TBY talks to Ismet Soyocak, General Coordinator of CVK Mining (CVK), on investment plans for mining, production increases, and commodity prices.

CVK Mining is the largest exporter of chromite products in Turkey, but is undergoing a large investment campaign in other mining sectors, specifically lead and zinc. What are CVK's investment plans on this area?

Starting in 2017, we made a strategic decision to diversify our revenue—at the time 85% of CVK's revenue was from chromite products. Though we were and still are the biggest exporter of chromite products in Turkey, we have plans in place to decrease chromite's share of our revenue to 50% by 2022. To put this plan into action, we assessed our existing non-chromite concessions and acquired some more in 2017 to start developing them. At our existing Çanakkale Kalkım operations we reached up to 25.000 tons per month ore production and 2.000 tons per month lead and zinc concentrate processing per month capacity at our in-situ floatation plant. At this region we have four operating and two exploration licenses for lead and zinc which means that it will be explored further in the near future. At our newly developed İzmir Bayındır operations which we entered by acquiring a company that was sitting on six licenses, we reached up to 20.000 metric tons per month run-of-mine production capacity only after being granted all necessary permits and start digging on January 2019.

How did CVK invest and develop its operations in İzmir after the acquisition?

Before the ink was dry from that acquisition contract, we started applying for all the necessary mining, forestry and environmental permits. As soon as we got those permits, we drilled over 20,000 meters of full core diamond boreholes and quickly analyzed the results, which showed we had a proven reserve of over 2 million tons averaging 8% lead and zinc combined at this basin. With this number in hand, we started to budget the real investments, and started the mining operation in Izmir in 2019. It is fully mechanized and uses brand new machinery—we have spent over EUR20 million on this operation, including for new machinery and a pre-sorting and enrichment plant underground, the first in Turkey. The run-of-min production from underground is 4% to 5% lead and zinc combined; when we scrape the gang minerals (unwanted material) underground before taking it out, this number goes up to 8-10%. This helps a lot considering the transportation costs since because we truck these ore to the flotation plant at our Çannakkale Kalkım operation to be processed for the time being. We are still waiting the for the environmental impact assessment (EIA) permit to be granted for the new Izmir Bayındır Floatation Processing Plant that we already budgeted and planned as our next big investment at the region. Our aim is to go up to 240,000 tons per annum averaging a minimum of 10% grade lead and zinc combined. By 2020's end, we will hit that target. Right now the Çanakkale plant is being fed 25,000 tons of ore monthly and is producing a minimum of 2,000 tons of concentrate product that we export. In the meantime, as exploration never ends for a mining company; we have 12 surface drilling rigs currently in operation all around the country that continue to drill, explore, and analyze.

CVK is also investing in gold and silver. What is your investment strategy in this area?

We already have a resource that proven with international codes complied mineral resource estimation report which gives us the confidence to go in there and invest. The proven number of indicated resources are already larger than some operating mines in Turkey, and we still have an extensive room to grow thus keep exploring. We acquired the Balıkesir Sarıalan Gold - Silver License Area in 2009, and we started surface geology exploration studies with mapping, remote sensing technology, and geophysics in 2011. In 2014, we deployed two drilling rigs and are now up to six. In the last 4.5 years, we have drilled over 34,000meters of full core drilling on a 200 ha focus area during which we have kept intersecting great ore seems . We started applying all permitting process which we hope to end by mid 2020. We have budgeted circa USD120-million capex investment only in the first 2 years of the project and the life-of-mine will be 20 years. In 2019, as Turkish Gold Mining Industry, we hit record production of 42 tons of gold metal, and our project alone will pull a minimum of 8 tons per year, so we are going to scale up the entire country's capacity quite significantly which we are already proud of.

CVK has been notable for its use of technology in its mining operations. Can you give an overview of your strategy for technology and automation?

When it comes to optimizing your mining technique, comprehending the geometry of ore body to best of your knowledge is the most critical aspect of operation. Chromite mines in Turkey are discontinuous, faulted and tilted narrow vein type bodies of ore which is extra limiting when it comes to applying technology during actual mining. Thus technology available in the market is not directly applicable. Instead of waiting on the market to develop mechanization and automation solutions for this particular ore type, we, mining professionals at CVK, sat around the table with machinery gurus of Turkey, explained our needs and bottlenecks particularly on run-of-mine ore haulage. This council of experts developed prototypes according to our requirements and eventually one particular load, haul, and dump machine design came to life with only 80cm length and 50cm width, remote controlled and lithium battery powered rather than conventional diesel or electric. We now have 18 of them in operation, and ramped up our production by 25% in tonnage. Before, mine workers were going in with small diesel-powered locomotives, shoveling ore into wagons, and pulling them up by hand. Now it's fully done by these agents adding a tremendous value to our operations not only cost-efficiency wise but also elevated health and safety standards. now it is done by the machinery. Another process of mining that we recently utilized modern automation technology is the extraction of ore products from underground shafts. Traditional hoisting cranes we used to have at UG shafts were all manually operated by mine workers causing a risk of health and safety concerns while creating a critical bottleneck at production capacity usage. In the last four years we spent EUR5 million on this special infrastructure upgrade project and installed state-of-art fully automated shaft hoisting systems. Thanks to this new safe and high-paced fully automated technology, production capacity of our shafts increased two-folds. Again the privilege of eliminating worker-induced incident risk at this process give us nothing but proud on our work. As CVK, even though we have the best opex figures in Turkey, we always keep looking for new ways to introduce technology to our operations.

What are the primary objectives for CVK in the mining sector for 2020?

In general for the first half, we will wait and see because of the low commodity prices; however, we never stop when it comes to chromite; we keep increasing our production capacity. In 2019, we produced 17,000 tons of chromite ore products per month on average; in 2020, we will easily do 25,000 per month. By 2023, we are aiming to hit 50,000 tons/month hopefully through new investments budgeted especially in the Bursa region. Lead and zinc treatment costs are at historical levels, and it would be a shame to sell it at this level. Hence, we will wait for the markets to get back on track. For gold, if we are granted our Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) by mid-2020, we will start digging immediately with the aim to pour our first gold by the beginning of 2021. Another mid-term project of our group is on magnesite. Geologically it's found with chromite, so our engineers are studying ways to more efficiently mine our magnesite reserves out. If we can find an economically feasible way to extract and blend different qualities of magnesite ores in order to have a sustainable feed material that justifies further investment, then, with a relatively small investment, we are going to build a calcination plant in the Bursa region which will give us the right amount of calcinated magnesite ore that has sizable share particularly on Western metallurgy markets.