News Releases
Government Home Search Sitemap Contact Us  

September 19, 1997
(Mines and Energy)

Minister releases Copper Concentrate Smelter Viability Study

Charles J. Furey, Minister of Mines and Energy, today released the Copper Concentrate Smelter Viability Study completed by Hatch Associates Ltd. The report, commissioned by the government in March 1997, studied the viability of a copper smelter in the province based on the copper concentrates to be produced at the Voisey's Bay Project.

"The study provides an expert professional opinion on the technical and economic factors required for an economically viable copper smelter. Upon review of the document, I am satisfied that the study has adequately addressed the questions put forward by government to Hatch Associates Ltd.," says Furey.

"There are several main points and conclusions in the Hatch report," says Furey. "Essentially the report states that 150,000 to 200,000 tonnes of copper per annum are required to build a viable copper smelter in today's economic circumstances. Voisey's Bay will produce an average of 65,000 tonnes of copper per annum. The report also states that no discovered copper ore bodies exist in the province which could supplement copper concentrates from Voisey's Bay sufficiently to provide a total combined copper concentrate feed of 150,000 tonnes of copper annually over the economic life of a new greenfield smelter, which is typically 20 years at a minimum."

Furey added: "While the study states that is not likely that a copper smelter is viable, if the technological, economic and market forces currently impacting on copper change, or if there are new copper deposits discovered which could supply the additional tonnes of copper required to make a smelter economically viable, then government will ensure that the copper concentrates from the Voisey's Bay Project will be made available on a fair market basis to any developer of a copper smelter in the province."

"The government is committed to gaining full benefits from the Voisey's Bay Project for the people of the province. Even without a copper smelter, 88 per cent of the value of metal production will be smelted and refined at Argentia including 20 per cent of the copper. The value of the remaining copper represents 10 to 12 per cent of the total value of metal production from the Voisey's Bay project," says Furey.

"Increasing the production at the mine and nickel smelter in order to make a copper smelter viable is not in the best interest of the people of the province, the project or the company. While the copper market can absorb the increased production, the nickel market which is one-tenth the size of the copper market, cannot. Doubling production would add 20 per cent to the world's nickel market, depress the price of nickel and hence reduce revenues for all stakeholders - including tax revenues for the province."

Hatch Associates is one of the leading consultants in Canada and internationally on mineral processing, smelting and refining and has done previous work for the province related to smelting possibilities in Labrador West and at Long Harbour.

See backgrounder for further results of the study. Copies of the report are available upon request.

Contact: Tara Laing, Communications, (709) 729-4890



The Department of Mines and Energy has been evaluating the possibility of establishing a copper smelter in the province based on the Voisey's Bay Project since 1996 when INCO released it's proposed production rates for the Voisey's Bay Project. Early in 1997, the Department decided to obtain independent advice from outside experts on this matter since there are complex technical issues related to the smelting of nickel bearing copper concentrates and possible new developments in smelting technology.

The Department decided to engage Hatch Associates Ltd.(Hatch), recognized international consultants on smelting and mineral processing, to provide an independent assessment of the technical and economic viability of a new copper smelter based on the Voisey's Bay Project.

The final report from Hatch was received on August 22, and is being released as a public document today, September 19, 1997.

There are several main points and conclusions in the Hatch report.

(1) A new greenfield copper smelter is not likely to be economically viable if it produces less than 150,000 tonnes of copper annually. The copper available from Voisey's Bay will average 65,000 tonnes annually.

(2) The cost of constructing a new copper smelter in a greenfield site is twice the cost of expansion or refurbishing an existing smelter. No new copper smelters have been built in the Americas in the last ten years.

(3) Most planned new copper smelters are in non-free market economies and are heavily supported by local governments directly or indirectly through tariffs.

(4) If a copper smelter were built using imported copper concentrate as the primary feedstock, then such a smelter would find itself competing against the Japanese copper smelting merchant market on a price basis and probably attempting to win market share in the higher growth copper markets of the Far East. Such price and cost pressures would indicate that a large scale smelter would be required (i.e. 250,000 tonnes or greater) and it is difficult to determine what clear competitive advantage the province would hold for such an operation.

(5) There are no known copper deposits in Newfoundland which could add significantly to the copper requirements of a copper smelter. Two deposits, the Ming Footwall Deposit near Baie Verte and the Tally Pond Deposit near Millertown, could together provide up to 14,000 tonnes annually at some time in the future. The existence of a copper smelter in the province would not significantly change the economics of these or other known copper deposits in Newfoundland.

(6) There are technical difficulties in smelting copper concentrates containing a high level of nickel such as in the Voisey's Bay case. This results in increased operating costs per pound of copper produced, making the economics of smelting less attractive. This also leads to increased costs in refining such copper.

(7) No commercial-scale proven technologies exist which are suitable for small scale copper smelting of less than 100,000 tonnes but this matter continues to be investigated. Hydrometallurgical processes for converting copper concentrates to copper metal

without a traditional smelter are being pursued by the copper industry but no such process has yet been proven to be commercially viable.

(8) If mineral exploration in the province results in the discovery of a copper deposit with sufficient reserves to supplement the 65,000 tonnes to be available from Voisey's Bay to a total sustained level of 150,000 tonnes annually, then the merits of locating a copper smelter in the province should be revisited. To allow for such a possibility, the Voisey's Bay copper concentrates should be marketed on flexible terms which could provide for re-direction to a Newfoundland smelter under normal commercial terms should circumstances warrant.

The report by Hatch Associates Ltd. is presented in two volumes. Volume 1 contains the main report, consisting of an executive summary, an outline of the scope of the study, a discussion on the main components of the study and a concluding discussion. Volume 1 also contains a glossary of terms, a bibliography and a documentation of copper smelters worldwide. Volume 2 is an extensive literature review of published articles on copper smelting.

A copy of the Report is available on request. Volume 2 is probably of interest only to technical and scientific readers.

Contact: Tara Laing, Communications, (709) 729-4890

1997 09 19 11:40 a.m.

SearchHomeBack to GovernmentContact Us

All material copyright the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. No unauthorized copying or redeployment permitted. The Government assumes no responsibility for the accuracy of any material deployed on an unauthorized server.
Disclaimer/Copyright/Privacy Statement