Tag Archives: cobalt

BacTech Environmental building up to bioleaching pilot plant milestone

BacTech Environmental Corp, an environmental technology company delivering eco-friendly bioleaching and remediation solutions for precious metal and critical mineral recovery, says it is advancing its Sudbury pilot plant development for nickel-cobalt and ‘green’ iron recovery with plans for the plant to be operational in July.

Dr Nadia Mykytczuk, a leader in biomining technology, member of BacTech’s advisory board and Interim CEO and President of MIRARCO Mining Innovation, is leading the development and building of a bioleach pilot plant to be located in Sudbury, Canada.

Working closely with BacTech’s scientific team, the plant is for the testing of bioleaching processes like the company’s proposed approach for pyrrhotite treatment. The pilot plant will simulate a commercial bioleach process consisting of a cascade of reactors operating on a continuous basis. The plant will also include front and back-end equipment operating as separate units for capturing additional revenue sources beyond nickel-cobalt (eg elemental sulphur, iron as feed for steel making and oxidised residue conversion for construction materials).

The proposed pilot plant is expected to be operational by July. One reactor has been 100% completed to date and is being used to test select concentrates from BacTech’s Tenguel project in Ecuador.

On April 7, BacTech announced it had filed a provisional patent application documenting its proposed approach to bioleaching pyrrhotite materials. Pyrrhotite is a very volatile sulphide mineral containing nickel and cobalt values that oxidises rapidly and produces large amounts of iron and sulphur components as by-products, which are typically considered as wastes. The pilot plant is part of Dr Mykytczuk’s larger effort to establish the future Centre for Mine Waste Biotechnology, a facility focused on scale-up and commercialisation of biotechnologies to help extract value and reduce impacts from mine wastes.

The object is to use this pilot facility to obtain the design data necessary to establish a fully integrated tonnage-based demonstration plant, which would then lead towards full-scale commercialisation. The production of value-added materials from the iron and sulphur and oxidised residue, which would normally be disposed of as waste, differentiates this process from other pyrrhotite bioleach endeavours which only target nickel and cobalt production, BacTech says.

On May 11, 2022, the Canadian government announced a C$10.9 million ($8.5 million) fund to assist with the construction of pilot plants and projects to support the development of critical mineral value chains. The Sudbury Basin hosts up to 100 Mt of pyrrhotite tailings deposited over the past 90 years of mining estimated to contain on average 0.8% Ni and 0.03% Co, according to BacTech.

“We are very happy to see the government stepping up and providing capital for pilot stage plants in the critical metals space,” Ross Orr, President and CEO of BacTech, said. “This is probably the most difficult capital to obtain at the R&D stage, as the demands are much greater than a typical lab setup. We will definitely be answering the Canadian Government’s call for proposals. In addition to reactors and other equipment, we need to conduct studies on the pre- bioleach phase as well as recovery of metals from solution at the back-end.”

BacTech’s scientific path is to develop an innovative zero-carbon liberation and extraction approach to separating iron from its ore, in addition to optimising nickel-cobalt recovery efforts. BacTech says it believes its method answers the need raised by the Canadian Government and to accelerate the sustainable extraction and processing of critical minerals from existing mine tailings and invest in domestic production.

Orr concluded: “Providing the solution to the complex pyrrhotite issue in the Sudbury Basin would be a tremendous win for BacTech and its shareholders. Having completed an applicable year-long bioleach study with great results some 20 years ago gives us the confidence that we can succeed. The complementary technologies that we hope to now use were not available to us back in the late 1990s and should allow us to commercialise and sell multiple end-products derived from the pyrrhotite source.”

Repair, Reuse, Recycle: ERG’s critical minerals reprocessing journey

The Musonoi River Valley in the Katanga region in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has, for some decades, been the site of land degradation resulting from inadequate and ineffective tailings and other waste management systems.

The local water system and surrounding land has been subjected to pollution from more than 83.2 Mt of legacy tailings spread over an area 11-km long and up to 2.5-km wide. Additionally, 41.1 Mt of tailings have accumulated at the Kingamyambo Tailings Dam.

Remediating and mitigating this damage is now a primary goal of Eurasian Resources Group’s Metalkol Roan Tailings Reclamation (RTR), a reprocessing facility dedicated to cleaning up the historic tailings left by previous mining operators in the Kolwezi area of the DRC. By reclaiming and reprocessing copper and cobalt tailings in the region, the company says its approach goes beyond ‘do no harm’, actively addressing a history of environmental degradation and pollution.

The legacy tailings are extracted through hydraulic mining and dredging, reprocessed and then re-deposited into a modern, closely managed and centralised tailings storage facility. This is subject to regular inspection, monitoring and reporting, supported by a dedicated Engineer of Record and an independent laboratory. Currently Metalkol RTR can produce 21,000 t/y of cobalt, which is says is sufficient for three million electric vehicle batteries, alongside around 100,000 t/y of copper, the company says.

