UK-headquartered mining firm Antofagasta’s board of directors has given the go-ahead for a $1.3bn expansion of the Los Pelambres copper mine in Chile.

The expansion will allow the company to increase production from the mine by around 60,000t of copper per year over the first 15 years of operation.

With construction planned for early next year, Antofagasta is targeting production start-up in the second half of 2021.

The company noted that the expansion will raise the throughput at the plant from the existing capacity of 175,000t of ore per day to an average of 190,000t.

Expansion work involves building an additional SAG mill, ball mill and the corresponding flotation circuit with 24 additional cells.

Antofagasta CEO Ivan Arriagada said: “The expansion of our world-class Los Pelambres mine is an important step forward in the advancement of the Group’s organic growth pipeline.

“The expansion project will add 60,000t a year of low-cost copper production at this long-life operation and will ensure that it remains a first quartile producer for many years to come.

“The project includes the construction of a desalination plant and water pipeline which will also benefit the existing operation in cases of prolonged or severe drought, and for a potential further phase of expansion.”

Annual copper production from the project is anticipated to increase from 40,000t in the first year at the expanded throughput to 70,000t towards the end of a 15-year period.

Antofagasta stated that around $500m would be spent to construct a desalination plant and water pipeline.

“The expansion of our world-class Los Pelambres mine is an important step forward.”

The desalination plant is expected to supply the expansion and a potential further growth phase.

The plant will also serve as a back-up for the existing operation in case of extreme dry conditions.

Subject to the receipt of relevant regulatory approvals, the company expects to undertake a subsequent phase of expansion, which will further increase output and extend the mine life of Los Pelambres.

Antofagasta owns a 60% stake in the Los Pelambres project, while consortiums led by JX Nippon and Mitsubishi hold the remaining 40%.