Tag Archives: ilmenite

Rio Tinto breaks ground on solar, wind power project at QMM in Madagascar

In accordance with the commitments made last July, Rio Tinto QIT Madagascar Minerals (QMM) and its partner, CrossBoundary Energy (CBE), have laid the foundation stone for the solar and wind power plant project that will supply the QMM ilmenite mine operations in Fort Dauphin, southern Madagascar.

The ceremony took place in the Ehoala Park area, in the presence of high dignitaries, including the Minister of Energy and Hydrocarbons, the Minister of Environment, the mayor of Fort-Dauphin and the Governor of the Anosy Region. The renewable energy project will go some way to helping operations in Madagascar reach carbon neutral status by 2023.

The renewable energy plant will be built and operated by CBE, an independent power producer with whom QMM has signed a 20-year power purchase agreement. The first unit, an 8 MW solar energy facility, will be operational in 2022. The 12 MW wind power facility will be completed in 2023. The project also includes an 8.25 MW lithium-ion battery energy storage system.

Around 18,000 solar panels and four wind turbines will enable QMM to meet all of its electricity needs during peak periods and up to 60% of its annual electricity consumption, as well as to reduce its annual carbon dioxide emissions by about 26,000 t, Rio said. In addition, the renewable power supply will reduce QMM’s heavy fuel oil purchases by up to 8,500 t/y. With this plant, QMM will also replace the majority of the electricity it currently supplies to the town of Fort-Dauphin and its 80,000 community members with clean energy.

Ny Fanja Rakotomalala, President of QMM, said: “This project is a key component of our ‘sustainable mine’ initiative, which aims to leave a lasting legacy for present and future generations, built independently of our mining operations. We want to leave this legacy through permanent dialogue, the full integration of activities within the development plan of the region, responsible social and environmental governance, the reduction of our environmental footprint and therefore of our carbon footprint, and through the creation of economic and social opportunities increasingly independent of QMM.

“This project is a strategic test, not only in Madagascar but also in the mining industry as a whole, as we have to innovate and rethink our operations in order to combat climate change and leave a sustainable legacy.”

Matt Tilleard, Managing Partner of CBE, said: “By establishing a commercial power plant that blends solar photovoltaic, battery energy storage and wind power, the QMM project greatly improves the island of Madagascar standing as a regional renewable energy leader. CBE is pleased to take up this technical challenge. We believe large-scale, complex commercial energy projects can be realised here in Madagascar thanks to ample supply of renewable resources, holistic government support and knowledgeable local implementing partners.”

Appian continues to flex ‘multi-faceted’ skillset in latest mining deals

Private equity firms might not be the most obvious port of call for companies in need of the technical skillsets to transition ‘projects’ to ‘mines’, but, in recent years, Appian Capital Advisory LLP has shown the industry that it has all the credentials to help with this transition.

The firm, headquartered in London but calling on expertise from across the globe, has just completed divestments of the Santa Rita nickel mine and the Serrote copper mine, both in Brazil.

Sibanye-Stillwater, the purchaser, agreed to pay Appian $1 billion, plus a 5% net smelter return (NSR) royalty over potential future underground production at Santa Rita, for the assets, with the private equity firm, in the process, pocketing a pretty profit.

In 2018, Appian acquired Atlantic Nickel (owner of Santa Rita) out of bankruptcy for $68 million and Mineração Vale Verde, the owner of Serrote, for $40 million.

It reoriented the former large-scale open-pit mine into a much more conservative – and profitable – mine able to produce around 20,000-25,000 t/y of contained nickel sulphide equivalent. It also carried out extensive drilling to showcase its underground potential, prolonging its mine life.

The plans at Serrote, meanwhile, were re-evaluated in a DFS. Having completed project construction and commissioning ahead of schedule and under budget, the mine is now ramping up to nameplate capacity of 20,000 t/y of copper equivalent.