ERG also has reprocessing operations outside of Africa, including at Kazchrome in Kazakhstan, which, it says, is the world’s largest high-carbon ferrochrome producer by chrome content.

Established in 2019, ERG Recycling – ERG’s specialised company aiming to become the largest entity to reprocess industrial waste into commercial products in Kazakhstan – has already implemented many projects including the commissioning of a new workshop that reprocesses slag, dust and other fine waste into high-quality briquettes. This program to reprocess Kazchrome’s 14.7 Mt of slag stockpiles has been expanded, now processing over 100,000 t/y of slag.

These operations have been enhanced by the development of new technology. Having completed the first trial in 2020, the Slimes 2 Tailings Reprocessing project at Donskoy GOK has the potential to enhance Kazchrome’s output of chrome concentrate by recovering 55% of the chromium oxide in chrome-oxide bearing tailings using innovative flotation technology, the company says.

In Brazil, at ERG’s integrated project, BAMIN, which produces a premium 67% Fe grade iron ore and is ramping up to become one of the country’s largest standalone iron ore exporters, the company’s transition from an upstream to a downstream tailings model ensured continued compliance with both local regulations and international standards, it said. The group continues to study additional technological enhancements to ensure the construction and operation of a world-class facility.

The environmental benefits of reprocessing projects like these are very significant for the business and critical to local communities, according to the company.

“As more attention rightly turns towards environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, it is crucial that tailings are dealt with and stored properly,” ERG said. “Aside from preventing significant issues, such as dam collapses, by reprocessing and responsibly storing these tailings, we are reducing local pollution risks more generally, increasing air quality and decreasing the likelihood of leaching toxic substances into surrounding habitats and water systems.”

Given the legacy of environmental degradation and serious consequences it poses, it is also necessary for mining companies to explore novel ways of rehabilitating the environment.

For example, ERG has been working with a team of agronomists from the University of Lubumbashi in the DRC to look into the experimental planting of trees and their growing potential at the Kingamyambo tailings dam.

Looking forward, these operations will support the sustainable development of affordable batteries and other clean energy technologies.

By producing critical raw materials, such as cobalt, without the risk and cost of needing to develop new mining projects, ERG says it can help make electric vehicles and other renewable technologies more accessible, helping facilitating the net-zero transition.

Pictured above is Metalkol RTR, ERG’s reprocessing facility in the DRC: the world’s second largest standalone cobalt producer

Nickel Mines targets further CO2 cut with SESNA solar power MoU

Nickel Mines Ltd has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with PT Sumber Energi Surya Nusantara (SESNA) to implement, if certain economic parameters are met, 200 MWp of solar capacity within the Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park (IMIP).

The MoU provides for SESNA to undertake the role of “Project Initiator” for developing, financing, constructing, commissioning, owning and operating a 200 MWp solar farm project to significantly scale up the supply of renewable energy to the company’s Hengjaya Nickel (HNI) and Ranger Nickel (RNI) nickel processing operations within the IMIP.

Under the proposed agreement, Nickel Mines will be the long-term offtake partner for SESNA and will not be required to contribute any capital funding. The indicative tariff for electricity is considered competitive with other similar scale solar projects, the company said.

SESNA is, Nickel Mines says, an established and leading solar development company in Indonesia, owning and operating a portfolio of solar feed-in-tariff (FIT) and microgrid projects as well as providing services and solutions such as engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) capabilities, solar financing and other technical development support to commercialise solar projects.

The potential 200 MWp solar project supplements the existing 396 kWp plus 250 kWh battery storage project which the company has entered into with SESNA for integration into the facilities at the Hengjaya mine (pictured), which is scheduled to commission this quarter. The Hengjaya mine, which hosts a JORC compliant resource of 185 Mt at 1.3% Ni and 0.08% Co, currently sources its power from diesel-powered generators. It is anticipated that the Hengjaya mine solar project will reduce diesel consumption by approximately 31 million litres over the 25-year projected project life.

Nickel Mines Managing Director, Justin Werner, said: “It is estimated this solar project could supply up to 20% of HNI and RNI’s current electricity requirements and, in doing so, account for a material reduction in annual CO2 emissions. This solar project marks an important first step in our ’Future Energy’ collaboration with our partner Shanghai Decent and our joint commitment to a more sustainable future for Indonesia’s nickel industry.”

The solar project may be implemented in stages with SESNA committing to finalise and deliver a project proposal within three months of signing the MoU, at which point the company may elect to proceed or terminate the MoU at its discretion.

Bartram comes back to TOMRA Mining ready for sensor-based sorting demand uptick

Having left TOMRA Mining more than a decade ago only to return to the Germany-based company in November, Kai Bartram’s re-arrival at the sensor-based sorting firm represents a good time to take stock and reflect on how far the mining sector has come with its understanding and acceptance of this type of pre-concentration technology.

