JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Following the demerger of Afritin Mining from Aim-listed Bushveld Minerals – and its subsequent listing as the only pure-play tin platform on the Aim last week – the company, which has assets in Namibia and South Africa, will focus on becoming “The Africa tin champion” by bringing its flagship Uis tin project, in Namibia, to commercial production, says Afritin Mining CEO Anthony Viljoen.
Based in the resources-rich Erongo region in south-western Namibia, the Uis tin project was once one of the largest opencast tin mines worldwide, before former owner, then South African State-owned metals company Iscor, stopped mining in the 1980s as a result of declining tin prices.
The project currently comprises a small pilot plant, which is currently operating as a bulk testing facility.
“Afritin Mining aims to build an economic pilot plant to achieve commercial production, [and thereafter will] start incremental upscaling to a larger plant,” Viljoen told Mining Weekly Online during a video interview on Monday, noting that the company aims to achieve steady-state production in the next 12 months.
The upgrade of the gravity separation-based pilot plant to commercial scale is estimated to take between 9 and 12 months and will cost about £2-million. The cash flow generated from the operations will be applied to maintain/sustain the operations at a steady state.
Concurrently, Afritin Mining aims to largely complete a bankable feasibility study for the Uis tin project to introduce project financing-related debt of about £20-million for the large-scale commercial industrial plant.
Afritin aims to use the basis of a detailed mine works plan, supplied by consulting firm SRK to Iscor in 1985, for the bankable feasibility study. It will also use confirmatory work required for the pilot plant to bring the project’s resources up to Joint Ore Reserves Committee standards.
Key to the tin company’s plans, Viljoen stressed, was “getting tin product to market as quickly as possible”.
“We have our full mining license, and our environmental permits are all up to date, so we can basically start mining tomorrow,” he quipped.
Afritin aims to eventually mine 3-million tonnes of ore a year and to produce about 5 000 t/y of tin concentrate, at grades of between 60% and 65%. Significant markets for the product include Malaysia and Thailand.
Viljoen highlighted the increasing demand for tin as a versatile metal, paired with a declining supply profile as a result of depleting orebodies and a lack of new deposits coming on stream.
In the past few years the metal has seen prices of up to $33 000/t. Current prices have settled to about $20 000/t.
“We see that as the new base, but it depends on the uptake of new technologies and which deposits can realistically be brought into industrial scale production,” Viljoen acknowledged.
Tin, which is also known as a “green metal”, can be used as a substitute for lead in solders, as well as in applications for electric vehicles and household solar photovoltaic applications, related to lithium battery storage.
Viljoen emphasised the advantages of the Uis project, which include well-defined geology from the pits, as a result of the mineralisation in the pegmatite rocks. Further, the coarse grain of the rock will allow for better liberation of the tin during the metallurgical process.
Advantages also include easy accessibility/availability of infrastructure in Namibia, with Viljoen highlighting the country as an important mining investment destination, as a result of it being a stable jurisdiction with fairly consistent mining laws.
Afritin has further noted that, according to the Chamber of Mines’ yearly report, Namibia’s mining sector “is characteristic of sizeable growth potential as it has continued to perform comparatively well”.
“Importantly, Uis will be Afritin Mining’s flagship project in becoming the Africa tin champion,” highlighted Viljoen. He believes that, with only 6% of the world’s tin mines being opencast, there may not be other tin deposits similar in scale to Uis that are open-castable worldwide.
Viljoen further argued that, while Africa used to be the fourth-largest exporter of tin, there have been no industrially developed projects on the continent, in modern times.
“[However,] Afritin Mining aims to bring Africa up to its past production levels of tin, and to become the primary mover of tin concentrate from the African continent or from a portfolio of tin assets,” Viljoen said, adding that having industrial-scale production will be the company’s competitive advantage in the market.
According to Viljoen, the only other comparable opencast tin mine worldwide is Pitinga, in Brazil, which is owned by Peruvian miner Minsur.
Current tin projects in Africa include miner Alphamin Resources’ Bisie tin project, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and ASX-listed mineral exploration and development company Kasbah Resources’ Achmach tin project, in Morocco.
Namibia, meanwhile, which was once a prolific tin producer, nevertheless still has several tin occurrences in numerous pegmatite belts that run from the coast to 200 km inland, Viljoen stressed.