Despite the turbulent political landscape in Zimbabwe currently, low-cost platinum group metals (PGMs) and chrome concentrate producer Tharisa Minerals remains fully committed to its Investment Project Framework Agreement with the Zimbabwe government.
The agreement involves the establishment of a vertically integrated PGMs mining complex and a call option to acquire a 90% shareholding in illuvial chrome mining company Salene Chrome Zimbabwe on the condition of completion of the exploration programme, says Tharisa CEO Phoevos Pouroulis.
Tharisa acquired a 26.8% shareholding in PGMs miner Karo Mining Holdings’ project, in Zimbabwe, for $4.5-million last year. Karo has been awarded a special grant over 23 903 ha on the Great Dyke of Zimbabwe. Salene Chrome Zimbabwe was awarded three special grants covering 9 500 ha on the eastern side of the Great Dyke, which entitles the company to mine the minerals thereon, including illuvial chrome, he explains.
Pouroulis maintains that the company is fulfilling its directives according to the investment agreement, and that the political issues in the country have not prevented the company from continuing with the development plan. The area is said to contain 96-million ounces (Moz) of PGMs at an average grade of 3.2 g/t.
This investment, as well as the company’s presence in the Bushveld Complex, in South Africa, is vital for Tharisa’s opportunities in the PGMs market. The company also remains focused on its flagship operating mine, the Tharisa mine, on the western limb of the Bushveld Complex.
Pouroulis explains that the beneficiation, research and development (R&D) arm of the group Arxo Metals has commissioned a 1 MW dc furnace to produce PGMs-rich alloys on a pilot scale in 2017. The furnace has produced its first PGMs alloy and is ramping up to full production. The production of PGMs-rich alloys will further develop Tharisa’s beneficiation capability and, thereby, the profitability of Tharisa’s PGMs segment.
Further, the challenges that the PGMs sector has had to deal with include geopolitical issues, rising costs, changes in grade and large overheads, as well as fluctuations in supply and demand. Resilience and efficient management, according to Pouroulis, have resulted in a restructuring of the industry, which he believes will result in a healthier and more sustainable industry.
Pouroulis highlights that Tharisa is a new-generation mining company and opencast mechanised operation, which results in a cost base very different from traditional PGMs producers in South Africa and, hence, is the reason for optimism about the company’s prospects in the PGMs markets.
“The company sees opportunities in improving recoveries of PGMs and chrome as important reasons to invest in research in development to maximise returns on processing,” he notes.
These investments and projects tie into Tharisa’s Vision 2020 growth project, which aims to increase the company’s production to 200 000 oz of PGMs and two-million tons of chrome concentrates by the end of 2020 in a sustainable and on a yearly basis.
According to Pouroulis, the optimisation projects and additional processing plants, together with improved mining grade, are planned to add 40 000 oz/y of PGMs and 500 000 tonnes a year of chrome concentrates to the Tharisa mine’s yearly production guidance for the 2019 financial year of 160 000 oz/y of PGMs and 1.5-million tonnes of chrome concentrates.
“Our focus remains on optimising our mining mix and extracting maximum value on the orebody. We have invested in new capital equipment, which we believe will be key to attaining our production target. Further, we continue to ensure that our metallurgical facilities are run optimally, which is shown in our high recovery rates.”
Pouroulis highlights Tharisa’s consistent goal of developing its in-house technology to ensure maximum value from extraction through various extensive R&D programmes, and, subsequently, its beneficiation capabilities.
“Arxo Metals conducts extensive research into technologies and downstream beneficiation opportunities that have the potential to improve yields and recoveries at the Tharisa mine. The creation of increased-value PGMs and chrome products through the expansion and optimisation of the group’s processing operations remains its core focus, he says.
Although palladium has started the year with a healthy price and demand, compared with platinum, the latter is undervalued in terms of price, and will eventually catch up with palladium to possibly replace it in the downstream products that use PGMs, states Pouroulis.
This, as well as the expanding market for the fuel cell industry and increased use of PGMs in fuel cells, are significant market factors on which Tharisa is hoping to capitalise, he concludes.