Bartram, now Global Sales Director of TOMRA Mining and a member of TOMRA’s Mining Management Team, was happy to answer some of IM’s questions after getting his feet back under the table in the company’s offices in Wedel, Germany.

IM: How has the mining industry’s appreciation of the benefits of sensor-based ore sorting changed since you left TOMRA in 2010? What trends have led to a wider take up of the technology?

KB: In 2010, sensor-based sorting (SBS) was still seen as a niche technology in the mining industry. Some smaller, more innovative mining companies had seen the potential and effectively implemented SBS, but the mining industry, as such, had not accepted the technology. While in the industrial minerals sector several optical sorters – and, in the diamond industry, mainly X-ray luminescence machines – were operating, the rest of the industry was cautious about integrating sorters into their flowsheets.

That changed slowly with the introduction of Dual Energy X-ray technology. The technology is so robust and perfectly suited to the harsh environment of the mining industry that the economic benefits of pre-concentration became obvious. Another point that has strongly supported the adoption of sorting technology is the fact that average ore grades keep decreasing while energy costs keep increasing.

IM: Diamond and industrial mineral operations were typically the first adopters in the mining sector; what commodity sectors do you expect to see dominate demand for sensor-based ore sorting systems into 2030? What changes to the technology or wider industry understanding have led to this belief?

KB: In the beginning, sorters were seen as small machines, which would never meet the capacity requirements of large hard-rock mineral processing circuits. Therefore, only small mines saw the opportunity to implement sorting as a pre-concentration step in their process. Today, we see that our 2.4-m-wide flagship sorter, TOMRA COM XRT 2.0, can process up to 500 t/h, so that large operations can also implement the technology. An example of such a trend is the Ma’aden Phosphate Umm Wu’al processing plant, where 2,000 t/h are processed with TOMRA XRT sorters.

I am sure we will see more of these bigger projects in many different commodities. Of course, the current market trend is towards ores that are required for the electric revolution, like lithium, copper, cobalt and rare earth elements. TOMRA has proven that we have the right solution to upgrade those ores efficiently and can contribute to more economical output. So, I expect to see more installations in the future.

The TOMRA COM XRT 2.0 units can process up to 500 t/h

IM: Are there any regions more willing to apply these solutions than others? Why is this the case?

KB: If you look at our global reference list, you can see that the larger installed base resides in Europe, Africa and the Americas. The Asian markets are a little behind, but this is easily explained by history. As a European company, we focused more on the better known and established markets. In general, the mining market is a very global industry with big players active in all continents.
I do not believe there are regions more willing to apply the technology than others. It is just a matter of supporting all regions in the same way. TOMRA is investing heavily to ensure we have a good global support network, to be there for and with our clients.

IM: Do you expect to see more collaboration with OEMs over the next decade when it comes to implementing ore sorting solutions with process flowsheets? How do you see the input of both TOMRA and OEMs benefitting the wider mining industry?

KB: Collaboration is essential in any industry. We need specialists who are experts in their field, and TOMRA is one of the global leaders in sensor-based sorting. In order to achieve the best results in one field, one must focus. Therefore, big projects can only be undertaken by a group of companies or experts who collaboratively work together. We, as a solution provider, are very dependent on well-engineered and integrated plant designs and believe we have to collaborate and have close relationships with plant builders to ensure the best possible solution for our clients.

BHP backs Kabanga Nickel mine development and refinery plan

BHP has invested $40 million in Tanzania-focused Kabanga Nickel, in addition to backing Lifezone Limited and its patented hydrometallurgical technology with a $10 million investment.

Kabanga Nickel Limited says its share of the cash will be used to accelerate the development of the Kabanga nickel project in Tanzania, which it claims is the world’s largest development-ready nickel sulphide deposit.

Lifezone, meanwhile, will use the funds to advance the roll-out of its technologies. The owner of the hydrometallurgy technology that will be used to build and operate the planned nickel refinery in Tanzania, Lifezone claims this technology is more cost efficient than smelting, has a significantly lower environmental impact, and will ensure that finished Class 1 battery-grade nickel, copper and cobalt will be produced in Tanzania.

Chris Showalter, Kabanga Nickel CEO, said: “BHP is the ideal partner for Kabanga Nickel, bringing significant advantages and expertise that will enable us to move ahead with the project.

“BHP’s investment reflects the project’s strong ESG credentials and its role in improving environmental performance throughout the nickel value chain. In addition, BHP’s funding support of Lifezone’s hydromet technology – the future of sustainable metals processing – will drive progress towards a greener world. Through development of Kabanga and Lifezone hydromet, Tanzania will have a growing role in the supply of the battery metals needed to move to a global low carbon economy.”

The Kabanga nickel project has had more than $290 million spent on it by previous owners such as Barrick and Glencore between 2005 and 2014, including 587,000 m of drilling. The outcome of this previous investment is an in-situ mineral resource of 58 Mt at 2.62% Ni, containing more than 1.52 Mt of nickel, 190,000 t of copper and 120,000 t of cobalt. The Barrick-Glencore joint venture also outlined a mine plan in a draft feasibility study that looked to recover 49.3 Mt of ore at 2.69% nickel equivalent from the two primary orebodies – North and Tembo. Kabanga is in the process of updating this plan.

