Ivanhoe Mines said construction and commissioning of the phase one, 3.8Mtpa Kamoa-Kakula concentrator plant had been accelerated.
"We now expect to produce our first copper concentrate by the end of May or early June, months ahead of the original schedule," Kamoa Copper CEO Mark Farren said.
Kakula was projected to be the world's highest-grade major copper mine, with an estimated early average feed grade of more than 6% copper.
Phase one was expected to produce about 200,000 tonnes of copper annually, rising to a phase two 7.6Mtpa operation producing 400,000t per year in the third quarter of 2022.
"Given the current copper price environment, Ivanhoe and its partner Zijin are exploring the acceleration of the Kamoa-Kakula Phase 3 concentrator expansion from 7.6Mtpa to 11.4Mtpa, which may be fed from expanded mining operations at Kansoko, or new mining areas at Kamoa North (including the Bonanza Zone) and Kakula West," the company said.
Closing a US$575 million convertible senior notes offering in March was enabling it to fast-track plans.
Ivanhoe said its phased expansion scenario to 19Mtpa would position Kamoa-Kakula as the world's second-largest copper mining complex, with peak annual copper production of more than 800,000t.
The BHP-operated Escondida mine in Chile is the biggest producer, with a circa 1.2 million tonne copper output in FY20.
Kamoa-Kakula is a joint venture between Ivanhoe (39.6%), Zijin Mining (39.6%), Crystal River Global Limited (0.8%) and the DRC government (20%).
Ivanhoe shares (TSX: IVN) are trading near an all-time high, closing up 3.5% to C$8.97 yesterday to capitalise it at $10.8 billion (US$8.8 billion).