Triton Minerals may in the near future be one of the hottest graphite investments in Africa. Full-scale construction at its 100% owned, Mozambique-based Ancuabe graphite project is scheduled to start in April 2020.
This will unlock a large flake, high purity deposit that will benefit from the imminent shortfall in Chinese production of expandable graphite material, MD PETER CANTERBURY tells LAURA CORNISH.
The majority of graphite juniors in Africa, most of which sit in the politically unstable Tanzania, are looking to jump on the battery metals bandwagon – which for now has been negatively impacted by lower prices as the EV market revolution continues to move slower than expected.
This puts Triton Minerals in a rather unique position. Thanks to its large flake, high quality Ancuabe project situated in the northern Cabo Delgado Province, the company is focusing on supplying its material into the expandable graphite/refractory markets in China, and more specifically Shandong Province.
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“Shandong is historically the only large-flake graphite producer in China and is expected to see significant drops in graphite production as their assets age and mines are closed due to environmental impacts which the government are looking to reduce,” Canterbury explains.
As such, Triton Minerals has already secured off-take agreements for 52% of its production with companies in the Chinese Province.
With end user market demand essentially on tap, Ancuabe has already upped its investment attraction but this is just one element that makes the project hot property.
Mozambique is one of the few countries in Africa that don’t require a free-carry interest in their mines, and whose regulatory codes are transparent. “We are also situated only 80 km by sealed road to the Pemba port, eliminating any challenges around exporting our product,” Canterbury notes.
Ancuabe is also situated adjacent to an existing graphite mine owned by Germany’s largest graphite products producer. The mine has been in operation since 2016. “Consequently, the area has developed a good reputation for its high quality graphite.”
Ancuabe will at full capacity produce 60 000 tpa of graphite material, which may seem small but is in fact on the larger size of graphite production Canterbury confirms.
At this rate, the mine will operate for 28 years although the MD notes there is a substantial 49 Mt resource which once converted could either ramp up the facility's operating rate or drastically increase the project’s lifespan.
The deposits (there are two that will be mined for now) have a 6.6% total contained graphite (TCG) content – which although not the highest is still significant, especially when taking the unchallenging mineralogy and geological setting into account.
“Importantly, we have determined a four-year payback on the project and a 37% IRR,” Canterbury highlights.
With the project fully permitted and the necessary investment in place, Triton Minerals is set to move into full-scale construction on the project in April 2020 (onsite early works had previously commenced).
“We have planned for a 15-month construction period which will take us to July 2021 to produce our first graphite.”
Diversified Chinese state-owned enterprise MCC International is the appointed EPC contractor, and will be supported by an owner’s team from South Africa-based Lycopodium ADP.
MCC International is based in Beijing with business units spanning natural resources, manufacturing, equipment fabrication and real estate.
In 2015, the company merged into China Minmetals to become China's largest mining company. The group has a number of complementary proficiencies including engineering and civil construction.
In addition, MCC has strong relationships with major Chinese banks and has introduced Triton Minerals to potential financiers, one of whom has provided a loan facility which will fund up to 85% of the EPC contract at competitive concessional rates.
Through the EPC tender process, Triton Minerals was able to flag potential pre-production capex savings of 10 to 15% on the US$99.4 million DFS estimate to around $85 million.
Returning to the project itself, Canterbury explains that Ancuabe will comprise two pits – the T16 deposit and then later on the T12 deposit – situated just 3 km apart.
“With our graphite situated no deeper than 130 m, the deposits will be open cut, drill and blast operations. The material will be transported to a ROM pad which will be followed by three crushing stages after which it will be moved into a temporary holding bin, ready for processing."
A 1 Mtpa mill will start the process after which flotation and up to four stages of cleaning (vertical attrition, separation of large flakes) will take place. Waste thickening will follow after a filtration circuit.
The filtered material will be kiln dried and then bagged into three or four different size fractions in 1 m³ bags which will be transported from site to the port to be containerised and shipped.
Supporting infrastructure and economic upliftment opportunities
Logistically, Ancuabe has no challenges. Its water and electricity needs pose no difficulties either. The government has granted Triton Minerals approval to build a 1.5 million cubic litre dam which should fill within a month of the rainy season onset. Situated close to the processing plant, the dam will provide all of Ancuabe’s process water needs.
“We will also benefit financially from a 110 kVa power line that runs through our tenement after it has been upgraded in 2022.” Until then, an 8.5 MW containerised diesel power plant will fuel Ancuabe’s power needs.
Last, but not least, Triton Minerals is looking to employ around 200 people on a full-time basis once construction is complete – most of which will be Mozambique residents. The workforce will peak at about 500 during the mine’s construction period.
“With 50% of our product already secured by end users, and the necessary funding in place to take Ancuabe through to production, we believe we are a stand-out graphite junior and are positioned to soon move from developer to producer.
"In doing so we will deliver value through returns which will give us the optionality of returning cash to our shareholders through dividends or developing the additional assets in our portfolio,” Canterbury concludes.