While the BHP transaction is for a total consideration of $50 million, with investments in both Kabanga Nickel ($40 million) and Lifezone ($10 million), future investment tranches in Kabanga Nickel have been agreed subject to certain conditions. This includes a second tranche of $50 million and the right for BHP to make a further investment in Kabanga Nickel subject to achieving certain agreed milestones.

The first tranche of $40 million will convert into an 8.9% equity stake in Kabanga Nickel (7.5% see-through interest in Tembo Nickel Corp) once approvals and conditions are met. Once invested and on conversion, the second tranche of $50 million will increase BHP’s equity stake in Kabanga Nickel to 17.8% (15% see-through interest in Tembo), thereby valuing the project at $658 million, post-money. Tembo Nickel is the joint venture owner of the project, owned 84% by Kabanga Nickel and 16% by the Government of Tanzania, set to undertake mining, processing and refining to Class 1 nickel with cobalt and copper co-products near the asset.

The investment into Kabanga Nickel from BHP will support an acceleration in the mine’s development, including an enhanced metallurgical drilling program (which has already started) to enable update of the definitive feasibility study and support the construction plans for the hydromet refinery. These studies are expected to be completed by the end of 2022. Site and infrastructure development is already underway. The investment will also support hiring and training of local Tanzanian talent.

The investment into Lifezone allows for new patent applications as well as R&D work that will further commercialise the Lifezone hydrometallurgical technology. Lifezone currently has patents granted in over 150 countries.

The current project development timeline anticipates first production in 2025. Output will ramp up to target a minimum annual production of 40,000 t of nickel, 6,000 t of copper and 3,000 t of cobalt.

TotalEnergies to help Prony Resources decarbonise New Caledonia nickel, cobalt ops

TotalEnergies says it will develop a series of photovoltaic (PV) and energy storage projects in New Caledonia for Prony Resources’ operations in the country.

The company will deliver decarbonised electricity via a 25-year renewable power purchase agreement (PPA) for the  operations, developing, in successive phases, ground-based PV arrays with installed capacity of 160 MW, as well as 340 MWh of energy battery storage capacity, between 2022 and 2025.

Most of the installations will be located on property owned by the Grand Sud hydrometallurgical plant, TotalEnergies says, with the first PV power plant (30 MW) scheduled to come on stream in 2023.

Ultimately, the project will cover nearly two-thirds of the site’s electricity needs and will help avoid close to 230,000 t of CO2 emissions, according to the company. This project strengthens Prony Resources New Caledonia’s ambition of achieving carbon neutrality by 2040, it said.

Earlier this year, Vale Canada concluded the sale of its ownership interest in Vale Nouvelle-Calédonie SAS (VNC) to the Prony Resources New Caledonia consortium. VNC is a producer of nickel and cobalt from the Goro mine. 

The company said: “By combining solar energy and energy storage to replace electricity generated from coal, TotalEnergies is demonstrating its ability to provide a sustainable energy solution to Prony Resources New Caledonia while meeting demanding local, industrial, environmental and social requirements.”

Thierry Muller, CEO of TotalEnergies Renewables France, said: “Prony Resources New Caledonia’s commitment to decarbonisation is both ambitious and pioneering in the industry. We are very proud to support their energy transition, and that of New Caledonia

“As industrial firms, we think and act responsibly. Our two companies are committed to protecting natural resources and biodiversity, and to improving the situation of local communities. With this long-term partnership, we are demonstrating that it is possible to support industrial activity in New Caledonia and participate in a sustainable development approach at the same time.”

Antonin Beurrier, Chairman of Prony Resources New Caledonia, added: “Certainly, one of the most important pathways in our industrial transformation – an orderly and assertive transition of our energy mix towards renewables – allows Prony Resources to ensure that its electric vehicle battery manufacturer customers are supplied with high environmental quality nickel and cobalt while contributing to New Caledonia’s sustainable development.

“The choice of TotalEnergies brings in world-class industrial expertise and opens the door to exciting opportunities and innovations in the years ahead.”

Metso Outotec to supply VSFX tech for Li-Cycle battery recycling plant

Metso Outotec says it has signed an agreement with Li-Cycle North America Hub Inc for the supply of manganese, cobalt, and nickel solvent extraction technology for a battery recycling plant to be built in Rochester, New York in the US.

The contract value, which is not disclosed, has been booked in the Metals December quarter 2021 orders received.

The Metso Outotec delivery includes three modular VSF®X solvent extraction plants and related Dual Media Filters, and basic engineering.

