On 31 March 2014, we completed a multi-year smelter upgrade project at our Mopani copper mine in Mufulira, Zambia. The $500 million, three-stage upgrade was completed 15 months before the deadline agreed with the Zambian government.
Since its construction in 1937, the plant had been emitting SO2 freely into the atmosphere, with a significant effect on local air quality. At the time of our acquisition of the Mopani assets in 2000, we committed to upgrading the smelter and addressing the SO2 emissions.
While the purpose of the upgrade project was primarily to address environmental concerns, we also had to ensure that for the duration of the project the livelihoods of the 9,000 employees at Mopani were protected. It would have been possible to complete this work more quickly, but this would have required the processing plant to close, resulting in massive job losses and a major impact on the local economy, which is heavily reliant on Mopani (it is estimated that every wage supports eight to ten people in Zambia). Instead, we opted to focus on the regional government’s priorities of increasing production and maintaining local job stability.
Phase one was completed in 2007; this involved replacing the existing electric furnace and constructing an acid plant: this stage brought the percentage of emissions captured to 50%. The second phase saw two bigger anode furnaces and twin anode casting wheels installed; it began operations in 2009.
The final phase was to install three larger converters, a range of advanced gas handling equipment and a second acid plant. After this was completed, the smelter began ramping up to full production in April 2014.
Completion of the work means that we now capture 95% of Mopani’s sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions, contrasting significantly with the situation when we took over this asset in 2000, with no gas or dust emissions captured. The smelter upgrade project has been one of the biggest environmental projects ever undertaken in Zambia.