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The Drift: Autonomous haul trucks lead the way at Gogama gold mine

IAMGOLD targets first gold pour at Côté pit project in early 2024
Autonomous haul truck at Côté open-pit gold mine project near Gogama (IAMGOLD photo)

The Drift is an ongoing editorial series by Northern Ontario Business about the people, companies, projects, technologies, and innovation that encompass the mining industry in northeastern Ontario.

Standing at the 86 per cent completion mark, the final push is underway at IAMGOLD’s Côté mine project to finish construction for a first gold pour in early 2024.

June was a peak construction period at the site situated halfway between Sudbury and Timmins. Approximately 1,900 were installing of equipment in the processing plant and finishing up earthworks activities as the open-pit mine project moves toward the start of production.

IAMGOLD delivered the news during a webinar with analysts in posting its 2023 second quarter operating and financial performance on Aug.11.

Company officials said they are on schedule for gold production with pre-commissioning activities in the processing plant starting this quarter.

Côté is located just off Highway 144 near Gogama. When operating it will be Canada’s third largest gold mine and the Toronto company’s flagship operation.

Since construction started in 2020, $2.23 billion of the planned $2.92 billion of the project spending at Côté has been incurred. The cost to complete ranges between $665 million and $735 million. 

Based on the current gold reserves of 7.2 million ounces, Côté has the legs to last until 2041.

Early mining has already started with two million tonnes of material stockpiled so far this year on the path to build up five million tonnes by year’s end.

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A unique feature of Côté is that the mine is employing autonomous drills and haul trucks in the pit.

Autonomous hauling to support early mining began in January. Operations staff said they’ve been steadily rolling out its fleet of trucks.

During the second quarter, up to seven CAT 793F haul trucks were running into autonomous mode and a total of 14 trucks have been commissioned. Autonomous drilling with two Pit Vipers were running during the quarter, with a third rig coming online.

Management said there are no plans to supplement the fleet with any operator-controlled trucks to deal with any potential technological hiccups. 

Bruno Lemelin, senior vice-president of operations and projects, said their plan at Côté was to start with the autonomous fleet from the get-go. The program seems to be humming along and are they commissioning one truck after another. 

“It works real good.”

Company President-CEO Renaud Adams mentioned they're keen to show investors and analysts this technology and other “enormous progress” that’s been made when IAMGOLD hosts a site tour in October.

“We’re excited about the future at Côté and what it means for IAMGOLD.” said Adams.

A part of that future is a satellite deposit next to Côté named Gosselin.

Gosselin contains a 4.5-million ounce resource of indicated and inferred gold. Adams noted they are only in the “early stage of discovery” of Gosselin.

Drilll crews are 12,900 metres into a 15,500-metre program to expand gold mineralization at Gosselin. The company is confident Gosselin has room to grow as there appears to be expansion potential at depth and to the northeast.

The last batch of drill assays revealed gold mineralization to the south and below the outline of a planned pit.

The drilling is both exploratory, to expand the boundaries of the deposit, and infilling within the deposit to help with their metallurgical testing and future mine planning.

Adams told analysts the more they drill Gosselin, the more gold they find.

Plans for the remainder of this year and into 2024 is to aggressively drill off Gosselin. A technical study to eventually amalgamate Gosselin with Côté won’t be done until late 2024 or 2025.