These two divestments represent the fourth and fifth portfolio sales the company completed this year. The others included the sale of its 13.2% interest in West Africa-focused gold company Roxgold to Fortuna Silver Mines, the sale of its 0.28% NSR royalty over the large-scale Caserones copper mine in Chile and the repayment of a royalty Appian held over Peak Resources’ Ngualla rare earth project in Tanzania.

The diversity of these asset exits is indicative of how well-versed mining-focused Appian is in the sector’s ‘hot commodities’, but there is more to appreciate here than purely financial gains and well-timed acquisitions and divestments.

“People know that not all money is created equal,” Michael W Scherb, Founder and CEO of Appian (pictured), told IM. “We have a team that is able to solve specific operational challenges – we can call on specialists to solve problems on the process flowsheet side, for instance – while providing financial advice to avoid expensive streams and set assets up for profitability.”

Scherb’s words are backed up by a solid track record: seven of nine investments it has made have resulted in mine builds. Its divestments have also provided healthy returns.

The company has been able to do this by recruiting industry specialists – mining and finance – and educating them on the facets they need to succeed in both the private equity and mining world.

“People that join Appian need to be multi-faceted,” Scherb said. “We get mining folks to think like investors and vice versa,” he said.

This has seen them build a project review team populated with former consultants and an operations team full of mine personnel with operational experience.

“We then get all personnel to cross-train across these teams to avoid any siloed disciplines,” Scherb explained.

Take Santa Rita as an example of where this expertise paid off.

The company carried out a six-month due diligence process on Santa Rita, which led to the development of a more defensive and low-cost mine plan able to see the asset through nickel price peaks and troughs – in stark contrast to the plan former operator Mirabela Nickel had for the asset.

Among the operating changes implemented were the use of a smaller, locally procured equipment fleet of 40 t trucks (Santa Rita previously used Caterpillar 777 90 t and 785 137 t payload trucks), the use of shorter benches and tighter blasting patterns.

This resulted in better grade and fragmentation control, improving the feed to the crusher.

It also defined a significant underground resource base at the mine, which it will still be leveraged to thanks to the NSR royalty.

Such moves were based on exploiting the nickel sulphides at Santa Rita. This reoriented focus aligned with the industry preference for nickel tied to the battery materials space, which eventually paid off with the amount of interest in the asset.

This blend of technical and financial expertise has served the company – and any company it has an interest in – well. Backed by a long-term investment philosophy where its funds are 12 years in duration, the company can make moves aligned with the realities and timelines associated with turning assets into mines.

The next asset on the Appian books likely to move into construction-ready territory is Kalbar Operations’ Fingerboards mineral sands project, which focuses on the Glenaladale deposit, about 20 km northwest of Bairnsdale in Victoria, Australia.

Scherb said this project will be “build-ready” very soon, explaining that it is currently going through the permitting stage.

The project has the potential to be one of the world’s major producers of zircon, ilmenite, rutile and rare earths, and Kalbar is proposing an investment of over A$200 million ($148 million) in the development of a project able to produce around 575,000 t/y of heavy mineral concentrate over 15-20 years.

Scherb said Appian is keen to further pursue commodities associated with the electrification of industry, but he is aware of the premiums that may come with these deals.

“A lot of money has flooded into the battery metals,” he said. “We can be patient and are starting to look earlier stage in some investments.”

“Earlier stage” still has the potential to be producing in four- or five-year’s time, he clarified.

What’s clear is that the Appian team is gaining widespread recognition, with Scherb saying larger mining companies are starting to approach them with proposals that would see Appian gain operational control of assets, realising the firm has the right blend of “operational skill” and “value principles” to succeed.

Having acknowledged a skills shortage across the sector – one Appian is doing its bit to tackle with internship programs with universities in Canada, the UK and Australia – Scherb was confident the company’s talent would be retained and, ultimately, grow.

“In terms of talent retention, we at Appian offer experience of reviewing many different assets at different times in their lifecycle,” he said. “If you’re in-house at a mining company, you run the ruler over the same assets, stress testing them against different scenarios. We offer our teams variety that they cannot get in many places.