Jari Ålgars, President of the Metals business area at Metso Outotec, said: “We are looking forward to working with Li-Cycle on this battery recycling project. The energy-efficient, modular VSFX solvent extraction plant, which is part of our Planet Positive product range, reduces emissions and is safe to operate. The Li-Cycle project will be an important new reference for Metso Outotec in the battery recycling business.”

Lifezone hydromet tech blueprint puts Kabanga Nickel in pole refining position

Kabanga Nickel is ready to put its ‘money where its technology is’ in the pursuit of production from a highly prospective nickel-copper-cobalt asset in Tanzania, according to Keith Liddell, Executive Chairman.

Having been granted access to a project that has had more than $290 million spent on it by previous owners such as Barrick Gold and Glencore between 2005 and 2014, including 587,000 m of drilling, the company is coming at the Kabanga project with a fresh set of eyes and a plan that aligns with the government’s in-country beneficiation requirements.

The outcome of this previous investment is an in-situ mineral resource of 58 Mt at 2.62% Ni, containing more than 1.52 Mt of nickel, 190,000 t of copper and 120,000 t of cobalt. This resource is in the process of being updated with the latest modelling software.

The Barrick-Glencore joint venture also outlined a mine plan in a draft feasibility study that looked to recover 49.3 Mt of ore at 2.69% nickel equivalent from the two primary orebodies – North and Tembo. Again, Kabanga is re-evaluating this strategy, having identified several opportunities to enhance project outcomes including a development plan that facilitates higher production rates and access to high-grade ore earlier in the mining schedule.

Yet, the biggest departure from the previous plans for Kabanga is the “mine to metal” concept that Liddell and Dr Mike Adams, Senior Vice President: Processing & Refining, have been marketing.

This is part of the reason why the Tanzanian Government signed a binding framework agreement with Kabanga Nickel earlier this year that resulted in a joint venture company called Tembo Nickel Corp (owned 84% by Kabanga Nickel and 16% by the Government of Tanzania) to undertake mining, processing and refining to Class 1 nickel with cobalt and copper co-products near the asset.

Unlike the plethora of smelter plans being drawn up in the likes of Indonesia and the Philippines – two other countries attempting to keep more ‘metal value’ in-country – Kabanga’s plan hinges on a hydrometallurgical refining route.

This isn’t a carbon copy of the high pressure acid leaching (HPAL) technology the industry is used to hearing about – most of the time for the wrong reasons. The hydrometallurgy Kabanga is talking about is more in keeping with the process Vale uses at Long Harbour in Canada, Adams pointed out.

“There’s hydrometallurgy and then there’s hydrometallurgy,” he told IM. “HPAL is incredibly different to the Lifezone hydrometallurgy we are proposing at Kabanga, which is dealing with sulphide concentrates. Our process is effectively 17% of the HPAL carbon footprint; HPAL has a much higher carbon footprint than smelting, let alone what we are proposing.

“Our technology comes with lower temperatures and pressures, and the materials of construction are nowhere near as exotic as HPAL. It is more economic and more environmentally friendly than both HPAL and smelting.”

The ‘Lifezone’ Adams mentioned is Lifezone Limited, a technology and development company established by Liddell to exclusively own and develop the patented rights to the Kell Process – a unique hydrometallurgical process. Although devised to treat platinum group metals and refractory gold ores without smelting or the use of cyanide, and with major energy savings, cost benefits and a significantly reduced environmental impact (CO2 and SO2) over conventional technologies, the Kabanga team is keen to draw from Lifezone’s experiences when it comes to devising the refining plan in Tanzania.

They and much of the South African platinum industry are looking at developments at Sedibelo Platinum’s Pilanesberg Platinum Mines (PPM) operation on the Bushveld Complex where a 110,000 t/y beneficiation plant employing the Kell Process is currently being constructed. This plant has the capacity to produce 320,000 oz/y of platinum group metals at the refinery end, with seven refined metal products set to be produced on site.

If Sedibelo, which Liddell is a shareholder of, can achieve such a feat, it will become the first South African PGM operation producing refined PGM, gold and base metal products on site. At the same time, this metal production would come with some 82% less energy consumption and the associated significant reduction in carbon emissions, plus improved recoveries and lower operating costs, than conventional off-site PGM smelting.

But, back to Tanzania, where the aim is to deploy hydromet technology with a specifically designed flowsheet to leach and refine the base metals. End products from the Kabanga refinery will be Class 1 nickel and cobalt metals with >99.95% purity readily saleable to customers worldwide, as well as A-grade copper cathode for the Tanzanian market, according to the company.

Not only is this different to conventional pyrometallurgical nickel sulphide smelting and refining – which, according to Liddell comes with around 13 t of CO2 emissions per tonne of Class 1 nickel metal, compared with the 4 t of CO2 emissions per tonne of nickel (Nickel Institute industry baseline numbers) with the Lifezone hydrometallurgical route – it also removes the need to transport and export concentrate long distances to European, North American or Asian smelters and refineries for further processing.

Such benefits and plans go some way to answering the questions around how Kabanga is holding a nickel-copper-cobalt asset that many battery metal investors and mining companies would be interested in.

