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Heap leach modeling – A review of approaches to metal production forecasting

Minerals & Metallurgical Processing , 2017, Vol. 34, No. 2, pp. 53-64

Marsden, J.O.; Botz, M.M.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.19150/mmp.7505


Heap leaching is responsible for approximately 21 percent — 3.9 million metric tonnes — of copper production and 9 percent — 270 metric tonnes or 8.7 million ounces — of gold production worldwide. Given metal price assumptions of $2.25/lb for copper and $1,250/oz for gold, these portions of global production generate revenues of $19 billion and $11 billion, respectively. For heap leaching operations, small changes in metal extraction efficiency drive substantial changes in operating cash flow margins and affect project viability. Variances in actual metal production from budgetary forecast estimates can mean the difference between success (value creation) and failure (value destruction) for a heap leach project. Despite the importance of heap leaching for copper, gold and silver production worldwide, there are no clear standards or guidelines for developing heap leach metal production forecasts. There is considerable variation among copper and gold producers that apply heap leaching technology as to how such modeling and forecasting is applied at the operational level. There are a variety of different modeling approaches that can be utilized for this purpose. However, these vary in cost, complexity, time to implement, accuracy and credibility. This paper explores the options available for heap leach modeling, discusses the advantages and disadvantages of each approach, and provides guidelines/recommendations for an effective approach to modeling metal production at existing or planned heap leach operations. The paper also provides expected ranges of variation between actual and modeled production.