SOUTH Africa’s Impala Platinum, the world’s second-largest platinum miner will set up a refinery in the country by upgrading its existing facilities, with the first phase scheduled to start in July alongside work on a new underground mine, an official said on Friday.
The platinum refining process goes through two significant stages; in the base metal refinery – which separates base metals such as nickel and copper – and then the precious metal refinery which processes the various platinum group metals and gold to high levels of purity.
Zimbabwe, which has the world’s second largest platinum reserves after South Africa, has given miners two years to localise platinum group metal refinery, which is currently done in the southern neighbouring country.
On March 20, mines minister, Walter Chidhakwa told The Source that Implats chairperson Khotso Mokhele, on a visit to Zimbabwe, had indicated that Implats was willing to set up a platinum refinery in the country.
New technology for metal refinery
Zimplats chief operating officer Stanley Segula said the board had given the company go ahead to upgrade its mothballed base metal refinery in Selous at an estimated cost of $100 million as part of the first phase which will take about 24 months.
“We are going ahead to establish a refinery,” Segula told delegates to an investment conference touring the plant, adding that engineers from Zimplats’ parent company, Implats were in the country to start work on the project.
“On commissioning, we will process matte from the existing smelter to produce final base metals,” he said.
The existing base metal refinery was set up by BHP but failed to work because of technical difficulties and has been on care-and-maintenance. It is housed at Zimplats’ Selous Metallurgical Complex.
“Zimplats is now looking at upgrading the refinery with new technology so that it can treat our matte and also align ourselves with the national objectives of local beneficiation,” Segula said.
Another smelter in the pipeline
He said the second phase will involve establishing another smelter and upgrading the base metal refinery to process precious metals, but did not give a timeline while costs for the second phase are yet to be determined.Advertisement
The base metal refinery will process 270,000 tonnes of ore per month to produce matte while Zimplats is currently mining 240,000 tonnes of ore, he added.
Segula said the miner is shipping 7,000 tonnes of matte per year for final refining in South Africa.
The local platinum industry, dominated by Implats and its world number one rival Anglo American Platinum Zimplats has said it is approaching the 500,000 ounce per annum levels that are required for platinum refining facilities to be viable.
On Wednesday, RioZim said it was considering plans to upgrade its Empress nickel refinery to process the base metal elements in platinum group metals.
Mwana Africa’s Bindura Nickel Corporation has also hinted at plans to modify its smelter and refinery into platinum refining facilities.
New underground mine
Segula said Zimplats was starting work to build a new underground mine, Portal 5 in July under its Ngezi Phase 2 expansion, which also include the construction of an additional concentrator and associated infrastructure at a cost of $460 million.
“This is going to be our biggest underground operating mine and will produce 2.2 million tonnes per annum. At the moment the biggest mine is producing 2 million tonnes per annum,” he said.
The mine will reach full production capacity in 2019, he added.
“We are at an advanced stage of a bankable feasibility study for Portal 5. This mine when fully developed, is meant to replace two of our already existing mines whose lifespan lapses out in 2020,” Segula said.