(Mining.com)-Rio Tinto (NYSE, ASX: RIO) announced it has reached an agreement with First Quantum Minerals (TSE: FM) to form a joint venture to unlock the development of the La Granja copper project in Peru, one of the largest undeveloped copper deposits in the world.
La Granja is a complex orebody located at high altitude in Cajamara, northern Peru, that has the potential to be a large, long-life operation, with a published indicated and inferred mineral resource totalling 4.32 billion tonnes at 0.51% copper, Rio said.
First Quantum will acquire a 55% stake in the project for $105 million, and commit to further invest up to $546 million into the joint venture to sole fund capital and operational costs to take the project through a feasibility study and toward development. The transaction is expected to complete by the end of Q3 2023.
As majority owner, First Quantum will then operate the La Granja project with initial work focussed on completing the feasibility study.
Rio Tinto acquired the La Granja project from the government of Peru in 2006 and has since carried out an extensive drilling program that expanded the declared resource and understanding of the orebody, and established partnerships with host communities, local and national governments.
La Granja currently ranks as the fourth largest copper project in the world, and Peru is the world’s second biggest copper producer.
“La Granja is an exciting but complex project that has the potential to be a significant new source of the copper that is needed for the energy transition,” Rio Tinto Copper chief executive Bold Baatar said in the statement. “We are pleased to enter into this agreement with First Quantum, that will bring our combined development capabilities and deep knowledge of La Granja to progress the project.”
Baatar added that developing La Granja would also further strengthen Rio Tinto’s copper portfolio following the acquisition of Turquoise Hill Resources and beginning of underground mining at Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia.
“Rio Tinto’s work on La Granja has been extensive to date and we share our partner’s view that the project has the potential to be a Tier 1 copper mine,” First Quantum CEO Tristan Pascall said. “We look forward to working together to build on this foundation, leveraging First Quantum’s core strengths in mine design, project development and community engagement to progress La Granja to the next stage.”
First Quantum has been in recent headlines over a dispute with the Panamanian government over royalties that resulted in halting operations at its giant Cobre Panama mine in February. After reaching an agreement that guarantees a minimum annual income of $375 million to the Central American government, the mine resumed operations in March.