"Now that you can see and touch Kakula's high-grade copper ore, it really hits home that we are well underway toward building the first of multiple high-grade copper mines in the area," Kamoa-Kakula copper project geology manager David Edwards said.
Kakula is the first cab off the rank at the large-scale copper project, with a stage one 6 million tonne per annum underground mine and processing complex expected to be expanded into staged 18Mtpa development.
Ivanhoe said construction was progressing well and Kakula was on track for first concentrate in the third quarter of 2021.
The company said grades of about 4% copper had been returned from sampling and were expected "to significantly increase" as the development crews advanced the drifts towards the deposit's central mining zones which were in excess of 8% copper.
Ivanhoe said last month after proceeds from CITIC Metal Africa and Zijin Mining investments, it had cash, equivalents and a loan receivable from High Power Exploration totalling about US$900 million and no significant debt, which meant it could fully finance its share of costs to bring Kakula into production, plus advance its Kipushi and Platreef mines and Western Foreland exploration project.
Kakula is a joint venture between Ivanhoe (39.6%), Zijin (39.6%), Crystal River Global (0.8%) and the DRC (20%).
Ivanhoe last month reported the highest grades yet from drilling at the Kamoa North Bonanza zone, with initial readings as high as 18% copper over 18.86m.
Ivanhoe shares closed up 0.8% yesterday to C$3.55 and have gained almost 50% so far this year.
The company is capitalised at $4.2 billion (US$3.2 billion).