Kabanga Nickel is putting Lifezone’s hydrometallurgy expertise to the test at the project in Tanzania

The majors might not be ready to offer up a plan featuring in-country beneficiation with new technology, but Kabanga and Lifezone are.

“As you know, the industry is very conservative – no-one wants to be first, they want to be second,” Liddell said. “As technology providers, we’re going to be first and second – first with the Kell Process plant in South Africa and second with the hydromet plant at Kabanga.

“We have ownership in those so, in effect, we are putting our money where our technology is. In a conservative industry, you have to do this.”

Liddell is right.

Take battery-electric vehicles or hard-rock cutting technology on the mobile equipment side of the mining business. The OEMs, to gain market traction, had to invest in the technology, build prototypes and mine-ready vehicles and then convince the miners to test them at their sites – most of the risk was held with the tech providers, not the miners.

While Lifezone will have to take on similar technology and financial risks for industry buy-in, all the billed benefits of its hydromet technology fit the mining industry ESG and productivity brief, making it a technology that has applications beyond Kabanga, Tanzania and nickel.

According to the company, it represents an architecture of several well-proven “breakthrough” hydromet process technologies – namely pressure oxidation of sulphide minerals, selective solvent extraction of metals and selective metal absorbents – that realise the value of all waste streams, both in-process and by constructing local, regional and global circular economies.

It comes with higher metal recoveries, lower costs, lower environmental impact, a less complex flowsheet, shorter production pipeline and reduced value lockup for those companies employing it. This means metal production comes sooner, more metal is produced at a lower cost and with a lower footprint and less potentially payable metal is left in the waste stream due to a lack of viable processing options.

The main unit operations at Kabanga are likely to include aqueous pressure oxidation in an autoclave to dissolve the sulphides and remove the base metals; copper refining by SX-EW; iron removal to purify the solution for cobalt and nickel refining; cobalt refining by SX-EW; and nickel refining by SX-EW. This could result in 40,000-50,000 t/y of nickel metal as cathode, powder or briquette, alongside 8,000 t of copper cathode and 3,500 t/y of cobalt cathode or rounds.

The refinery blueprint – designed in a modular manner to bolt on additional process trains, according to Liddell and Adams – could see Tanzania become the multi-metals processing hub it has eyes on, processing material from across East Africa and retaining more value in-country. Down the line, it could align itself even closer with the battery metals sector by producing precursor products that gigafactories are calling out for.

Beyond Kabanga Nickel, Liddell sees potential for applying this hydromet concept at existing smelting operations to lower the footprint and operating cost of operations.

“The hydromet process uses anywhere between one fifth and one third of a smelter’s electricity input,” he explained. “You can replace a 50 MW electric smelter with a 10 MW hydromet plant. At the same time, the process allows refiners to get more metal out of the concentrate. This means the lower energy draw and increased revenues can pay back the money invested in a hydromet plant.”

For operations looking to incorporate more renewables, this reduced power draw is a major selling point.

Similarly, for countries like South Africa looking to retain or grow its metal production blueprint while weaning themselves off coal amid routine power blackouts, the concept stacks up.

“In South Africa, you could end up producing the same amount of metals off a much lower power base, and it’s then much cheaper to green up that electricity,” Liddell said.

The potential is vast, and Kabanga Nickel has an 18-month program currently ahead of it to start development.

This one-and-a-half-year plan follows the recent issue of a mining licence that allows the company to get on the ground – symbolised by the drill rig (pictured above) that is about to start turning on site.

Over this timeframe, the plan is to update the existing feasibility study numbers and bolt a refinery module onto it, explore avenues with metallurgical drilling to boost the concentrate grade and re-work the mine design to access the two orebodies simultaneously. The latter is one of the ways the team could access more value sooner in the production process.

All of this could set the company up to start production from Kabanga in 2024-2025, 1-2 years after the Kell Process goes live at Sedibelo’s operation and in time for a further run up in battery metals demand and, most likely, more governments legislating for in-country beneficiation.

Kabanga Nickel and Lifezone’s plans could end up being a future tried-and-tested blueprint.

ERM on executing the mining sector’s sustainability strategies

With sustainability close to the number one topic shaping the business landscape, the mining industry faces perhaps more scrutiny today than ever before. From stakeholder engagement to employee welfare and the emissions generated from using mined commodities, there is a spectrum of issues on which mining companies are judged. Not just by traditional critics such as NGOs, but increasingly by policymakers, investors and consumers themselves.

As a result, mining companies are seeking the advice of consultants that live and breathe environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues to adapt to this evolving backdrop (see the mining consultants focus in IM October 2021 for more on this).

In this regard, they don’t come much bigger than ERM, which calls itself the largest global pure play sustainability consultancy. With a remit that goes into strategic, operational and tactical challenges, the company’s services have been in serious demand of late.

