Ivanhoe Mines and commodity firm Gécamines have signed a deal to return the Kipushi mine in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to production.

The firms will form a new joint venture (JV) to redevelop the Kipushi high-grade, underground zinc-copper mine in the Central African Copper belt.

The mine was placed on care and maintenance in 1993 due to economic and political factors.

Ivanhoe Mines purchased a 68% stake in the Kipushi Project in 2011. The remaining 32% interest is held by the DRC’s state-owned mining company Gécamines.

The redevelopment project, which is estimated to have a pre-production capital cost of $382m, will use the significant existing surface and underground infrastructure.

In accordance with a new feasibility study, the Kipushi is expected to have an operational life of 14 years.

Ivanhoe Mines executive co-chair Robert Friedland said: “The new agreement now allows us to responsibly, efficiently and expeditiously develop Kipushi into an ultra-high-grade zinc producer, with outstanding potential to find more zinc, copper, germanium and silver resources – paving the way to fulfilling its promise of significant, long-lasting, economic and social benefits for the Congolese people.”

The new agreement outlines the commercial terms and forms the basis of a commercial JV agreement between Ivanhoe and Gécamines.

Ivanhoe Mines said that the Kipushi project will be the highest-grade major zinc mine in the world.

It is expected to have an average grade of 36.4% zinc during the first five years of production.

Initial mining by the two firms at the Kipushi project will focus on the Big Zinc zone.

Gécamines CEO Bester-Hilaire Ntambwe Ngoy Kabongo said: “Gécamines sees in it the opportunity for an improved exploitation of the Big Zinc, the development of an integrated economic fabric and the imbedding of skills in the Haut-Katanga province.”

Based on drilling campaigns, Ivanhoe has upgraded and expanded the mine’s measured and indicated mineral resources to an estimated 11.78 million tonnes grading 35.34% zinc, 0.8% copper, 23 grams/tonne (g/t) silver and 64g/t germanium.

Last year, BHP Group was in talks with Ivanhoe Mines to acquire part of the Western Foreland exploration area in the DRC.