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NC could get zinc refinery

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The project has been described as being the latest step in a major zinc cluster extending from the Northern Cape

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A FEASIBILITY study is currently under way into the development and construction of a zinc smelter-refinery complex in the Northern Cape.

Vedanta Zinc International said earlier this week that the refinery would process concentrates from its Gamsberg project at Black Mountain Mining in the Northern Cape.

The project has been described as being the latest step in a major zinc cluster extending from the Northern Cape into southern Namibia and could see South Africa becoming one of the world’s largest zinc supply region.

According to Vedanta Zinc, the establishment of the proposed beneficiation plant will make Gamsberg a fully integrated zinc production site, with the mine, concentrator and smelter-refinery complex at a single location, making it the first integrated zinc manufacturing facility in South Africa.

“In line with the group’s commitment to southern Africa, the proposed investment would have a significant positive impact on the Northern Cape, creating jobs – directly and indirectly – and further developmental opportunities in the region,” it said in a statement issued this week.

“It is envisaged that the first phase of the smelter-refinery complex will have a capacity of
250 000 tons per year (tpa) of finished zinc metal. As the entire Gasmberg project has been developed in a modular fashion, so the smelter-refinery complex could also be expanded to align with Gamsberg Phases 2 and 3.”

The feasibility study will evaluate the infrastructural requirements of the complex – the beneficiation facility will require around 200MW of additional power and additional water supply. Both of these, according to the company, would mean significant large-scale investment.

“The scope of the feasibility study includes a review of previous work undertaken by VZI into the possibility of developing a Southern African Zinc Cluster that would incorporate both Black Mountain and Skorpion Zinc, which is located in southern Namibia,” the company stated.

“Skorpion Zinc currently operates an integrated zinc refinery, and the potential exists for the conversion of this 150 000 tpa refinery to co-treat sulphide and oxide concentrates from Gamsberg and other sulphide concentrate raw materials from nearby.

“Should these projects proceed, this Southern African Zinc Cluster has the potential to be one of the world’s largest zinc supply regions.”

This feasibility study is in line with Vedanta’s commitment to beneficiating to final metal, which is the model followed by the group in India.

The Gamsberg refinery could see a further investment by Vedanta of between $700 million and $800 million.

Gamsberg is one of the largest unexploited zinc resources in the world. It has a reserve and resource of more than 200Mt and an estimated potential life-of-mine of 30 years.

Phase 1 of the $400 million development of the Gamsberg Mine is well under way, with first production scheduled for mid-2018, and full production expected to be reached in nine to 12 months.

Phase 1 has a life-of-mine of 13 years, producing an expected 4Mtpa from the open pit mine, and 250 000 tpa from its concentrator plant.

To date around 60Mt of waste has been removed. For the concentrator plant, completion of mechanical equipment erection and infrastructure for power and water pipeline are in progress.

Around 2 700 people are currently employed on site, with more than 50% drawn from the Province, of which around 500 people are from the Khai-Ma district.

At full production, Gamsberg will employ around 700 permanent employees.

“The expansion of Gamsberg into beneficiation streams has the potential to trigger a new wave of industrial and economic development in the Northern Cape, which could provide additional opportunities for Vedanta and others, in what is one of the least developed regions of South Africa,” the company stated.

“There are opportunities for further value-adding zinc beneficiation (such as galvanising), the creation of a regional fertiliser industry considering that a zinc smelter-refinery will produce sulphuric acid as a by-product (given the presence of phosphates), the accelerated development of the agricultural industry, prospects for steel production (given the proximity of iron, zinc and manganese mining) and potential for the development of rail and other logistical links,” it added.

“And this would just be the beginning: Industrial development would need additional power resources in a region that has vast potential for solar energy, water supply and other economic and social infrastructure requirements. These investment opportunities could be a game-changer for the region, and contribute to economic growth in South Africa as a whole.”