Canada-based SilverCrest Mines has begun the mill commissioning of the new 3,000t per day (tpd) counter current decantation Merrill-Crowe (CCD-MC) processing plant at its 100%-owned Santa Elena Mine in Sonora, Mexico.
The mill commissioning is part of a three year expansion plan for SilverCrest Mines to move from an open pit heap leach operation to a conventional mill.
The $99m expansion programme includes drilling, a pre-feasibility study, detailed engineering, building a new processing plant and the development of an underground mine.
The three month commissioning phase will see metal production grow at a slow rate from approximately 500tpd to full capacity of 3,000tpd.
The commissioning phase will test all aspects of the facility and consider issues that may arise in future.
During the commissioning phase, the mill feed will come from the leach pad reserve, including blending of higher-grade underground ore that will begin in the second quarter of the year.
SilverCrest Mines president and chief operating officer N. Eric Fier said that the mill start-up is a significant milestone in the successful development of Santa Elena and the responsible growth created by the phased approach business plan of the company.
"This major achievement is a testament to the hard-working teams at Santa Elena and SilverCrest as we continue to make the transition from a junior to a mid-tier precious metal producer. The new processing facility and underground mine will significantly increase our silver and gold production in 2014 and beyond," Fier said.
The expansion also includes underground mine development, which is progressing at an average rate of 10m a day and has already completed 2,800m.
For underground mining, the company will use its own production equipment, which is expected to arrive later in the quarter.
Santa Elena Mine is located 150km north-east of Hermosillo in the State of Sonora, Mexico. The mine produces high-grade epithermal silver and gold, and has estimated life of eight years.
According to SilverCrest, the expansion of the new 3,000tpd mill facility at the Santa Elena mine will enable it to recover an average annual rate of 1.5 million ounces of silver and 32,800oz of gold over the current reserve.