Mexico, the world's biggest silver producing country, and Poland host three each of the world's 10 biggest silver mines. Bolivia, Turkey, Peru and Australia host the remaining four. Mining-technology.com profiles the 10 biggest silver mines in the world, based on contained silver reserves.
Penasquito, located in the north-eastern part of the State of Zacatecas, Mexico, is the world's biggest silver mine by reserve. The proven and probable silver reserves of the mine as of December 2012 stood at 911.8 million ounces (Moz). Silver contained in the mill ore was estimated at 869.52Moz, whereas the heap leach ore reserves were estimated to contain 42.28Moz of silver.
The poly-metallic mine containing gold, silver, lead and zinc is owned and operated by Goldcorp. The mine started commercial production in 2010. It consists of two open pits, namely Peñasco and Chile Colorado, which together constitute the largest open-pit mine operation in Mexico. The ore processing capacity of the mine complex is 130,000t per day. Penasquito is expected to produce more than 20Moz of silver in 2013 and continue to produce silver for a further 22 years.
The Polkowice-Sieroszowice mine located in the Legnica-Glogów Copper Belt of Poland is the second biggest silver mine in the world. The copper-silver mine, which is owned and operated by state-owned mining enterprise KGHM, produced more than 14Moz of silver in 2012. The proven and probable silver reserves of the mine were estimated at 545Moz as of December 2011.
Polkowice-Sieroszowice is an underground mining operation that uses blasting to extract ore from the Polkowice, Sieroszowice and Radwanice deposits. Extracted ore is processed at the Polkowice-Sieroszowice mining plant which has been in operation since 1996. The mine's total contained silver reserves stand at 775Moz, including its share of reserves in the Deep Glogów deposit located adjacent to it. KGHM plans to mine 50% of the Deep Glogów deposit through the Polkowice-Sieroszowice operation.
San Cristobal, Bolivia
San Cristobal mine, a silver-lead-zinc mine located 500km south of the city of La Paz in Bolivia, contains 533.38Moz of silver reserves (December 2011 estimate), making it the third biggest silver mine in the world. The mine is owned and operated by Minera San Cristobal (MSC), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Sumitomo Corporation of Japan.
San Cristobal is an open-pit mining operation extracting ore from Jayula, Tesorera and Animas mineral deposits in the south-western part of Bolivia's silver-tin belt. Extracted ore is transported by trucks to the crushing plant near the site, from where the crushed ore is sent via a 1.6km long conveyor belt to the 40,000tpd concentration plant. The mine's annual output is up to 600,000t of lead, silver and zinc concentrates.
Pitarrilla mine located in the State of Durango, Mexico, ranks as the fourth biggest silver mine in the world. The probable silver reserves of the mine as of December 2012 were estimated at 478.7Moz. The feasibility study for the silver mining project was completed in December 2012 - however, the decision of when to begin operations was still pending as of November 2013. Vancouver-based mining company Silver Standard owns Pitarrilla mine.
The total construction costs of the mine are estimated at $741m. The development will include an open-pit mining operation with the use of trucks and shovels. Flotation and leach processing methods will be employed for the ore treatment. The mine is expected to produce 15Moz of silver per annum during the initial 18 years of production. The mine life of the project is 32 years.
Lubin mine, located 347km south-west of Warsaw, Poland, ranks as the fifth biggest silver mine in the world. The mine was estimated to contain 442.4Moz of silver, including 254.8Moz of proven and 187.6Moz of probable silver reserves as of December 2011. The copper-silver mine is one of the three mines owned and operated by KGHM in the Legnica-Glogów copper basin of Poland.
Lubin mine has been operational since 1968. It is an underground mining operation extracting ore from the Lubin-Malomice deposit discovered in 1957. It is comprised of nine working sections at a depth of 610m to 850m. Room-and-pillar method with hydraulic backfill is used for the mining. The extracted ore is sent to the ore enrichment plants. The mine produces approximately 13Moz of silver per year.
Rudna, another mine owned by KGHM in the Legnica-Glogów copper belt of Poland, ranks as the sixth biggest silver mine in the world. The copper-silver mine was estimated to contain 357Moz of silver, including 242.8Moz of proven and 114.2Moz of probable silver reserves as of December 2011. It has been operational since 1974 and produced more than 21Moz of silver in 2011.
The mine exploits the copper and silver resources of the Rudna mineral deposit. It is an underground mining operation consisting of 11 shafts and 13 mining sections at a depth of 950m to 1,150m. It employs room-and-pillar method with hydraulic backfilling. The extracted ore is sent to the Rudna Concentrator for processing. KGHM plans to mine half of the neighbouring Deep Glogów deposit through the Rudna operation. The reserves of Rudna and 50% of Deep Glogów, if combined, will be 587Moz, making it the third biggest silver mine in the world.
The Gumuskoy silver mine located in the Kutahya province of western Turkey ranks as the seventh biggest silver mine by reserve. The mine, also known as the Eti Gumus silver mine, is estimated to contain about 335Moz of silver (100Mt of ore grading 95g/t Ag).
The open-pit silver mine is owned and operated by the Turkish state-owned mining company Eti Mine Works. The extracted ore is sent to the 12Mtpa Gumuskoy silver plant for processing. The mine produced 11.2Moz of silver in 2010. Silver metal is produced as bullion bars and as silver shots from the Gumuskoy plant.
Fresnillo mine, located about 60km north-west of Zacatecas in Mexico, is currently the eighth biggest silver mine in the world. The mine was estimated to contain 308.47Moz of silver, including 78.81Moz of proven and 229.65Moz of probable silver reserves as of December 2012. Historically mining operations have been recorded at the site as far back as 1554.
Modern mining operations comprise of an underground mine and a floatation plant. The milling capacity of the mining complex is 8,000tpd. Fresnillo is also considered to be the world's biggest primary silver producing mine. It produced 6.224Moz of silver and 29,573oz of gold in 2012. The mine life of Fresnillo is estimated to be 12 years.
Antamina mine, the ninth biggest silver mine in the world, is located 200km from the city of Huaraz in the Andes Mountains of Peru. The copper-zinc mine produces silver and lead concentrates as by-products. The mine's proven and probable silver reserves as of December 2012 totalled 285.7Moz. Compania Minera Antamina, a joint venture between BHP Billiton (33.75%), Xstrata (33.75%), Teck (22.5%) and Mitsubishi Corporation (ten percent), owns and operates the mine.
Antamina commenced commercial production in 2001. It includes an open-pit mining operation using trucks and shovels. The extracted ore is sent for processing to the concentrator plant at Camp Yanacancha. The milling capacity of the plant was increased to 130,000tpd in 2011. The mine produced 11.7Moz of silver in the financial year ending June 2013. Antamina has an estimated mine life of 14 years.
Cannington mine in north-west Queensland, Australia, stands as the tenth biggest silver mine by reserve. The underground mine was estimated to contain 217.9Moz of silver as of June 2013. It includes 193.23Moz of proven and 24.7Moz of probable silver reserves. Cannington is currently the biggest silver producing mine in the world. It produced 31.062Moz of silver in the year ended June 2013.
The mine, owned and operated by BHP Billiton, was discovered in 1990. Commercial production started in 1997. Cannington also produces lead and zinc.
The sulphide ore extracted from the underground mine is sent to the nearby beneficiation processing facility where silver, lead and zinc concentrates are extracted. The mine produced 213,400t of lead and 56,300t of zinc in the year ended June 2013. The mining life of Cannington is estimated to be 11 years.
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