While Covid-19 continues to pose challenges for several industries, the mining industry, specifically platinum-group metals (PGMs) mines, has been somewhat less affected.
Mining advisory company Ukwazi tells Mining Weekly that most PGMs mines, like other mines, were considered essential services and were able to ramp up to 50% of capacity according to regulation 11K promulgated on April 16, 2020, and thereafter were able to increase production over time during the different levels of lockdown, compared with the operations of other industries.
“Being able to start operations earlier enabled PGMs mines to carry out maintenance, services and upgrades on existing operations. Although the mining industry hasn’t been immune to the pandemic, PGMs were not the worst affected,” says Ukwazi mining head Pierre Mans.
He explains that generally, PGMs mines have outperformed other mining operations, owing to higher commodity and basket prices, combined with capital expenditure decisions that were put on hold during the stricter levels of lockdown.
“One thing that is notable is the boom in price across all six metals in the PGMs basket. These increases have aided in cushioning the effects of Covid-19,” adds Ukwazi mining and business development specialist Spencer Eckstein.
From a systems and operations perspective, PGMs mines have completed work on resource classification and have refined mining methods and plans; they have also placed an emphasis on improving underground infrastructure and control systems to enhance operational efficiencies and cost saving, he notes.
“Notable improvements include the drive towards digital mining, the use of PGMs in the hydrogen economy and the fact that PGMs miners are finding solutions to processing upper group one (UG1) and two (UG2) reef and Merensky reef ore in their processing plants. Historically, PGMs mines favoured either processing one ore type or the other, but not both,” explains Eckstein.
He describes mines’ ability to process UG2 and Merensky reef ore, with minimal changes to their plant and processing configurations, as “a great achievement”.
Mans adds that mines did not have to adapt much from a medical perspective in terms of Covid-19, owing to the health and safety protocols they already had in place.
“While travel restrictions may have been the greatest challenge faced by mines, the industry had already established stringent regulations for health and safety. Persons are not allowed on a mine site unless they are medically fit, and the Covid-19 cases were managed well when they did arise because of existing and effective medical surveillance systems and on-site health facilities and personnel.”
With the Covid-19 pandemic expected to persist for the foreseeable future, its economic impact will reverberate for some time. However, this can benefit commodity prices, particularly precious metals.
Further, with the systems that mining operations have established, Mans states that mining companies are well positioned to assist government, as the industry has offered to roll out vaccines when they become more accessible.