“At the same time, our structure means employees invest directly in companies to ensure they are correctly incentivised. This means they get to share in the profits.”

With plans to make one-to-three investments per year – along with the same number of exits – and expectations of committing its latest $775 million fund within the next two quarters, expect to hear more from Appian into 2022.

CrossBoundary wind, solar, battery solution set for Rio QMM ilmenite operation

Rio Tinto has signed a power purchasing agreement for a new renewable energy plant to power the operations of its QMM ilmenite mine in Fort Dauphin, Southern Madagascar.

This project, which uses solar and wind energy, will significantly contribute towards Rio Tinto’s operations in Madagascar achieving its carbon neutral objective by 2023, it said. It is part of a broader initiative to reduce the ilmenite mine’s environmental footprint which includes programs that focus on emissions reduction, waste and water management, carbon sequestration, ecological restoration and reforestation.

QIT Madagascar Minerals (QMM), is a joint venture between Rio Tinto (80%) and the government of Madagascar (20%).

The renewable energy plant, to be built, owned and operated by independent power producer, CrossBoundary Energy, over a 20-year period, will consist of an 8 MW solar facility and a 12 MW wind energy facility to power mining and processing operations. There will also be a lithium-ion battery energy storage system of up to 8.25 MW as reserve capacity to ensure a stable and reliable network.

It will supply all of QMM’s electricity demand during peak generation times, and up to 60% of the operations’ annual electricity consumption, according to Rio. QMM is to replace the majority of the power it currently supplies to the town of Fort Dauphin and the community of around 80,000 people with renewables, the company added.

The renewable energy plant will comprise more than 18,000 solar panels and up to nine wind turbines located in the Port Ehoala Park area. Construction is expected to begin this year with the solar plant scheduled to start operations at the beginning 2022. The wind power plant is planned to commence construction in early 2022 and become operational by the end of 2022.

QMM President, Ny Fanja Rakotomalala, said: “On a sunny and windy day, all the electricity needed by QMM and the Fort Dauphin community will be generated by the Malagasy sun and wind. It is a major step forward on our journey towards a truly sustainable mine, that protects and promotes the uniqueness of Madagascar’s environment and benefits the community with reliable and clean electricity.”

Rio Tinto Minerals Chief Executive, Sinead Kaufman, said: “With this flagship project, QMM is leading the way at Rio Tinto and in Madagascar in utilising renewable energy to power mining operations and reduce carbon emissions.”

CrossBoundary Energy Co-founder and Managing Partner, Matt Tilleard, added: “Emissions from electricity use in mining is estimated to account for around 1% of all greenhouse gases globally. Rio Tinto is leading the way in demonstrating how mines can seize a huge opportunity to reduce these emissions. We are focused on delivering cleaner power to businesses and were, therefore, able to offer Rio Tinto a flexible, fast, all-equity funding approach, combined with our reliable track record as one of Africa’s largest distributed renewable utilities.”

QMM is near Fort Dauphin in the Anosy region of south-eastern Madagascar, and primarily produces ilmenite, in addition to zirsill and monazite. It includes the deep-water Port d’Ehoala, where the raw material is shipped to the Rio Tinto Fer et Titane plant in Canada and processed into titanium dioxide.

Rio Tinto to establish high-quality scandium oxide production in Canada

Rio Tinto says it will become the first producer of high-quality scandium oxide in North America, with construction of a new commercial scale demonstration plant underway at its Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) metallurgical complex in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, Canada.

RTFT expects to begin commercial supply of scandium oxide in the June quarter of 2021. With its existing aluminium business, Rio says it is also well positioned to produce aluminium-scandium alloys to meet customer’s needs.

The company is investing $6 million for the construction of a first module in the plant, with an initial capacity to produce 3 t/y of scandium oxide, or approximately 20% of the current global market. The Government of Quebec is contributing around $650,000 to the project through the Quebec Plan for the Development of Critical and Strategic Minerals. The new plant will have the ability to add further modules in line with market demand, Rio says.