Louise Pearce, ERM Global Mining Lead; Jonathan Molyneux, ERM Mining ESG Strategy Lead; Peter Rawlings, Low Carbon Economy Transition Lead; and Geraint Bowden, Regional Client Director – Mining, were happy to go into some detail about how the company is serving the industry across multiple disciplines.

In demand

According to the four, there is increasing demand for services from miners interested in energy/battery minerals (lithium, cobalt, nickel, copper, platinum, palladium and rhodium (PGMs)) on the back of rising numbers of new mines coming onto the scene, “shorter supply chains to customers”, the perceived need to secure domestic supply of these minerals, and requirements of “evidence of responsibly-produced certifications from industry organisations such as the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA)”.

Such trends have been underwritten by a shift in both the requirements and considerations around the extraction of these minerals, according to Molyneux.

“In the last five to seven years, the main ESG incentives for change have come from access to capital (ie investor ESG preferences, especially in relation to catastrophic incidents),” he said.

“Over the last three years, we have seen a strong rise in expectations from downstream customers, particularly leading brands.”

Jonathan Molyneux, ERM Mining ESG Strategy Lead

Automotive original equipment manufacturers like BMW and Daimler are placing sustainability at the centre of their brands, according to ERM. Their initial focus has been on ‘net-zero’ driving/electrification – and they have made progress on this with several major electric car launches. They then shifted to examining the carbon emissions and ESG, or responsible practices, of tier-one and tier-two component manufacturers. The last step has been a full analysis of the ESG credentials of input materials right back to source, ie the mine.

“We see a shift from the historic lens of customers managing supply risk by sourcing from organisations which ‘do little/no harm’ (eg human rights compliance, catastrophic incident avoidance) to supply partners that can contribute to the ‘do net good’ or ‘create value for all stakeholders’ (ie communities, workforce, nature positive),” Pearce said.

Such a shift has resulted in more clients considering “circular thinking” in their operational strategy, as well as carrying out risk reviews and transformation projects focused on a company’s social or cultural heritage. Tied to this, these same companies have been evaluating their water use, biodiversity requirements and, of course, decarbonisation efforts.

It is the latter on which the steel raw materials companies predominantly have been looking for advice, according to ERM.

The focus has been on ‘green’ iron ore, low-carbon steel and ‘circular’ steel, according to Molyneux and Bowden, with ERM providing input on how companies in this supply chain can integrate sustainability into their strategy and operations.

On the thermal coal side, meanwhile, it is a very different type of ERM service in demand: mine retirements, closure/local/regional regeneration transitions and responsible disposals.

Delivering on decarbonisation

The mining industry decarbonisation targets have come thick and fast in the last 18-24 months, with the latest announcement from the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) seeing all 28 mining and metals members sign up to a goal of net zero Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 or sooner, in line with the ambitions of the Paris Agreement.

Many have gone further than Scope 1 (direct emissions from owned or controlled sources) and Scope 2 (indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating and cooling consumed by the reporting company) emissions, looking at including Scope 3 (all other indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain) targets.

Fortescue Metals Group, this month, announced what it said is an industry-leading target to achieve net zero Scope 3 emissions by 2040, for example.

These are essential goals – and ones that all interested parties are calling for – in order to deliver on the Paris Agreement, yet many miners are not yet in the position to deliver on them, according to Pearce, Molyneux, Rawlings and Bowden.

“Miners need to look at decarbonisation at a holistic level across their operations and value chain, and cannot just delegate the net zero requirements to individual assets,” Rawlings said. “The solutions needed require investment and are often at a scale well beyond individual assets/sites.”

Much of this decarbonisation effort mirrors other industries, with the use of alternative fuels for plant and equipment, accessing renewable electricity supplies, etc, they said.

Process-specific activities can present challenges and is where innovation is required.

“These hard to abate areas are where a lot of efforts are currently focused,” Rawlings said.

Tied into this discussion is the allowance and estimates made for carbon.

There has been anecdotal evidence of miners taking account of carbon in annual and technical reports – a recent standout example being OZ Minerals inclusion of a carbon price in determining the valuation of its Prominent Hill shaft expansion project in South Australia – but there is no current legislation in place.

“We are seeing a broad spectrum of price and sophistication (targeted audience, knowledge level), but it is an active board level discussion for most clients,” Bowden said on this subject. “Most clients view this as market-driven requirements as opposed to a voluntary disclosure.”

This has been driven, in part, from the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, which many miners – including all the majors – are aligning their reporting with.

Some clients are also looking into scenarios to work around carbon regimes such as the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, which proposes a carbon-based levy on imports of specific products.

Having acquired several companies in recent months focused on the low carbon economy transition – such as E4tech, Element Energy and RCG – ERM feels best placed to provide the technical expertise and experience to deliver the sustainable energy solutions miners require to decarbonise their operations.

