KGHM Mining Hun located in Poland emerged as the largest silver mine globally among top ten silver miners, based on reported production for full year 2021, albeit the ranking excludes Vedanta’s Sindesar Khurd mine, located in India, according to reports by Kitco, a full-service provider of precious metals.
Based on the rankings, only around 30 per cent of annual supply comes from primary silver mines while more than a third is produced at lead or zinc operations and a further 20 per cent from copper mines. The polymetallic ore deposits from which silver are recovered account for more than two-thirds of the world’s silver resources.
Among the top ten silver miners worldwide, KGHM Polska Miedz produced 41.9 Moz of silver in 2021, making it the largest silver producing operation worldwide. Production of payable silver was higher compared to 2020 (43 Moz) due to an increase in the amount of silver in concentrate produced by the company.
KGHM Polska Miedz’ Mining Hub has mines in Rudna, Polkowice-Sieroszowice and Lubin primary copper mines, all located in Poland. In addition to copper, it is also an important source of silver, gold and other metals.
Newmont’s Penasquito polymetallic mine located in Mexico, comes second after KGHM Polska Miedz, consisting of two open pits – Peñasco and Chile Colorado – containing gold, silver, lead and zinc.
Penasquito is an open-pit mine that employs flotation-and-grinding processing, in two 50,000-tonne per day sulphide processing lines and a 30,000-tonne/day high-pressure grinding roll circuit. Penasquito increased silver output by 13 per cent in 2021 to 31.4 Moz and sits second in the list of biggest silver producing operations worldwide.
Dukat silver mine comes third in the list. This mine is one of Polymetal’s first and original assets. It is the largest primary silver operation in Russia and Polymetal’s flagship operation. Silver output at Dukat increased by 3 percent, from 18.2 million ounces in 2020 to 18.8 million in 2021.
Antamina mine takes the fourth position, being a large copper-zinc-molybdenum-silver-lead operation, located in the Andes mountains 270 kilometres north of Lima, Peru. The Antamina mine produced 18.2 million ounces of silver in 2021. The deposit is located at an average elevation of 4,200 metres. The owners are BHP Billiton plc (33.75%), Glencore plc (33.75%), Teck (22.5%) and Mitsubishi Corporation (10%).
“The mine is an open pit, truck or shovel operation. A 302-kilometer slurry concentrate pipeline transports copper and zinc concentrates to the port for shipment to smelters and refineries world-wide.”
The San Julián silver-gold mine in Mexico is Fresnillo’s cornerstone project, becoming the fifth largest mine in the ranking. The mine produced 16.8 million ounces of silver in 2021. “The geological potential identified in the region thus far may be sufficient to establish a new mining district in the future,” according to Kitco.com
The San Julián mine includes two plants: a dynamic leaching plant to treat ore from the veins; and a flotation plant with 6,000 tpd capacity to process ore from the disseminated body. Full year silver production increased 26% compared with that of full year 2020 due to a higher than expected ore grade.
Mexico Hosts Major Silver Mines
South32’s Cannington silver-lead-zinc mine, located in north-west Queensland was the sixth largest mine in 2021. The mine was “a long-time undisputed leader” in silver production, with a record 44 million ounces of silver achieved in 2005.
Since then, silver output dropped significantly due to reduced silver grades, and Cannington finally lost its number one position in recent years. In 2021 calendar year, silver production at the mine increased 24 per cent to 14.4 Moz.
Located in Zacatecas, Mexico, 8km South West of the Fresnillo mine, Saucito is one of Fresnillo’s most important assets. The silver mine is the seventh largest in the world.
Full year 2021 silver production of 12.4 Moz decreased 19.9 per cent compared to full year 2020 due to a decrease in volume of ore processed and lower ore grade due mainly to the instability issues and the adverse impact of the labour reform.
Fresnillo mine is one of the world’s oldest continuously operating mines, coming eighth among the top silver producers worldwide. It is remarkable that mining operations have been recorded at the site as far back as 1554. Full year 2021 silver production at the mine was down 8.2 per cent due to a lower volume of ore processed and lower ore grade.
The Collahuasi mine is a large copper mine located at high altitude in the north of Chile in the Tarapaca Region, being the ninth largest mine in the world according to full year 2021 results. The Collahuasi mine produced 9.6 million ounces of silver in 2021.
The mine is operated by a joint venture company Compañía Minera Doña Inés de Collahuasi, in which Anglo American plc and Glencore each hold 44 per cent while the remaining 12 per cent is held by Japan Collahuasi Resources B.V.
Greens Creek was the tenth largest mine in the world, producing at 9.2 Moz in 2021. Hecla’s 100 percent-owned and operated Greens Creek mine in southeast Alaska is one of the largest and lowest-cost primary silver mines in the world.
The Greens Creek orebody contains silver, zinc, gold and lead, and lies within the Admiralty Island National Monument, an environmentally sensitive area. Greens Creek is an underground mine which produces approximately 2,100 to 2,300 tons of ore per day.
Most of the top ten silver mines are located in Mexico (5 out of 10), indicating huge resource potential in the country, while the remaining mines are located in Alaska, Russia, Peru, Chile and Poland.