MEYERTON (miningweekly.com) – South Africa’s Minerals Minister, Susan Shabangu, on Wednesday opened the largest operating furnace of its kind in the world at Samancor Manganese’s Metalloys smelter in Meyerton, allowing mining giant BHP Billiton to beneficiate close to 30% of the manganese ore it mines locally and demonstrate its support for increasing value addition and downstream job creation.
BHP Billiton Manganese South Africa president Ravi Moodley said the beneficiation of close to 30% of the manganese ore mined represented the highest percentage of beneficiation in South Africa’s manganese industry.
“Although the hurdles may sometimes be quite high and the issues difficult and complex, with the close collaboration between big business, communities, government, employees and all stakeholders, it can be done, right here in South Africa,” said Moodley.
Shabangu said the traditional focus on mining and exporting of unbeneficiated minerals needed to be refocused towards the government’s new beneficiation strategy, which provided a framework to translate the country’s sheer comparative advantage inherited from its mineral resources endowment to a national competitive advantage.
The strategy, she said, was aligned to the national industrialisation programme, which sought to enhance the quantity and quality of exports, promote the creation of decent employment and diversify the economy, including promotion of the green economy.
Minerals were a vital input to an industrialisation programme, which was intended to accelerate manufacturing in South Africa for local consumption and export, the Minister added.
BHP Billiton manages all the operations of Samancor Manganese, in which it has a 60% share. The remaining 40% is held by Anglo American.
Moodley calculated that with the downstream impact of associated industries as well as 2 000 mining jobs in the Northern Cape, Metalloys potentially sustained more than 10 000 jobs and, on the safety front, had not suffered a single fatal accident in the past 15 years.
A total injury frequency of zero has recently been achieved at the plant, he said, adding that on average it experienced only two injuries for every one-million hours worked, a world-beating safety performance.
The new R1-billion M14 furnace is the latest of four large furnaces at Metalloys, one of the world’s largest manganese smelters; a furnace of this size was last built in South Africa 35 years ago.
The new 81 MVA furnace, built in 16 months, has a capacity to produce 120 000 t of high-carbon ferromanganese a year, with BHP Billiton’s marketing unit supplying ferroalloys and manganese ore to mainly the US and Europe and also India, Japan, China and South Korea.
Samancor Manganese’s Metalloys, operated by BHP Billiton, is the world’s largest integrated producer of manganese units.
The company owns two BHP Billiton-run mines that supply manganese to the alloy plant at Midvaal in Gauteng.
The furnace uses improved technology, allowing the offgas that is emitted to be used for additional power generation, which increases electricity self-sufficiency on the site to 20% and reduces the electricity supply burden on South Africa’s hard-pressed State power utility Eskom.
BHP Billiton South Africa executive chairperson Dr Xolani Mkhwanazi said that the M14 furnace expansion project demonstrated the company’s commitment to South Africa’s beneficiation and downstream investment goals, as well as reduced electricity demand and upped manganese ore production to feed local value-adding operations.
The project combined high technology with energy saving, environment friendliness, job creation and the development the local communities, Mkhwanazi added.
BHP Billiton manganese global president Tom Schutte said the confidence to commit to the M14 investment during a difficult global economic period came with the assurance that employees and stakeholders in South Africa understood the environment and had the ability to look beyond the press and analyst reports and understand the true value of a South African investment.
“This is an example of beneficiation being underpinned by a strong business case,” Anglo American executive Godfrey Gomwe told Mining Weekly Online on the sidelines of the launch function.
Midvaal mayor Timothy Nast said the investment showed that there was still life in the region’s traditional economy, despite the negative impact of the curtailment of ArcelorMittal South Africa’s steelmaking operations in nearby Vanderbijlpark.
The improved energy efficiency across the production facility at Metalloys also reduces the site’s carbon footprint and provides more carbon monoxide gas for Samancor’s onsite Elgen power station, which reportedly cogenerates electricity at ultra-low cost.
All four furnaces have been upgraded to enable them to provide offgas for additional power generation.
Its improved components increase reliability, availability and pollution control.
High-grade manganese ore is mined at BHP Billiton’s Hotazel manganese mines in the Northern Cape, and at Gemco on Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory of Australia.
Most of the ore produced is sold directly to external customers, with the rest used at BHP Billiton’s own alloy smelters, which include the Metalloys smelter in Meyerton and the Temco smelter, in Tasmania, Australia.
The operations are located in areas with seaborne access to world markets from dedicated deep-water ports that allow the use of large ships.
The manganese operations have a workforce of 3 700 people.
The end products of the 62-year-old Metalloys smelter are high-strength structural steels, high tensile pipe steel and heavy plates, engineering steels and some stainless steels.
BHP Billiton supports broad-based black economic empowerment and believes it to be critical for the growth and stability of the South African economy.
Metalloys recruits learners from surrounding high schools and trains them to be artisans in order to relieve South Africa’s technical skills shortage.
The company also has a centre for the advancement of science and mathematics education as well as a computer literacy programme for educators.
It supports a community centre that provides health, orphan and poverty-alleviation services in Midvaal and Sedibeng and funds the installation of high mast lights in nearby Sicelo to improve community safety.
Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter
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