RTFT developed a process it has proven at pilot scale to extract high-purity scandium oxide from the waste streams of titanium dioxide production, without the need for any additional mining at its ilmenite mine in Havre-Saint-Pierre, Quebec.

Scandium oxide is used to improve the performance of solid oxide fuel cells, which are used as a power source for data centres and hospitals, as well as in niche products such as lasers and lighting for stadiums or studios. It is also used to produce high-performance aluminium-scandium master alloys for the aerospace, defence and 3D printing industries, according to Rio.

Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium Managing Director, Stéphane Leblanc, said: “We are proud to offer North America’s first reliable supply of scandium oxide using an innovative and sustainable process, with the construction of this new plant. Rio Tinto has been engaged in the exploration and production of rare earths and critical minerals globally for a number of years, to meet the demand in new and emerging technologies. With the support of Rio Tinto’s aluminium business, we are uniquely positioned to deliver aluminium-scandium master alloys and develop synergies with North America’s manufacturing supply chain.”

Quebec Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Jonatan Julien, said: “RTFT’s scandium oxide valorisation project is a concrete example of how we can extract value from our mining wastes. It demonstrates our ability to innovate and seize business opportunities in a growing market as we strive to ensure secure supplies of critical minerals. This business has the potential to become a major scandium supplier outside China.”

Both the high-quality scandium oxide and aluminium-scandium master alloy will be commercialised under the business brand name Element North 21.

Primero, Mineral Technologies enlisted for Strandline’s Coburn mineral sands project

Primero Group has been awarded preferred EPC status on a substantial contract with Strandline Resources on the Coburn mineral sands project in Western Australia.

The total volume of awarded engineering procurement and construction (EPC) works totals around A$150 million ($107 million), according to Primero, and follows an initial eight-week Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) process that provided further definition of the delivery strategy and project deliverables between the groups. It also coincided with the appointment of Mineral Technologies (MT), a global services provider and leader in the design and supply of mineral sands processing facilities (and a subsidiary of Downer Group), as the strategic technology partner alongside Primero for the project delivery.

Strandline said the contract involved the engineering, procurement, construction, commissioning and performance testing of the Wet Concentration Plant (WCP), Mineral Separation Plant (MSP) and associated processing circuits at the operation.

The Coburn WCP is designed to beneficiate the heavy minerals (ilmenite, leucoxene, rutile, zircon and monazite) and reject the non-valuable, lighter minerals through multiple stages of high capacity gravity separation and classification, according to Strandline. The rich heavy mineral concentrate produced from the WCP will be transported to the MSP and stockpiled ready for processing.

“The WCP infrastructure is relocatable and is planned to be moved several times during the mine life as the mine advances along the orebody,” Strandline said. “The MSP design comprises conventional electrostatic separation, gravity and magnetic fractionation to recover a range of premium-quality final products, including chloride ilmenite, rutile, premium zircon and zircon concentrate.”

The full project award is subject to Strandline Resources approving a Final Investment Decision in the coming months, Primero said. The ECI process came after Strandline’s recent A$18.5 million equity raising.

Primero Managing Director and CEO, Cameron Henry, said: “This award is an excellent example of Primero’s ECI phase in action and adds to our growing book of projects in preferred contractor status. We have worked intensively with Strandline over the past two months in designing a delivery solution that best meets the key project objectives and value drivers, while also minimising execution risks.”

Strandline has also already appointed Piacentini & Son to design and construct three mobile dozer mining units for the project, while Macmahon has been named as the principal contractor to provide site-wide civil and bulk earthworks construction services for the project.

Outotec continues to invest in technology as sales rise

Outotec registered a year-on-year improvement in financial performance in 2018, excluding a €110 million ($125 million) ilmenite smelter project provision, the company reported today.

The company’s sales increased 12% in 2018 to €1.28 billion, while its order intake jumped 4% to €1.25 billion. The €110 million provision for the Saudi Arabia project saw adjusted earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) come in at -€46.2 million, compared with €33.5 million in 2017, yet President and CEO, Markku Teräsvasara, said adjusted EBIT would have almost doubled to €64 million had it not been for this deduction.

