Incoming Bushveld CEO Craig Coltman (left) and outgoing Bushveld CEO Fortune Mojapelo.
JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – The outgoing and incoming CEOs of Bushveld Minerals this week locked arms to enable the London Aim-quoted vanadium mining, processing and manufacturing company to advance optimally.
In a joint online interview, outgoing CEO Fortune Mojapelo highlighted his commitment to supporting the company’s value-adding energy space and incoming CEO Craig Coltman spoke of tackling financial restructuring, increased liquidity, and balance sheet deleveraging when he officially starts on July 1 and Mojapelo steps down after 11 years of impressive company development.
Mojapelo pledged to continue to support the carve-out of Bushveld’s energy business strategy and Coltman spoke of Bushveld’s operations being the full focus of his attention next week – ahead of his official commencement.
“I'm very keen to put my safety boots on, get to the operations and understand the size of the opportunity,” Coltman told Mining Weekly. (Also watch attached Creamer Media video.)
Bushveld owns two of only four operating primary vanadium plants in the world and an energy platform that is seen to have sufficient critical mass.
“It's certainly been an interesting journey,” Mojapelo said of Bushveld Minerals, which started as an exploration company with an asset in Mokopane and a tin licence, from which it spun out AfriTin, which is now Andrada Mining, focused on tin, tantalum and lithium.
Six years ago, Bushveld went through its own transformation through its entry into vanadium and the acquisition of Vametco and Vanchem, which turned it into a producer of a broad range of vanadium products.
Simultaneously, it has played a major part in developing vanadium’s role in long-endurance energy storage through Bushveld Energy.
The focus going forward will be on extracting the best out of these assets. On the upstream assets, it will be about squeezing as cheaply as possible every single kilogram of vanadium out of its assets and ensuring that the balance sheet is less debt-heavy.
Bushveld has been built on the back of existing cash flows and debt, resulting in the balance sheet having some near-term maturities that need to be addressed.
On the upstream, two solid assets should be profitable through the cycle, and on the downstream, the energy business appears to have sufficient critical mass to develop as a vanadium redox flow battery (VRFB) energy storage platform.
Questioned on what he envisages for Bushveld, Coltman spoke of the need for sustainable throughput improvement at Vanchem, the Orion restructure, and, thereafter, evaluation of the next steps.
Bushveld has positioned itself for broad-based involvement through its far-reaching vertical integration model. The company’s downstream business includes the construction of an electrolyte manufacturing plant in East London, the development of a hybrid minigrid at the Vametco vanadium processing plant in Brits, and investment in VRFB manufacturing.
On the company’s vertical integration positioning, Coltman said: “For now, it makes a lot of sense. I have no reason to do anything different to it. My focus is going to be on the mining side in the interim. Fortune is going to be supporting me on the other aspects.”
Coltman will be visiting Vametco’s minigrid on Monday: “Give me a couple of weeks with my feet on the ground as the CEO and we’ll give you a lot more substance,” he said.
Mining Weekly: We’ve been getting calls from people who are in renewable energy and they're saying the delivery time for lithium batteries is horrific. Renewable energy developers needing a lot of storage say they can't get lithium batteries and have remarked to us that, marvellously, they are going to be able to source long-endurance vanadium batteries locally from Bushveld. When will that likely come about?
Mojapelo: The whole premise of Bushveld Energy and VRFBs is that, going forward, the energy transition means that we're going to not only need a lot of stationary storage but also long-duration energy storage, and that is a space which is ideal for vanadium flow batteries, due to their longevity over 20 years. With their six, eight hours plus, they become that much more prolific and competitive. It's encouraging to see that, increasingly, people are waking up to the proposition of VRFBs. If you look at the whole electric vehicles mandate the world over, it’s quite clear that there's not enough capacity to support lithium-ion battery requirements in the electric vehicle space, let alone stationary storage space, which, again, is much more suited to long duration solutions like VRFBs. That's what we've been building Bushveld Energy towards. We've got the electrolyte plant in East London, which we are commissioning - 200 MWh worth of electrolyte is the capacity. It can be scaled up to 800 MWh. We've got the minigrid at Vametco, which showcases how you can deploy renewable energy with VRFBs in a commercial environment. Importantly, this is not a subsidised project and it has been funded with debt, with third-party capital, and demonstrates that we can do these things at much, much bigger scale. Then, of course, there’s our share in the VRFB manufacturing companies - CellCube, completes the picture, together with the rentals which we have developed and which we are deploying. If the question is can we respond, and let's look beyond just Bushveld Energy, I think VRFBs today can respond to that requirement, and we're certainly looking forward to seeing VRFBs playing a bigger role in the renewables storage space going forward.
Mining Weekly: Is that storage of solar power in VRFBs at Vametco particularly living up to expectations?
Mojapelo: We’re building the minigrid at the moment. We hope to complete it sometime next month. I look forward to inviting you, Martin, to come and look at it when we switch it on. I have every confidence that it is going to be a fantastic part of the energy solution for Vametco. It'll only do 10% of Vametco’s requirements, but that's only because when we started this project, there was still a gap in terms of self-generation. In a Phase 2, we'll look at scaling that up substantially, which will of course also support Bushveld’s efforts for energy independence.