The Company holds mining and exploration rights for a period of up to 25 years from 26 February 2007 over the 300 square kilometres Gedabek Contract Area, which is 55 kilometres from Azerbaijan’s second biggest city, Ganja. The area includes Azerbaijan’s first operating gold mine as well as a number of exploration targets.

Mining activity at Gedabek is reported to have started as long as 2,000 years ago. More recent activity began around 1849 when the Mekhor Brothers, followed by the German Siemens Bros Company, developed and operated a copper mine at Gedabek. At least five large (>100,000 tonne) and numerous smaller sulphide lenses were mined during the period between 1849 and 1917. Mining activity ceased in 1917 with the onset of the Russian Revolution.

Mining activity commenced once more when Anglo Asian began construction of an open pit mine and a conventional heap leach and processing facility for the recovery of gold, copper and silver in 2008. The Company poured its first gold in May 2009, making it the first gold/copper producer in Azerbaijan in modern times. Since that time it has seen steady gold production as efficiencies of the mine continue to improve. In addition, in 2015 the Group commenced production from Gadir, an underground mine co-located at Gedabek.

Mining operations

The principal mining operation at the Gedabek contract area is conventional open-cast mining using truck and shovel from the Gedabek open pit (which comprises several contiguous smaller open pits) and the Ugur open pit. Ore is first drilled and blasted and then transported either to a processing facility or to a stockpile for storage. The major mining activities of blast-hole drilling and haulage of ore and waste rock are carried out by contractors, while blasting and mining activities are carried out by the Company.

Production commenced from the new Ugur open pit mine in September 2017. To enable production, a 4.6 kilometre road was constructed between the mine and the Company’s processing facilities. All necessary surface infrastructure, including geology, medical and HSE offices, hygiene facilities, a mechanical workshop, lubricants and spares stores, a weighbridge and a diesel store was also constructed at the mine site. Due to the composition of the Ugur ore, mining of ore in the first few months of operation was by free digging, with drilling and blasting not required. Ore was mined from the Ugur open pit mine throughout 2018.

Ore is also mined from the Gadir underground mine which is situated approximately one kilometre from the Gedabek open pit. Table 1 shows the ore mined in 2018 from all the Company’s mines at Gedabek and Gosha.

Table 1 – Ore mined at Gedabek from all mines (including Gosha) for the year ended 31 December 2018

 

Processing operations

Ore is processed at Gedabek to produce either gold doré (an alloy of gold and silver with small amounts of impurities, mainly copper) or a copper and precious metal concentrate.

Gold doré is produced by cyanide leaching. Initial processing is to leach (i.e. dissolve) the precious metal (and some copper) in a cyanide solution. This is done by various methods:

  1. Heap leaching of crushed ore:
    Crushed ore is heaped into permeable “pads” onto which is sprayed a solution of cyanide. The solution dissolves the metals as it percolates through the ore by gravity and it is then collected by the impervious base under the pad.
  2. Heap leaching of run of mine (“ROM”) ore:
    The process is similar to heap leaching for crushed ore, except the ore is not crushed, instead it is heaped into pads as received from the mine (ROM) without further treatment or crushing. This process is used for very low grade ores.
  3. Agitation leaching:
    Ore is crushed and then milled in a grinding circuit. The finely ground ore is placed in stirred (agitation) tanks containing cyanide solution and the contained metal is dissolved in the solution. Depending on the composition of the ore, an option is available to process the finely ground ore through the flotation plant prior to, or after treatment by the agitation leaching plant. However, since installation of the second crusher line for the flotation plant in 2018, the two plants have been operating independently. Any coarse, free gold is separated using a centrifugal type Knelson concentrator.

