Orion Minerals’ Prieska underground zinc-copper project in South Africa’s Northern Cape falls within the Top 30 of global Volcanogenic massive sulphide (VMS) deposits and was historically mined between the 1970’s and 1990’s producing about 1 Mt of zinc and 430 000 t of copper from 46.8 Mt of sulphide ore milled.

With extensive infrastructure already in place, it is Orion Minerals’ intention to redevelop this historical mine through the implementation of a modern operating philosophy with safety and health improvements; improved environmental conditions, reduced pollution and contamination; improved energy efficiency and lower energy costs; productivity improvements; and operating cost reductions at the core of this philosophy.

This article first appeared in Mining Elites in Africa 2020

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2019 was a pivotal year for Orion Minerals which saw the company upgrade its mineral resource to 30.49 Mt grading at 3.7% zinc and 1.2% copper; signed a renewable energy collaboration contract, raised US$8 million as part of a landmark BEE ownership restructure; released its bankable feasibility study; received its environmental authorisation; was granted a mining right and signed a contract mining agreement.

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The foundation phase of the Prieska mine has a potential 10-year mine life with a steady state run-of-mine production rate of 200 000 tpm or 2.4 Mtpa as well as a life of mine extension phase which leverages off foundation phase development targeting strike extensions and folded limb of the main Prieska VMS lens, which remains open.

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What sets Orion Minerals apart from a copper perspective is its relatively short lead time till first production compared with the very long lead times of large copper mines which means that Orion could potentially begin supplying copper as early as 2020 to the growing demand experienced from the renewable energy industry.

Meanwhile, the development of the project coincides well with high zinc demand. The current supply attrition not being replaced in time which bodes well for Orion Minerals.