“In 2018, we made significant progress in several areas,” Teräsvasara said. “In the beginning of the year, the market for minerals and metals technologies improved, but global macroeconomic uncertainties and reduced metal prices started to affect the market sentiment, and we saw several larger investment decisions being delayed into 2019.

“This was demonstrated in our order intake, which increased 4% year-on-year (in comparable currencies 8%) but declined in the fourth (December) quarter from the comparison period,” he said.

The company’s largest order in the December quarter – around €34 million – was for the delivery of battery chemicals technology in Finland for the Terrafame plant to be built in Sotkamo. The company has since followed this up with a contract in Australia to convert spodumene to lithium hydroxide.

Teräsvasara said profitability continued to improve in the Minerals Processing segment, with EBIT coming in at €78.5 million, compared with €60 million a year earlier.

Outotec said copper, gold, and battery metals projects were the most active during 2018, with demand for minerals processing equipment and spare parts stable throughout the year. In the company’s Metals, Energy & Water divisions, meanwhile, “solid demand” was registered in hydrometallurgical and pelletising solutions, as well as sulphuric acid plants, Outotec said.

Outotec said the €110 million provision related to possible costs for an ilmenite smelter project in Saudi Arabia. Back in October, the company said it was working with the client to investigate the reasons why one of the repaired furnaces in a first-of-its-kind ilmenite smelter had issues starting up.

“The currently estimated provision is based on progress made with the analysis of the furnace,” the company said today, adding that the provision was booked in its December quarter results.

Teräsvasara highlighted the “leading technologies” that were part of the company’s core strength in the 2018 results.

During the year, the company continued to develop its technological capabilities and grow its patent portfolio, with Outotec’s R&D investments representing 5% of its sales and totalling €57 million last year, he said.

Outotec went into a little more detail about this in its 2018 and Q4 review.

The first two industrial references of Outotec TankCell® e630s are running at the Buenavista del Cobre concentrator in northern Mexico, the company said.

“The site has reported an increase of more than 3% in overall recovery with a higher-grade copper concentrate. The TankCell® e630 flotation cell has a nominal volume of 630 m³ and is equipped with a FloatForce mechanism with a diameter of 2,200 mm,” Outotec said.

The company has also developed and filed a patent application for a thermal leaching process to convert spodumene concentrate into battery-grade lithium hydroxide. The lithium hydroxide process has been piloted at the Outotec Research Center in Pori for Critical Elements Corporation in Canada and Keliber Oy in Finland. Lithium hydroxide corresponds to the change in demand in the metal salt markets, it said.

Meanwhile, the new Hybrid filter plates that are 40% lighter, and, therefore, more competitive than conventional plates, were introduced to the spare and wear parts markets during 2018, Outotec said. “The new plates also improve the filtration capacity, provide low residual moisture in the cake, and reduce operational costs,” it added.

Outotec has also designed a skid-mounted, modular prefabricated sulphuric acid plant which significantly lowers the installation cost and time. In addition, the modular plant offers lower operation costs, increased availability and maintainability, as well as environmentally sound and safe operation, it said. “The innovative plant concept is based on Outotec’s technology and expertise gained from 650 plants delivered globally,” Outotec said.

Meanwhile, Outotec is in the middle of a pilot study with Sweden-based miner LKAB to treat industrial waters at its Svappavaara mine in the country. The pilot started in August and consists of nanofiltration and chemical precipitation of sulphate with Outotec’s Ettringite process. The pilot has shown sulphate concentration can be significantly reduced from the inlet value of 1,800 mg/l to the level of 150 mg/l, Outotec said.

A new digital product, Outotec Health Indicator, was also introduced last year. This produces data for flotation process control when used together with Courier on-stream elemental analysers. It enables higher performance in terms of concentrate quality and recovery of valuable minerals, according to the company.

Lastly, Outotec has been developing MesoTherm™ bio-oxidation technology for leaching base metals. The development work has shown it to be effective on certain copper sulphides, yielding 98% copper dissolution.