According to CPC operations manager Johan Meyer, the project is progressing well and is on track with the five-year ramping plan, following the successful commissioning of the second furnace in October last year.
“The project is progressing well in terms of the ramping plan and the first performance test has been completed to date.
“We commissioned the second furnace in October, exactly six months after the first furnace was commissioned, which is an achievement that benchmarks the company in the furnace industry.
“Moreover, we are on track with the planned production capacity, with the second furnace reaching 80% design feedrate input capacity in November and, to date, we are still on the ramp-up schedule,” says Meyer.
In addition to the titanium slag, production of pig iron is also being produced according to specification.
“One of the advantages of increasing production of pig iron is that demand and the current market prices are showing positive signs,” says Meyer.
He adds that Ticor’s prime objective of the expansion project was to increase its ability to produce a significant volume of titanium slag a year.
Another reason was that it made market sense to install a second furnace, such that if furnace one fails, the company is still able to produce slag and pig iron to meet market demand.
“Our main goal for the project is to produce a sustainable 250 000 t of titanium slag and 140 000 t of pig iron a year, and to remain on track with the ramping schedule.
“Once this has been achieved, we would like to increase this capacity,” says Meyer.
He adds that one of the unusual features of this project is the new preheating system, which heats the ilmenite before it enters the furnace.
This system was developed by Ticor, in conjunction with the US system supplier, and pilot tests were conducted prior to installation.
The preheating system is scheduled to be commissioned in the next six months.
“The system has worked well to date, as it has been operating successfully for the last month,” Meyer notes.
He says that the main challenges are to run the equipment and understand the risks while trying to reach capacity.
Further, Ticor is committed to reach production capacity, while simultaneously eliminating injury to staff, especially with the current safety record, in which burns to only two hands have been recorded to date.
Another challenge is the debottle- necking of the total value chain of the smelter.
“One of the main challenges is the debottlenecking of the value chain, especially since two furnaces are currently operating.
“Factors such as logistics of shipping such large volumes of product, and downstream activities at the smelter have to be taken into con-sideration,” Meyer explains.
He adds that one of the biggest achievements for the company was that it was able to construct furnace two alongside furnace one while it was fully-operational.
This involved producing high-temperature slag, with about 1 000 people constructing furnace two in close proximity.
All the titanium slag and pig iron produced will be exported globally, with the main markets being Europe, the US and Asia.
This factor has been a cause for concern for Meyer due to the current strength of the rand.
“The strong rand presents a challenge in exporting these pro-ducts and, therefore, we must ensure that the smelter operates cost-effectively, and that our profit margins are protected and maintained,” says Meyer.
Looking ahead, he adds that the company’s role has now changed to running the smelter as a business rather than a project, since most of the commissioning is complete. Moreover, Ticor South Africa’s vision is to be the benchmark in the furnace industry, and it is already one step closer to this goal by commissioning two furnaces in six months.
“Our strategy is to expand in the future by introducing a third and fourth furnace.
“However, this will depend largely on whether the global market demands more slag, the state of the company at that time, and share-holder approval,” Meyer concludes.