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Manganese positioning South Africa for entry into huge new energy markets

Jupiter MD Brad Rogers with the beneficiated manganese product.

Jupiter MD Brad Rogers with the beneficiated manganese product.

28th November 2023

By: Martin Creamer

Creamer Media Editor

     

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JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Manganese mining company Jupiter Mines has produced a 99.9% pure sample of high purity manganese sulphate monohydrate (HPMSM) using the Northern Cape’s manganese ore and bringing into service an internally developed hydrometallurgical production process.

Inclusion of the battery grade manganese in the cathode of electric vehicle batteries introduces cost efficient energy density and potential safety enhancements, Jupiter stated in its media release to Mining Weekly.

Jupiter’s advance towards producing HPMSM follows that of Manganese Metal Co (MMC), chaired by South African mining stalwart Bernard Swanepoel.

As reported by Engineering News & Mining Weekly in September, MMC is in the early phase of constructing a small-scale 5 000 t/y commercial HPMSM plant in Mbombela (Nelspruit), which is expected to be in production by 2026. This plant will be a brownfield addition to MMC’s high purity electrolytic manganese metal (EMM) refinery.

The wording of the Jupiter media release to Mining Weekly is that the Australia-listed company’s advance is “the first published record of HPMSM being produced by a South African manganese miner using its own process”. The manganese product is described as being of battery-grade quality in conformity with specifications provided by the International Manganese Institute.

"We are very encouraged by the high purity testing results that we've achieved through the HPMSM production process that we developed, as well as the progress we are making on our business case development more generally. Our aim is to bring distinctive value to this downstream integration strategy and to derive attractive returns in exchange," said Jupiter MD Brad Rogers.

Next year, MMC will complete half a century of being a producer of the world’s purest 99.9% manganese EMM metal from ore that is mined in the Kalahari by Johannesburg-, Sydney- and London-listed diversified mining company South32.

For some time, customers have been buying MMC’s high purity manganese metal to dissolve it into HPMSM, and this has prompted MMC to enter the HPMSM production space itself.

Once the 5 000 t/y plant is built, accredited and goes into the batteries of the world, then the sky will be the limit for MMC, which will be able to step out and put South Africa on the battery grade manganese map.

MMC’s forward movement into HPMSM is taking place amid key battery electric vehicle (BEV) manufacturers pursuing this more affordable and greener cathode active material with higher manganese content as the material of choice.

Jupiter is performing location studies to determine the ideal location of its first plant. The base case for this work is that Jupiter’s refining facility will be in US or Canada, with Europe an alternative.

Ultimately, the decision will be informed by a variety of key criteria, including the location of likely offtake partners.

Jupiter is also considering the merits of producing a manganese concentrate in South Africa, prior to transportation and refinement in North America or elsewhere.

At this year’s Fastmarkets European Battery Raw Materials event in Amsterdam, MMC market development executive Madelein Todd highlighted the commitment of MMC to produce sought-after HPMSM in Mbombela directly from manganese ore, in addition to being the producer of the world’s highest 99.9% pure manganese metal going back to 1974.

Meanwhile, Jupiter, based on its strategic analysis and discussions with market participants, expressed belief that there will be “a growing and long-term demand for HPMSM, which will be undersupplied for a period commencing in the late 2020s”.

Jupiter quoted the International Energy Agency as finding that the typical BEV will require more manganese than lithium and cobalt and Bloomberg New Energy Finance as expecting a supply deficit of 72% (relative to total demand) by 2030.

On track to complete a scoping level market entry business case by December 31, Jupiter will recommend, if appropriate, the commencement of more detailed work in early 2024. This may include the construction of a pilot demonstration plant, prior to a final investment decision (FID) and proceeding commercial plant construction.

Jupiter’s laboratory sample of HPMSM – produced using 28% to 32% manganese content Tshipi ore ­– was reportedly within required tolerance limits for all specified impurity levels. Ntsimbintle Mining, chaired by South Africa’s Saki Macozoma, owns 51.1% of Tshipi and Jupiter 49.9%.

Should further work prove successful, Jupiter intends to build and operate an HPMSM conversion facility, into which it will invest equity alongside co-investment from various external sources.

Confidential discussions, which are under way with several co-investors and potential offtake customers, are aimed at helping to put trusting relationships in place by the time FIDs are required.

Jupiter’s primary market is the steel industry. An investment in the production of HPMSM would enable market diversification and reduce product risk.

While relatively small in comparison, downstream diversification into supplying the HPMSM market would provide an opportunity for Jupiter to optimise the use of its mineral resources.

Jupiter has team members with experience in the production of pure manganese products.

Two of Jupiter’s largest long-term investors, steelmaker Posco and AMCI, are investors in downstream battery mineral processing.

MMC’S GREEN ENERGY

Remarkably, MMC is wheeling 1.8 MW of clean green hydropower from Lydenburg, also in Mpumalanga, to its plant from a hydropower station on the Crocodile river.

This was commissioned following the completion of a process of selection of a vendor for the supply of solar photovoltaic energy.

Moreover, in strong advances to be cleaner and greener, a circular beneficiation model has also been introduced in the form of its landfill material being used to produce clay bricks for use by local communities.

As the single largest user of potable water in Nelspruit, projects to recycle and clean water are on the go to elevate MMC to globally acceptable levels as an exporter.

Currently, 56% of the EMM it produces is sold to Japan, 25% to the US, and 10% to Europe. The EMM is 99.9% pure, beating the next highest 99.7%.

For the last 49 years, MMC has used chemical processing and large quantities of electricity to produce 3% of the world’s manganese metal that feeds into a high quality niche market.

In days gone by, MMC was operated by a Samancor structure on behalf of BHP Billiton and Anglo American. Today it is owned by MM Holdings, which is, in turn, held 70% by Bright Resources and 30% by To The Point.

Manganese is going into BEVs and battery energy storage for good technical and cost reasons. Formulations are increasingly including manganese in batteries, which is drawing MMC more deeply into the battery minerals market, with its special South African skills ready to be leveraged.

MMC, which has 400 direct employees and 200 indirect contractor employees, last year earned South Africa R2.28-billion in export revenue, exporting mainly through the ports of Maputo and Durban, and paid R179-million in taxes.

Trade & Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS) senior economist Gaylor Montmasson-Clair describes MMC as a “South African industrial jewel” that could be many times bigger than its present size.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind company that we should support on its growth trajectory. The company’s vision is fully aligned with the objectives of the South African Renewable Energy Masterplan and the industrialisation of renewable energy and battery storage value chains in South Africa,” Montmasson-Clair added in response to Mining Weekly.

TIPS is an independent, non-profit, economic research institution based in Pretoria that was established in 1996 to support economic policy development, with an emphasis on industrial policy in South Africa and the region.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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