Modern Mining: Featured News

Over the years up to 2022, Northam Platinum will be investing R5,6 billion in capital expenditure into its Booysendal South project on the border of Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces – which will give the company a decisive boost towards taking its place among the platinum majors.

While CEO Paul Dunne says he is careful to ensure that Northam is not driven by size for size’s sake, the contribution that Booysendal South is to have on the output of the combined Booysendal operation – and indeed the whole group – is substantial. It is expected to ramp up to production of between 250 000 oz and 300 000 oz of refined platinum group metals (PGMs) each year, taking the total output of the future Booysendal (North and South) operation to 500 000 oz/a.

    View of the central boxcut to access the Booysendal South working.

Combined with output from its operations at Zonder­einde (350 000 oz) and Eland (150 000 oz), this promises to take the group into the big league with targeted production of almost 1 Moz/a within the next few years.

As importantly, Booysendal South’s economics will help bring Northam down the cost curve as it grows. The mine also has enviable longevity with a currently estimated mine life of over 25 years. Its low-cost profile fits well into the company’s strategy, which will not abide laggards; cross-subsidisation is not in its policy, so each mine must be profitable throughout the commodity cycle.

The project’s origins date back to Northam’s purchase of the nearby Everest mine from Aquarius Platinum in 2015 – an acquisition that included the mining right, the 250 000-tonne-per-month concentrator plant for platinum group metals and chrome, the tailings storage facility (TSF), workshops and offices, and existing infrastructure such as power and water supplies. This infrastructure will be utilised by the new project, as well as Everest’s underground access to the future planned Booysendal South 3 and 4 modules.

With access to both UG2 and Merensky reef, the mine will operate as a swing producer – with production flexibility to respond to favourable turns in market demand. The mine design is based on that of its sister operation at Booysendal North, and will comprise two UG2 bord-and-pillar mining modules accessed via a single portal system – as well as a Merensky module. Mechanised mining systems will be employed, contributing both to enhanced on-mine safety as well as cost effectiveness.

In mid-2017, the measured resource for the UG2 in the area to be mined stood at 129 Mt (12,65 million ounces), while the proven reserve is estimated at almost 70 Mt (5,94 million ounces). The measured resource for the single Merensky module is almost 12 Mt (1,07 million ounces) and the proven reserve is 9,84 Mt (0,82 million ounces).

By late 2017, the cumulative capital expended had reached R733 million, and saw the central boxcut nearing completion while development work had started on all seven adits (with the contractor responsible for the decline system being Murray & Roberts Cementation). Work has also progressed well on the 4 000 tonne capacity ore silo, which will feed an aerial rope conveyor system – an innovative feature of the project – to transport ore to the concentrator plant. The specialised ‘RopeCon’ aerial rope conveyor, supplied by Austria-based Doppelmayr Transport Technology, is part of the company’s effort to reduce the project’s environmental impact.

Over 14 km of the Merensky and UG2 reefs outcrop in the Groot Dwars River valley – an area of considerable conservation importance in terms of aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity. According to the project’s environmental impact assessment, the area falls within the Sekhukhuneland Centre of Plant Endemism – the third richest in ultramafic induced endemic plant species in South Africa – and the National Freshwater Ecosystem Priority Area. In addition, the Mpumalanga Biodiversity Conservation Plan identifies this area as significant and irreplaceable, while the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency conservation plan also classifies the area as irreplaceable.

The RopeCon – which will cover a distance of 4,9 km to deliver ore from the central portal complex to the concentrator and integrated chrome extraction plant – will minimise the impact on the terrain it crosses over, as the 11 tower structures supporting the conveyor will be the only points of contact with the ground. The conveyor, with a width of 800 mm and a speed of 4,2 m/s, will have a capacity of about 444 000 tonnes per month. (Doppelmayr recently announced that it would be designing and constructing a second RopeCon system – to start operating in 2020 – to tie in with the first.)

Included in the infrastructure under construction are a north access road – where final surfacing is in progress – and a south access road, both totalling 12,5 km in length. A new 132 kVA power line will be constructed from Booysendal North to Booysendal South to supply the mine with electricity; construction will be completed towards the end of the 2018 financial year. Maximum nominated demand is currently 29 MVA, but the company emphasises that energy efficiency remains a priority at the mine.

While Dunne acknowledges that the immediate future for platinum is unclear, he emphasises that future sustainability depends on containing production costs; Booysendal South aligns well with the positioning of Northam operations to leverage platinum’s next upward cycle.

“We aim to be ‘first to market’ and capable of delivering up to an annual one million ounces of PGMs when demand for newly-mined metal recovers, as we believe it will,” he says.

Report by Paul Crankshaw, photos courtesy of Northam Platinum.

Contact Modern Mining

Title: Editor
Name: Arthur Tassell
Email: mining@crown.co.za
Phone: +27 11 622-4770
Fax: +27 11 615-6108

Title: Advertising Manager
Name: Bennie Venter
Email: benniev@crown.co.za
Phone: +27 11 622-4770
Fax: +27 11 615-6108

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