Of a list of all copper smelters in the world, three are listed in Australia.
One was Port Kembla Copper – but that has closed. One is owned by Olympic Dam Corp. A company search reveals Olympic Dam Corp is owned by BHP Billiton – and has now changed its name to BHP Billiton Olympic Dam Corporation Ltd.
BUT it has environmental problems
And it is expensive...so expensive that (as one article below suggests) BHP must build a second smelter....(in Daru?)
OLYMPIC DAM – and OLYMPIC DAM COPPER SMELTER
The deposit was discovered by Western Mining Corporation in 1975 near Roxby Downs Sheep Station and started production in 1988. It now belongs to BHP Billiton, which acquired WMC Resources in 2005. The mine currently operates by an underground mining method called sublevel open stoping, using modern and highly productive mining equipment. The March 2005 mine production rate is an annualised 9.1 million tonnes making it one of Australia's larger mines. 2005 metal production is thought to be in excess of 220,000 tonnes of copper, 4500 tonnes of uranium oxide, plus gold and silver. The copper and uranium oxide are exported through Port Adelaide. Most of the mine workers live in the nearby towns of Roxby Downs and Andamooka. Regular flights to Olympic Dam Airport serve Olympic Dam. (The Olympic Dam mine uses 35 million litres of Great Artesian Basin water each day, making it the largest industrial user of underground water in the southern hemisphere. Because artesian pressure is high in the south of the basin the water flows to the surface via mound springs. Water is pumped along an underground pipeline from two bore fields which are located 110 km and 200 km to the north of the mine. The salty bore water requires desalination before it is used. Contaminated water from mining operations is passed through a series of sealed ponds where it evaporates. This is having a major negative effect on rare and endangered flora and fauna of nearby mound springs, which are drying out as a result of the water draw-down rate. The mound springs are the only permanent source of water in the arid interior of South Australia and a delicate yet intricate ecological balance has been established. Due to their prolonged isolation the mound springs contain many rare and endemic species that have undergone genetic differentiation and speciation. The springs are important as drought refuge areas for much wildlife and as wetlands for migratory birds, recognised as being of national importance. The rare and endemic species include plants, fish, hydrobiids, isopods, amphipods and ostracods, many of which occupy specialised areas within a spring such as the open pool, outer rim or the rocky outflow channel, are threatened by mining operations.
2. Olympic Dam News
Breaking news re OLYMPIC DAM copper smelter
BHP to halt Olympic Dam production
BHP Billiton is to shut down its Olympic Dam smelter production for almost a month.
The company says a reduction in smelter production had affected mining operations, near outback Roxby Downs in South Australia.
A BHP official said there were some issues with the smelter in the September quarter, which affected the throughput.
The outage for the December quarter would be for maintenance to address this.
BHP Billiton revealed back in August it would defer any expansion of the uranium, copper and gold mine due to market conditions.
It wants the SA Government to extend its indenture agreement for the proposed expansion until October 2016.
First posted Wed Oct 17, 2012 12:10pm AEDT
Staff cut after Olympic Dam plan shelved
Updated Mon Aug 27, 2012 8:03am AEST
BHP Billiton says up to 140 staff from its Olympic Dam expansion team will lose their jobs, mostly from its Adelaide office.
The company has released a statement saying the current team of 190 project members will be cut to about 50.
BHP says many employees will be able to apply for ongoing positions and others will be considered for redeployment.
It follows the company's decision this week to delay the Olympic Dam mine expansion project.
Announcing the decision, BHP chief executive Marius Kloppers said the delay was due to rising costs and weaker commodity prices.
He ruled out a link to the mining tax, which does not apply to the copper, uranium or gold extracted from the site.
Mr Kloppers also praised the South Australian and Federal governments for the role they played in negotiations over the Olympic Dam mine.
BHP says it will now investigate a new and cheaper design for the Olympic Dam open-pit expansion.
The decision to shelve the expansion was announced on the same day the company announced a full-year net profit of $14.7 billion, a 34.8 per cent drop on last year.
BHP Billiton Olympic Dam Corporation Pty Ltd. operates an uranium mine in south Australia. It produces refined copper and uranium oxide, as well as gold and silver as co-products. The company is based in Southbank, Australia. BHP Billiton Olympic Dam Corporation Pty Ltd. operates as a subsidiary of BHP Billiton Ltd.
BHP Billiton's desperate Olympic race
Published 7:25 AM, 30 Jul 2012
BHP has been quietly flagging that it will delay development of Olympic Dam for two years because of the slowdown in China and the fall in mineral prices. A decision will be made in December.
That explanation will satisfy the short term crazed institutions but the reasons for any deferral of Olympic Dam will go much deeper and indicate that BHP may not be the right company to develop Australia’s richest mineral deposit – at least not alone.
The BHP plan is to dig an enormous open pit and take out the ore (see footnote) and there is no better company to do that than BHP. But Olympic Dam requires much more. First to justify expenditures of around $30 billion, Olympic Dam can’t be just left to the whims of the markets for uranium and copper. Customers need to commit to the product at a price that delivers a return and for that commitment they will want to take some of the equity to be protected on the up side.
Then comes the technical side, where Olympic Dam appears to have major hurdles to overcome.
It is no secret that the mineralogy of the Olympic Dam copper sulphides is complex and this caused the giant Anglo group to walk away from bidding seriously for WMC in 2005. Anglo engineers argued that while a flotation process should be straightforward, uranium would remain in the copper concentrates. And even after an acid leach of those concentrates, the level of uranium in the concentrates would present technical and political problems if the concentrate material had be transported.
Seven years later and it seems that there is still no widely accepted hydro metallurgical route for the recovery of uranium from an acid leach in relatively saline water. Some say a desalination plant would be required but that would be a huge cost
Others say that BHP needs to erect another smelter, as the previous Olympic Dam owner, WMC, concluded. WMC showed that the smelter process works and the WMC smelter continues to treat ore mined underground at Olympic Dam. But it is expensive and BHP has made it clear that erecting another smelter is not their favoured option so they must devise a solution. If Olympic Dam is deferred then it is likely BHP has not found a non-smelter economic solution to the uranium extraction problem isolated by Anglo seven years, given the huge fluctuations in market metal prices.
But there is another problem that is causing some to speculate that BHP needs a technical as well as a customer partner at Olympic Dam. BHP was once a global mining technology giant. That is no longer so and it relies on outsiders for much if its technical expertise. The company has a history of failure in high technology mining ventures including Hartley Platinum, hot iron briquettes, mineral sands and Ravensthorpe.
In the case of Ravensthorpe Nickel, BHP lost $3.6 billion after closing down the mine in 2009 after less than a year of operation. BHP sold the dormant plant to First Quantum Minerals for $340 million and First Quantum had the expertise to run it profitably. Any non-smelter solution to Olympic Dam will again thrust BHP into high technology mining treatment where it has a track record of failure. BHP is not the only global miner to run down its technology in favour of highly profitable digging and shipping. If BHP steps back from Olympic Dam in December it should also reveal any wider long-term treatment problems and canvass new partners.
Footnote: BHP's environmental statement revealed it planned to spend six years removing the overburden to access the ore body. In all, it planned to remove a 350 metre thick layer of overburden and the rock taken out will be transported to a rock storage facility that covers 6,720 hectares and will eventually be 150 metres high. By 2050, when the mine has not even completed half its life, the pit would be 4.1 kilometres long, 3.5 kilometres wide and one kilometre deep (An Olympic victory for BHP, May 16, 2011).
The solution: build a smelter in Daru