The legacy mining companies have left in Kabwe remains deeply toxic, with residents still suffering the consequences of a century of negligence. Image courtesy of Jubilee Metals Group.
The project is estimated to contain 356,843t of zinc and 351,386t of lead in approximately 6.4Mt of historical surface mine tailings and discards. Image courtesy of Jubilee Metals Group.
The joint venture started construction of the zinc recovery circuit in the second quarter of 2018. Image courtesy of Jubilee Metals Group.

Jubilee Metals Group and BMR Group are jointly developing tailings reprocessing facilities at the Kabwe mine to recover lead and zinc from the tailings deposits of the site.

The project aims to recover lead, zinc and vanadium from approximately 6.4 million tonnes (Mt) of historical surface mine tailings and discards, which are estimated to contain 356,843t of zinc and 351,386t of lead.

Jubilee Metals Group is acting as the project manager and operator on behalf of the joint venture (JV).

BMR completed a definitive feasibility study (DFS) of the wash plant tailings of Kabwe in September 2013. Construction of the zinc recovery circuit at Kabwe started in the second quarter of 2018, while commissioning is anticipated by mid-2019.

Kabwe mine location and history

The oldest mine in Zambia, the Kabwe mine is located within the mining licence 7081-HQ-SML, to the south of Kabwe and east of the Great North Road in Zambia.

Following the discovery in 1902, the mine witnessed the start of mining operations in 1904 and reached full-scale production in 1906.

Mine operations were, however, halted in June 1994 due to unfavourable economic viability, resulting in The Zambian Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM), the national mining company, placing the mine under care and maintenance.

“Following the discovery in 1902, the mine witnessed the start of mining operations in 1904 and reached full-scale production in 1906.”

The mine has operated for 88 years continuously and produced 1.8Mt of zinc, 800,000t of lead, 7,816t of vanadium oxide (V₂O), 80,000kg of silver (Ag) and 235,000kg of cadmium.

Following the reorganisation of the Kabwe complex ownership, BMR acquired all the surface rights over the 705ha at the site and all the tailing stockpiles at the mine.

BMR subsidiary Enviro Mining and its subsidiaries Enviro Processing and Enviro Props hold the assets on behalf of BMR.

Tailings at Kabwe project

An estimated 1.1Mt to 1.6Mt of Pb/Zn-rich silicate ore in-situ is expected to be present at Kabwe at the time of closure in 1994, in addition to above-ground dumps of mineral-rich tailings, slag, and waste.

The mine is estimated to contain JORC-compliant measured mineral resources of 304,771m³ of wash plant tailings. The tailings contain an estimated 61,147t of zinc and 41,345t of lead grading 10.66% Zn and 7.21% Pb.

The measured leach plant tailings resources at Kabwe are estimated to be 2.65 million dry tonnes containing 102,690t of zinc and 230,810t of lead grading 3.88% Zn and 8.71% Pb.

Kabwe processing plant details

The Kabwe processing plant will include separate zinc, lead and vanadium recovery circuits. Zinc is proposed to be recovered first, followed by further processing of the discard of the zinc circuit in the lead recovery circuit.

An estimated 10,800 tonnes per month (tpm) is proposed to be processed in the initial stage, which will be further increased to 25,000tpm in the second and final phase.

The wash plant tailings dumps comprise the historical process residue produced at Kabwe before being placed under care and have a combined lead and zinc grade of 17.87%.

Jubilee also proposes to access the existing zinc refining capacity located near the project.

Development partners for Kabwe tailings reprocessing

 A JV named Kabwe Operations was formed by Jubilee and BMR for developing the Kabwe tailings reprocessing project. Jubilee Metals Group holds an 87.5% stake in the JV, while BMR holds the remaining 12.5%.

Jubilee has agreed to fund the project through debt financing without diluting BMR’s shareholding, as part of the agreement. BMR’s shareholding is expected to dilute to a fixed 11% if Jubilee makes a capital investment of more than $15m.

The agreement also entitled Jubilee an option to acquire 100% of the issued shares of EML, while BMR may either hold the remaining 12.5% interest in Kabwe Operations or be paid 12.5% of the generated earnings as royalty.

Site access

Access to the project is through a network of tarred roads, although this is limited during rainy seasons.

The project is also located close to railway sidings connecting to the main international East Africa railway with direct connections to Lusaka, South Africa, and Indian Ocean ports. 

Contractors involved with Kabwe

Mineral Corporation Consultancy prepared the JORC-compliant mineral resources estimate for the wash plant tailings of the Kabwe project while African Mining Consultants (AMC) prepared the environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) of the project.

Ascot Group (Ascot) prepared the DFS for the gravity separation stage of the wash plant tailings of Kabwe, as well as conducted the DFS of the wash plant tailings leaching stage and the processing of the Kabwe leach plant tailings.