

As Gladston goes on to conclude, the success of Trident has come as a result of a number of factors. “Our success to date is rooted in the talents and commitment of our employees, particularly our local Zambian workforce. With all that in mind we are very much looking forward to a successful commissioning of the full project during 2014.”