Slurries produced by the above processes with dissolved metal in solution are then transferred to a resin-in-pulp (“RIP”) plant. A synthetic ion exchange resin, in the form of small spherical plastic beads designed to absorb gold selectively over copper and silver, is mixed with the leach slurry or “pulp”. After separation from the pulp, the gold-loaded resin is treated with a second solution, which “strips” (i.e. desorbs) the gold, plus the small amounts of absorbed copper and silver, transferring the metals from the resin back into solution. The gold and silver dissolved in this final solution are recovered by electrolysis and are then smelted to produce the doré metal, comprising an alloy of gold and silver.

Copper and precious metal concentrates are produced by two processes, SART processing and flotation.

  1. Sulphidisation, Acidification, Recycling and Thickening (“SART”):
    The cyanide solution after metal absorption by resin-in-pulp processing is transferred to the SART plant. The pH of the solution is then changed by the addition of reagents. This precipitates the copper from the solution in the form of a finely divided copper sulphide concentrate containing silver and minor amounts of gold. The process also recovers cyanide from the solution, which is recycled back to leaching.
  2. Flotation:
    Flotation is carried out in a separate flotation plant. Feedstock, which can be either tailings from the agitation leaching plant or freshly crushed and milled ore, is mixed with water to produce a slurry called “pulp” and other reagents are then added. This pulp is processed in flotation cells (tanks). The flotation cells are agitated and air introduced as small bubbles. The sulphide mineral particles attach to the air bubbles and float to the surface where they form a froth which is collected. This froth is dewatered to form a mineral concentrate containing copper, gold and silver.

Initially, gold doré was produced at Gedabek only by heap leaching crushed and agglomerated ore. Heap leaching is a low capital cost method of production commonly used by mines when they first move into production. Ore at Gedabek is being crushed to less than 25mm in size and the resultant gold recovery is approximately 60 per cent. to 70 per cent. of the contained gold over leaching cycles which extend typically beyond one year.

To increase gold recoveries and production, in 2013 the Group constructed an agitation leaching plant. Compared to heap leaching, agitation leaching can deliver higher recoveries of gold without long leaching cycles. Heap leach pads also require considerable space for their construction and due to the topography of the Gedabek site, this is a constraint. The capacity of the agitation leaching plant was increased in 2016 by the installation of a second semi-autogenous grinding (“SAG”) mill.

The ore at Gedabek is polymetallic containing significant amounts of copper. Initially, the SART processing plant was constructed to recover some of the copper as a copper and precious metal chemical concentrate. However, to further exploit the high copper content of the Group’s ore reserves, the Group constructed a flotation plant whose function is primarily to produce a copper-rich mineral concentrate, containing gold and silver as by-products. The flotation plant commenced production in November 2015. The flotation plant has the flexibility to be configured for various methods of operation.

In 2018, a second crusher line was installed for the flotation plant. This has a budgeted capacity of 95 tonnes per hour compared to the original crusher of up to 120 tonnes per hour. This removed a large bottleneck and enabled independent operation of the agitation leaching and flotation plants from separate sources of feedstock. The addition of this second crusher not only significantly increases the capacity of our processing plants, but also their flexibility.

Production and sales

For the year ended 31 December 2018, total gold production as doré bars and as a constituent of the copper and precious metal concentrate totalled 72,798 ounces, which was an increase of 13,181 ounces in comparison to the production of 59,617 ounces for the year ended 31 December 2017.

Table 2 – Ore and its gold grade processed by leaching at Gedabek for the year ended 31 December

Table 2 summarises the amount of ore and its gold grade processed by leaching at Gedabek for the year ended 31 December 2018.

 

Table 3 – Ore and its gold, silver and copper content processed by flotation for the year ended 31 December 2018

Table 3 summarises the amount of ore and its gold, silver and copper content processed by flotation for the year ended 31 December 2018.

* During this time the flotation plant was operated in series with the agitation leaching plant processing its tailings.
** During this time the flotation plant was operated independently in parallel to the agitation leaching plant following installation of the second jaw crusher.

