Wang said the company planned to increase throughout to 4,000 tonnes per day from the current 3,000-3,300tpd and add a flotation circuit in order to increase the suite of metals produced. The upgrade will see the mine produce 240,000 ounces a year of gold, 600 tonnes per year of copper and 5,000tpy of zinc.
Zijin completed the acquisition of Canadian junior Continental Gold in March 2020 for C$1.4 billion before the Buritica mine build was completed and as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The pandemic forced work to stop until August due to a government lockdown and the closure of international borders, which impacted the ability of the company's contractors to move.
Production commenced in August at a rate of about 350kg per month of gold (12,345oz) and by the end of 2020 had increased to 500kg per month (17,600oz).
While the start-up has been successful, Zijin Continental has not been able to achieve the 8.4 grams per tonne reserve grade due to the presence of illegal miners, limiting the operation to 6g/t. "We have not reached the design grade as the illegal miners are occupying the high-grade zone," said Wang.
In addition to continuing to produce gold and silver in dore, the expansion and flotation circuit is expected to reduce the use of cyanide by about 50% as less ore will be treated in the cyanidation circuit. Flotation will result in the production of copper and zinc concentrates.
"This will be a similar circuit to the one proposed at Gramalote [the B2Gold-AngloGold Ashanti development stage joint venture project in Antioquia, Colombia]. It will also increase silver recovery 25-30%," said Wang.
With Zijin keen to continue building its presence in Latin America, as evidenced by its recent offer to buy Neo Lithium in Argentina, Wang will soon move to oversee the company's growth in the region. Colombia still figures highly in its aims as does adding more copper to its portfolio.
"Zijin is very ambitious to become a leading mining company in the next 10 years. We are focused on gold and copper. Colombia is still a focus but it depends on how the country defines its future," said Wang.