EghtesadOnline: Iran is the leading copper producer in the Middle East and North Africa region.
To reach the government’s 2025 target output of 800,000 tons of copper cathode, an average annual growth rate of 14% would be required starting in 2015, a sevenfold increase compared with 2% registered in the previous decade.
In 2015, the country’s production of copper concentrate increased by 23.1% to 979,650 tons and copper anode by 0.5% to 232,950 tons, while copper cathode output shrank 1.5% to 190,685 tons from those of 2014.
In 2014, Iran exported 46,600 tons and imported only 400 tons of copper cathode, reads a report recently published by the US Geological Survey on Iran’s nonfuel mineral industry.
National Iranian Copper Industries Company, the leading producer of copper in the country, operates the country’s three major copper mines of Sarcheshmeh, Sungun and Miduk whose combined reserves (proven, probable and possible) have been estimated to be 3.4 billion tons of ore containing an average of 0.6% copper, reports Financial Tribune.
Sarcheshmeh Copper Mine, located in Kerman Province, is the world’s second largest and the Middle East’s largest open-pit copper mine. The mine holds over 826 million tons of proven and 1.2 billion tons of estimated copper reserves with 0.7% average purity (5% of the world’s total), alongside substantial amounts of other minerals such as molybdenum, gold, silver and rare metals.
It was first discovered in 1928, but it was not until nearly 40 years later that detailed exploration projects were undertaken. In 1967, Kerman Copper Industries Company was established in partnership with a British firm that led to the discovery of 400 million tons of copper reserves. KCICO lacked the means and the financial capability to operate the mine and was, therefore, purchased by the government.
In the early 70s, state-owned Sarcheshmeh Copper Mines Corporation took over the mine and approached the American Anaconda Copper Mining Company to utilize Anaconda’s expertise in copper mining.
The copper complex was established and production kicked off up until the advent of the Islamic Revolution in 1978, which brought about the nationalization of SCMC and Anaconda’s assets and the establishment of NICICO, currently Iran’s largest copper producer.
Sungun Copper Mine is Iran’s second largest copper mine, located in East Azarbaijan Province and holding over 470 million tons of proven and 1 billion tons of potential reserves with an average purity of 0.6%.
The third major copper mine is Miduk. Also located in Kerman Province, the open-pit mine is situated 132 kilometers northwest of Sarcheshmeh. Miduk possesses 170 million tons of proven copper reserves with an average grade of 0.25%.
NICICO was in the process of increasing copper production through expansion of existing facilities in 2015. During the year, the company added about 300,000 tons/year to its total copper concentrate production capacity by commissioning two ore beneficiation units in Sarcheshmeh and Sungun.
The capacity of Sarcheshmeh Copper Complex increased by 160,000 tons/year of copper concentrate and 1,100 tons/year of molybdenum concentrate, whereas that of the Sungun copper complex doubled to 300,000 tons/year of copper concentrate.
The company was also in the process of building the 200,000-ton/year Khatoonabad Refinery in Kerman Province, and the 50,000-ton/year Sungun solvent extraction–electrowinning plant to produce copper cathodes.
In addition to 496,450 tons of copper concentrate, NICICO produced about 6,068 tons of molybdenum concentrate and 565 tons of sludge containing gold and silver in Sarcheshmeh in 2015.
In October 2015, NICICO signed an investment agreement with the Middle East Mineral Industries and Mines Development Holding Company, Mahan Industries and Mines Development Corp. and Mofid Economic Group for the construction of the 100,000-ton/year Chah Firouzeh copper concentrate plant in Kerman Province, southwestern Iran. The plant, which would be 65% owned by the three privately owned companies, was expected to begin operating by 2019.
In February 2016, NICICO signed a memorandum of understanding with Germany’s Mansfelder Kupfer und Messing GmbH for a $1.1 billion investment in the development of downstream copper fabrication capacity in Iran and the delivery of 70,000 tons/year of copper cathode to MKM.
In April 2016, NICICO announced that owing to low prevailing global copper prices, it would scale back its plans to increase production to 700,000 tons/year of copper in concentrate in the near future, though it still aims to reach 420,000 tons/year by 2020.
The company exported about 40% of its concentrate production in 2015 instead of processing it into cathode owing to relatively high labor costs that prevailed in domestic smelting and refining.
The copper sector is one of the industries most primed to benefit from the removal of sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear energy program.
For miners, the reopening of Iran to international trade meant regaining access to lucrative export markets and new production technologies.
Iranian Mines and Mining Industries Development and Renovation Organization, Iran’s largest mining holding and NICICO’s parent company, held talks with the global mining giant Rio Tinto in Berlin on the possibility of new investments in Iran’s copper, aluminum, steel and gold industries,” Deputy Industries Minister Mehdi Karbasian said after opening an Iran-Europe business center in early June.
Karbasian noted that back in May, top executives of Glencore, Trafigura and Aurubis participated in a meeting in Hamburg to discuss cooperation in the Iranian copper industry.
“Glencore and China’s NFC already have business agreements to help develop Iran’s copper industry,” Karbasian said earlier this year.
“Iran hopes to raise its copper concentrates output to as much as 2 million tons a year by 2025 in conjunction with partners as part of a national development plan.”