Diversified mineral development company Bushveld Minerals’ tin platform, AfriTin Mining, which has assets in Namibia and South Africa, will focus on becoming Africa’s tin champion by bringing its flagship Uis tin project, in Namibia, to commercial production, says AfriTin Mining CEO Anthony Viljoen.
Located in the resources-rich Erongo region, in south-western Namibia, the Uis tin project was once one of the largest opencast tin mines worldwide, before its former owner, then South African State-owned metals company Iscor, stopped mining in the 1980s because of declining tin prices.
The project comprises a small pilot plant currently operating as a bulk testing facility.
“AfriTin Mining aims to build an economic pilot plant to achieve commercial production, . . . starting incremental upscaling to a larger plant thereafter,” Viljoen told Mining Weekly during a video interview earlier this month, noting that the company aimed to achieve steady-state production in the next 12 months.
The upgrade of the gravity-separation-based pilot plant to commercial scale is estimated to take between 9 and 12 months and will cost about £2-million. The cash flow generated from the operations will be used to sustain the operations at steady state.
AfriTin Mining also aims to largely complete a bankable feasibility study (BFS) for Uis to introduce project-financing-related debt of about £20-million for the large-scale commercial industrial plant.
AfriTin also aims to use the basis of a detailed mine works plan, supplied by consulting firm SRK to Iscor in 1985, for the BFS. It will also use confirmatory work required for the pilot plant to bring the project’s resources up to Joint Ore Reserves Committee standards.
Key to the tin company’s plans was “getting tin product to market as quickly as possible”, Viljoen stressed.
“We have our full mining licence, and our environmental permits are all up to date, so we can basically start mining tomorrow,” he quipped.
AfriTin aims to eventually mine three-million tonnes of ore a year and produce about 5 000 t/y of tin concentrate, at grades of between 60% and 65%. Significant markets for the product include Malaysia and Thailand.
Viljoen highlighted the increasing demand for tin as a versatile metal, paired with a declining supply profile, as a result of depleting orebodies and a lack of new deposits coming on stream.
In the past few years, the metal reached a price of up to $33 000/t, but current prices have settled to about $20 000/t.
“We see that as the new base, but it depends on the uptake of new technologies and which deposits can realistically be brought into industrial-scale production,” Viljoen acknowledged.
Tin, which is also known as a ‘green metal’, can be used as a substitute for lead in solders, as well as in applications for electric vehicles and household solar photovoltaic applications associated with lithium battery storage.
The advantages of the Uis project include a well-defined geology from the pits, as a result of the mineralisation in the pegmatite rocks, and the coarse grain of the rock allowing for better liberation of the tin during the metallurgical process.
The easy accessibility of infrastructure in Namibia, with the country an important mining investment destination, as a result of its being a stable jurisdiction with fairly consistent mining laws, is also beneficial.
Viljoen, meanwhile, believes that, with only 6% of the world’s tin mines being opencast, there may not be other tin deposits similar in scale to the opencast Uis.
Viljoen further argued that, while Africa used to be the fourth-largest exporter of tin, there were no industrially developed projects on the continent in modern times.
“AfriTin Mining aims to bring Africa up to its past production levels of tin and to become the primary mover of tin concentrate from the African continent or from a portfolio of tin assets,” Viljoen said, adding that having industrial-scale production would be the company’s competitive advantage in the market.