Report probes metal, copper processing potential in Nevada

The cover of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology report, "Opportunities for Precious Metals Toll Processing and Copper Concentrate processing in Nevada" 

ELKO — Opportunities for processing precious metals and copper in Nevada is the subject of a recently published Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology report — the first of its kind in about 30 years.

“It’s about continuing to promote mine development in the state of Nevada,” said Joel Lenz, mining industry specialist with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

The report seeks to understand the state’s total processing potential, connect those interested in toll milling and determine if a copper processing facility would be beneficial.

The Nevada Commission on Mineral Resources initiated the study, and it was published in late 2018.

“The purpose is to establish a report that actually reached out to all of the metal processing facilities in the state and take a snapshot of what their circuits are designed to do,” said Rich Perry, administrator of the Nevada Division of Minerals. “I think it is of significance that this type of look at just the mineral processing side of the metals business in Nevada had not been done since the early ’90s when the U.S. Bureau of Mines was still in business.”

The study describes 51 existing facilities, including details such as location, ownership, process type and capacity. Through research and communication, the authors discovered that many sites are engaged in toll milling — processing ore for other operations for a fee — or would be willing to undertake toll milling.

“There were indeed numerous ones that indicated that they were interested,” Perry said.

Revealing which operations are willing to collaborate for ore processing could open up opportunities for exploration and development companies needing to process ore from smaller operations. Sharing capacity or retrofitting idled processing facilities is more likely than building new plants at a high cost.

“There are opportunities for them to get the ore processed in Nevada and make [smaller deposits] viable operations,” Lenz said.

The Turquoise Ridge Joint Venture near Golconda is an example of a successful toll milling agreement, Perry said. Barrick Gold Corp. operates and has a 75 percent interest in the underground gold mine while Newmont Newmont Mining Corp. performs the milling at its nearby Twin Creeks operation and maintains a 25 percent interest in the mine. The arrangement allows TRJV ore to be processed nearby without Barrick having to undertake building a new processing facility.

“That was a great synergistic move for both companies,” Perry said. “The companies that have milling process facilities are probably going to want to talk about joint ventures.”

The report also highlights Nevada’s copper production and examines the feasibility of building a copper processing facility in the state.

Two operations — the KGHM Robinson mine near Ely and Newmont’s Phoenix mine near Battle Mountain — mine copper in Nevada, and a third is expected to come on line this year with Nevada Copper’s Pumpkin Hollow operation near Yerington.

All of the state’s copper concentrate is being shipped out of the country for processing. The product usually travels by rail to a port on the west coast of the United States or Canada and is taken to Asia.

The potential for copper mining in Nevada and the West has analysts saying that there is enough “to justify the construction of a copper smelter or a copper autoclave,” Lenz said. “We foresee the copper market growing. It would be something worthwhile in the state for economic development.”

The report examines potential locations along the Interstate 80 corridor with existing infrastructure and available air basins and describes two types of possible facilities —smelter or autoclave. Having a copper processing facility could also open up possibilities for downstream operations such as wire manufacturers, brass mills and copper-alloy manufacturers, according to the report.

Perry said the handful of printed reports he took to a recent mining conference went fast, as everyone from those in Toronto finance houses to people running junior companies were interested in learning about potential business connections.

“It is at least an opportunity on paper that those entities can talk to each other,” Perry said. “It has opened up some conversations.”

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