“With these companies, combined with ERM’s expertise, it means we can support clients on the decarbonisation journeys from the initial strategy and ambition development through to implementation and delivery of their roadmaps,” Rawlings said. “We can support clients from boots to boardroom as they assess decarbonisation options and technologies; help them understand the financial, policy and practical aspects linked to deployment of solutions; and access the financing necessary to support deployment.”

ESG dilemmas

There is more to this evolving backdrop than setting and meeting ambitious environmental goals, yet, in ERM’s experience, the advice provided by consultants – and requested by miners – has historically been focused on individual ESG domains.

“This has often been driven by their realisation that their (miner’s) in-house policies and standards require updating,” Pearce said.

Louise Pearce, ERM Global Mining Lead

A siloed or disaggregated approach to ESG strategy development often reduces risk, but rarely generates value for the enterprise at hand, according to Pearce.

“What we have learned is that in order for organisations to create value, they need to focus on value drivers for the corporation,” she said. “These value levers are typically influenced by an integrated suite of ESG dimensions. For example, this could be looking at carbon emissions, connected with water use and nature, connected with local socio-economic development.”

“Sustainability and ESG are about understanding the inter-relationships between our social, natural and economic environments over the longer term. It cannot be about addressing one topic at a time or responding to the loudest voices.”

This is where ERM’s ‘second-generation’ ESG advice, which is driven by data and opportunities to create value as well as manage risk, is fit for the task.

“We are also finding that, at its heart, the central issue to second-generation ESG performance delivery/improvement for our clients is not just the strategy, but a willingness of organisations to reflect on their core values, how these have driven their traditional approaches and decisions and how they will need to evolve these if they want to achieve a genuine brand and reputation for ESG and achieve impact on the value drivers they have selected,” she added.

Such thinking is proving definitive in ERM’s mining sector mergers and acquisition due diligence.

“We have multiple experiences where clients have asked us to carry out an ESG review of a target portfolio, only to find that there is too great a gap between the target’s ESG asset footprint to align them with the client’s standard – or, that the carbon, water, closure or tailings profile of the target carries a too high-risk profile,” Molyneux said.

This is presenting clients with a dilemma as they want to increase their exposure to certain minerals, but are, in some instances, finding M&A is a too high-risk route. At the same time, the lead time to find and develop their own new assets is longer than they would wish for building market share.

Such a market dynamic opens the door for juniors looking for assets early in their lifecycles, yet it places a high load on the management teams of these companies to think strategically about the ESG profile of the asset they are setting the foundations for to eventually appeal to a potential acquirer.

“This is, in itself, a dilemma because, typically, the cash scarcity at the junior stage leads management teams to focus on the immediate technical challenges, sometimes at the cost of also addressing the priority non-technical challenges,” Bowden said.

Those companies who can take a strategic view on the ESG requirements of the future – rooted in a deep understanding of how to deliver change on the ground – will be best placed in such a market, and ERM says it is on hand to provide the tools to develop such an appropriate approach.

(Lead photo credit: @Talaat Bakri, ERM)

Speedcast makes new connections in the DRC with Mining Company Katanga contract

Speedcast, a communications and IT services provider, says it has been selected by Mining Company Katanga (MCK Sarl) for a three-year contract to deliver satellite connectivity services to its headquarters and a major mine complex in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

As part of the agreement with the mining contractor, Speedcast will serve MCK’s Lubumbashi headquarters and the Ruashi open-pit copper and cobalt mine under contract with MCK, delivering “optimised wide-area networking over high-throughput, very small aperture terminal (VSAT), C-band satellite service and content filtering”, it said. The solution will enable internet access, cloud-based applications, IoT and crew welfare applications across their operations, according to Speedcast. All services will be fully supported by its global Customer Support Centers.

James Trevelyan, Senior Vice President of Enterprise and Emerging Markets at Speedcast, said: “We are thrilled that MCK has placed its trust in Speedcast to deliver critical, remote connectivity and network optimisation to its headquarters and contracted mining site. We have the highest-powered Cband network in Sub-Saharan Africa, which means we can enable the customer’s digitalisation agenda while delivering the highest performance primary or back-up communications solution.”

Hubert Nkonkosha, IT Manager at MCK, said: “Our Ruashi project is one of our largest refined copper and cobalt production sites with more than 2,000 people and suppliers employed. It’s vital to our headquarters and operations to have seamless communications and network management as we prioritise efficiency and digital transformation, now and in the future, while still operating cost-consciously. Speedcast was a clear choice for our needs, and we look forward to leaning on their team for support and expert guidance, building a strong working partnership for years to come.”

Speedcast recently augmented its Tier 1 satellite network across the Sub-Saharan African region with the addition of a new high-throughput satellite, offering ultra-high signal availability – even into 1.8 m terminals. The satellite’s look angle across Africa is around 60° elevation, making it ideal for steep-sided open-pit mines and resilient to equatorial weather patterns, according to Speedcast. It also incorporates the latest VSAT technology and a selection of bandwidth packages, from high-speed to gigabyte-only plans.