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Expansion project strengthens mining operation

22nd September 2023

By: Nadine Ramdass

Creamer Media Writer

     

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A $1.8-billion expansion programme at platinum group metals (PGMs) miner Zimplats’ – the Zimbabwean PGMs mining business of South African PGMs major Impala Platinum (Implats) – Ngezi operation, in Zimbabwe, is under way and includes the expansion of existing smelter capacity.

Located on the Hartley geological complex on the Zimbabwean Great Dyke about 150 km southwest of Harare, the expansion project is expected to roll out over the next ten years, says Zimplats CEO Alex Mhembere.

Implats is a sponsor of the upcoming Joburg Indaba to be held on October 4 and 5 at the Inanda Club, in Johannesburg.

Implats CEO Nico Muller, CFO Meroonisha Kerber and chairperson Thandi Orleyn will present at the Indaba.

During the 2022 financial year, the Implats board approved the expansion of existing smelter capacity at Zimplats and the installation of sulphur dioxide abatement plant to mitigate the operation’s air quality impact, at a total capital cost of $521-million.

The smelter expansion will accommodate an additional 600 000 oz/y of PGMs, the resulting matte of which will initially be transported to Implats’ South African processing facilities for refining.

The first matte production from the new 38 MW furnace is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2024 financial year, while the acid plant commissioning is expected in the fourth quarter of 2027 financial year.

To date, $190-million has been approved to rehabilitate the base metal refinery at Selous metallurgical complex, located on the Zimbabwean Great Dyke. The refinery will facilitate in-country beneficiation of base metals. This facility is forecast to be commissioned towards the beginning of the 2027 financial year.

The Ngezi Phase 3A growth project falls under Zimplats, and includes the improvement of infrastructure such as new mine developments and upgrades, the construction of beneficiation facilities and the incorporation of renewable power generation.

The purpose of the expansion project aligns with Zimplats’ aim to create more value for stakeholders, with the business pursuing a three-tier strategy since 2021 in line with this aim.

The first tier focuses on strengthening and growing opportunities at the company’s existing operations, while tier two considers opportunities that are external to the business, but still within Zimplats’ strategic envelope of PGMs.

The third tier entails the company’s pursuit of new ventures, including possible expansion into related and unrelated commodities such as lithium.

Mhembere reports that the agreed $1.8-billion expansion fits firmly within tiers one and two of this strategy.

Major Projects
“Together with the phased solar projects, the abatement plant will result in an industry leading environmental footprint for the Zimbabwean smelting facilities,” says Mhembere.

The $468-million mine replacement projects, focused on upgrading Bimha mine and developing the new Mupani mine – which are part of the broader Ngezi mining operation – are progressing well and remain ahead of schedule, he reports.

Mhembere adds that full production of 3.1-million tons a year and 3.6-million tons a year is on schedule for the first quarter of the 2024 financial year and first quarter of the 2029 financial year, respectively.

The new Bimha and Mupani mines will collectively replace the Ngwarati, Rukodzi and Mupfuti mines, once they are depleted.

He notes that Zimplats’ investment in processing facilities is aligned to the company’s beneficiation strategy, which aims to take advantage of significant processing opportunities in Zimbabwe.

In terms of power, Mhembere elaborates that investment in green projects, including solar power and a sulphuric acid plant, is critical to creating environment-friendly operations, particularly amid climate change challenges to sustainable livelihoods.

In this vein, he points out that Zimplats is midway through constructing a $37-million, 35 MW solar plant at the Selous metallurgical complex.

This new solar plant is the first phase of an intended 185 MW complex that will secure supply and reduce the unit cost of energy. The first phase will go live in the second quarter of the 2024 financial year.

This is the first large-scale project towards meeting the Implats Group’s short-term (2030) decarbonisation target of a 30% reduction against the 2019 baseline, and it supports Implats’ stated ambition of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.

Following the agreement of a 50 MW hydropower offtake agreement with the Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation in April, Zimplats now sources 67% of its energy from regional hydroelectric facilities.

“The proportion of renewable energy will grow during the 2024 financial year as the first phase of the operation’s solar programme is commissioned,” Mhembere notes.

Opportunity
He notes that, globally, miners are being confronted with uncertain commodity markets and declining metal prices amid unavoidable increases in the cost of production, owing to a spike in interest rates and inflation.

These factors are, in turn, compounded by the need to comply with safety, health, climate, social and environmental requirements to ensure sustainability and mining companies’ legal and social licence to operate.

In Southern Africa, particularly Zimbabwe, the availability of mining support infrastructure remains critical. This includes the availability of affordable energy, which, owing to lower-than-demand power generation in the region, has become a significant challenge.

Despite these challenges, Mhembere notes that there are still significant opportunities in Zimbabwe, owing to the country’s vast mineral wealth.

“For instance, in the gold sector, there are opportunities to invest in technology to develop and modernise the country’s artisanal miners,” says Mhembere.

He adds that more lithium miners are needed to increase production to meet the requirements of the energy industry and other related sectors.

Zimbabwe also remains an important producer of primary products that are exported in raw form. Therefore, investors could add significant value to local mining resources by investing in processing facilities so that the country can export higher-value products that have been beneficiated in-country.

Lithium is part of the unrelated commodities Zimplats would consider pursuing in the longer term, with Mhembere noting that it will remain open to these and other opportunities in minerals that are used in electric vehicles in the future.

Edited by Donna Slater
Features Deputy Editor and Chief Photographer

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