 

Table 4 – Gold and silver bullion produced from doré bars and sales of gold bullion for the year ended 31 December 2018

Table 4 summarises the gold and silver bullion produced from doré bars and sales of gold bullion for the year ended 31 December 2018.

* including Government of Azerbaijan’s share.
** excluding Government of Azerbaijan’s share.

 

Table 5 – Total copper, gold and silver produced as concentrate by both SART and flotation processing for the year ended 31 December 2018

Table 5 summarises the total copper, gold and silver produced as concentrate by both SART and flotation processing for the year ended 31 December 2018.

 

Table 6 – Total copper concentrate (including gold and silver) production and sales from both SART and flotation processing for the year ended 31 December 2018

Table 6 summarises the total copper concentrate (including gold and silver) production and sales from both SART and flotation processing for the year ended 31 December 2018.

* including Government of Azerbaijan share

 

Infrastructure

The Gedabek contract area is served by excellent infrastructure. The main site is located at the village of Gedabek which is connected by a good tarmacadam road to the regional capital of Ganja. Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan to the south and the country’s border with Georgia to the north, are both approximately a four to five hour drive over excellent roads. The site is connected to the Azeri national power grid and there is a dedicated sub-station located at the main Gedabek processing facilities.

Water management

The Gedabek site has its own water treatment plant which was constructed in 2017 and which uses the latest reverse osmosis technology. In the last few years, Gedabek village has experienced water shortages in the summer and this plant reduces to the absolute minimum the consumption of fresh water required by the Company. The plant is now producing around 200,000 litres of pure water per day using water from the tailings dam which is being used in Gedabek’s processing facilities.

Wastewater evaporation equipment is also deployed in the tailings dam. This is mobile, skid mounted equipment into which water is pumped without treatment direct from the tailings dam. The equipment then evaporates the water by jetting it into the atmosphere as a fine spray. It can evaporate approximately 25 litres per second of water depending upon climatic conditions.

Tailings storage

The Company is very mindful of the importance of proper storage of tailings both for efficient operation of its processing plants and to fulfil its environmental responsibilities. The Company stores its tailings in a purpose built dam approximately seven kilometres from its processing facilities, topographically at a lower level than the processing plant, thus allowing gravity assistance of tailings flow in the slurry pipeline. Immediately downstream of the tailings dam is a reed bed biological treatment system to purify any seepage from the dam before discharge into the nearby Shamkir river.

During 2017, the wall of the tailings dam was raised by six metres. This has increased the capacity of the tailings dam from 3.2 million cubic metres to 4.3 million cubic metres. There are two pipelines from the Company’s processing facilities to the tailings dam to increase capacity and provide redundancy.

Health, safety and environmental

The health and safety of our employees and the protection of the environment in and around our mine properties are prime concerns for the Company’s board and senior management team. The health, safety and environmental (“HSE”) department at Gedabek has a qualified HSE manager, who is assisted by a team of HSE officers. Overall strategy for HSE matters in the Company is overseen by the HSE and technical committee, which is chaired by a board director, Professor John Monhemius. The HSE and technical committee meets twice a year at the Gedabek site.

During 2018, there were 44 reportable safety incidents (2017: 45), of which nine involved injuries to personnel. Five of these cases were minor injuries, but four (2017: two) were lost time incidents (LTI), where the casualty had to take time off work. A formal Permit-to-Work system has now been fully implemented for all maintenance activities carried out in high-risk areas, to ensure the safety of the personnel engaged in these activities, which are closely monitored by staff from the Health and Safety department.

An HSE encouragement programme has been introduced, which awards bonuses to members of the workforce for outstanding HSE or housekeeping activities, on the recommendation of HSE or supervisory staff. Good HSE performance is publicly recognised on posters in the canteen and other public places.

Training for the HSE staff is on-going. In 2018, all the department’s staff successfully passed the “IOSH Managing Safely” training course provided by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health from the United Kingdom.