JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – A feasibility study into the development and construction of a zinc smelter-refinery complex in the Northern Cape is under way, London-listed India-based Vedanta subsidiary Vedanta Zinc International (VZI) said on Wednesday.
This is the latest step in the unfolding of what is envisaged as a major zinc cluster extending from South Africa’s Northern Cape across the border into southern Namibia. Should all the envisaged projects proceed, this Southern African zinc cluster could burgeon into the world’s largest zinc supply region.
If the proposed zinc smelter-refinery complex is approved, the beneficiation step will turn the Gamsberg operation into an integrated zinc production site, with the mine, concentrator and smelter-refinery complex at a single location – a South African first, which will create job and further developmental opportunities in the region.
The feasibility study under way is in line with Vedanta’s commitment to beneficiating to final metal, which is the model followed by the group in India. The Gamsberg refinery could see a further investment by Vedanta of between $700-million and $800-million.
The processing of concentrates from the new Gamsberg project in the Northern Cape is already under way at the company’s Black Mountain Mining (BMM) operation of VZI, a Johannesburg-based grouping of South African, Namibian and Irish zinc assets.
The plan envisages the first phase of the smelter-refinery complex having a capacity of 250 000 t/y of finished zinc metal, with second and third expansion phases dovetailing with Gamsberg’s phased enlargement.
Infrastructural requirements are poised to include investments in 200 MW of additional electrical power capacity as well as increased water supply and reticulation.
The feasibility’s scope takes in a review of previous work on clustering BMM and Skorpion. On the cards is the conversion of the 150 000 t/y Scorpion refinery to co-treat sulphide and oxide concentrates from Gamsberg.
Gamsberg, formerly an Anglo American asset, has a reserve and resource of more than 200-million tonnes and a life-of-mine of 30 years.
Production is expected from the first phase of the $400-million Gamsberg mine in mid-2018, with full production expected to follow in nine to 12 months. The first phase, which has a life-of-mine of 13 years, is being developed to produce four million tonnes a year from the opencast mine, and 250 000 t/y from the concentrator plant.
Sixty-million tonnes of waste have been removed from the openpit to date and mechanical equipment erection, and electricity and water infrastructure are being constructed at the concentrator plant.
Of the 2 700 people employed on site, more than half are drawn from the province and 500 people from the Khai-Ma District. At full production, Gamsberg will employ 700 permanent employees.
The expansion of Gamsberg into beneficiation streams has the potential to trigger a new wave of industrial and economic development in the Northern Cape, which could provide additional opportunities for Vedanta and others, in what is one of the least developed regions of South Africa.
There are opportunities for further value-adding zinc beneficiation, including galvanising, the creation of a regional fertiliser industry considering that a zinc smelter-refinery will produce sulphuric acid as a by-product, given the presence of phosphates.
There is potential for agricultural development, prospects for steel production close to iron, zinc and manganese mining and the creation of rail and other logistical links.
Industrial development would require additional power resources in a region that has vast potential for solar energy, water supply and other economic and social infrastructure requirements.
Developing investment opportunities could be a game-changer for the region and contribute to economic growth in South Africa as a whole, VZI states in a media release to Mining Weekly Online.
Mining and milling at the Lisheen mine in Ireland was concluded in December 2015 after 17 years of operation and the mine is currently in an active closure mode.
BBM, which produces zinc, lead, silver and copper, comprises the Deeps and Swartberg shafts and a processing plant, and Mining Weekly Online understands that a study is also under way into the economic feasibility of deepening the Swartberg shaft at a potential capital investment of $1-billion.
Seven hundred and eighty three employees of BMM a before-tax payment of R3.5-million a year following the launch of the Voorspoed Employee Share Ownership Plan (Esop). In addition to benefiting from the value of the 6% of BMM held by Voorspoed in 2022 and 2024, when these shares will vest, current and future permanent foremen, supervisors, artisans and operators are guaranteed after-tax cash payments of R3 500 each every year for the next five years.
The trustees of Voorspoed, which was launched in consultation with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), consist of management, union and independent representatives. The Esop enables employees to share in the growth and future prosperity of the company and accumulate capital for their future financial security.
BMM GM Andre Trytsman and NUM’s Terence Julie both lauded the Esop, which VZI CEO Deshnee Naidoo noted, in a media release to Mining Weekly Online, that besides rewarding employees for their input, the Esop also instilled a greater sense of pride, responsibility and accountability towards the performance of the business.