South Africa-based fluorspar producer SepFluor is rapidly emerging as a 'new name' in fluorspar exploration, mining and beneficiation – in South Africa and globally – as it pursues its strategy to aggressively enter the fluorspar business as quickly as possible by accelerating the start of its Nokeng fluorspar mine, states CEO Rob Wagner.
SepFluor has a project pipeline consisting of two new mines, Nokeng and Wallmannsthal, a downstream chemical beneficiation plant and two further early- stage mining prospects. Nokeng – north-east of Pretoria – is the first new mine to be developed in Gauteng in the last 12 years and represents a positive step for South Africa’s mining industry.
“Nokeng has attracted significant foreign funding and partnerships for a traditionally obscure and unknown mineral at a time when commodities and finance markets have been severely depressed and the political climate has not been conducive to such investment,” notes Wagner.
This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 3 2018
He comments that Nokeng is the first key project in a series of developments that will, over the next five years, result in the construction of two mines – Nokeng and Walmannsthal – as well as the financing and construction of a vertically integrated chemical beneficiation plant producing aluminium tri-fluoride.
Wagner explains that Phase 1 entails the construction, commissioning and operation start-up of Nokeng. Phase 2 entails the completion of the DFS, construction, commissioning and start-up of the Walmannsthal mine – planned to be concluded between 2018 and 2021.
Further exploration will be executed to develop a significant fluorspar resource base at surrounding deposits, including Kruidfontein and Welgelegen/ Welgevonden, from 2020.
Nokeng comprises three adjacent, high-quality haematite-fluorspar deposits; Plattekop, Outwash Fan and Wilton.
The first two, prioritised for development and mining, contain an estimated total mineral reserve of 12 Mt (Plattekop: 2.7 Mt at 40% calcium fluoride in-situ grade and Outwash Fan: 9 Mt at 23% calcium fluoride in-situ grade).
At an average ROM rate of 600 000 tpa, production of between 185 000 and 130 000 tpa of acid grade fluorspar for sale and internal beneficiation and up to 30 000 tpa of metallurgical grade fluorspar (for local and export steel markets) is targeted, from open pit mining.
With project financing having closed on 7 June 2017, Nokeng – which has an estimated life of mine of 19 years – Nokeng is currently in the construction phase and on track in terms of budget and time.
Physical construction is expected to be complete in late October 2018 with hot commissioning starting shortly thereafter.
First product is expected to be shipped in January 2019 with official plant completion and handover from the contractor expected on 7 February 2019.
Wagner highlights that most of the company’s challenges relate to complying with “ever more stringent environmental legislation and permitting requirements, which in itself is not a bad thing, but in application the processes are flawed.
“These slow down the pace at which things can be completed or finalised and investors are unable to take advantage of key market opportunities in time. The processes behind these permit requirements need to be streamlined and made more effective, allowing for investments to be made at appropriate speed,” he explains.
He notes that another key challenge for fluorspar is the limited public awareness and knowledge as to what it is and its uses.
“The industry and particularly we as new players need to be pro-active in educating the investor, banker, lawyer and the public at large as to what fluorspar is and its importance in our daily lives.”
Fluorspar has primary uses as an energy reduction flux in both aluminium and steel smelting, as a key ingredient in low global warming refrigerants, pharmaceuticals, plastics/polymers and a myriad of other key end uses where it is largely irreplaceable.
“Apart from the project’s commitment to community upliftment, Nokeng appreciates its natural environment’s beauty and sensitivity.
Several measures have been put in place to preserve the area’s pristine conditions,” comments Wagner.
A potable water plant has been erected, 19 key boreholes will be equipped, monitored and evaluated for any potential impacts.
All clean and dirty water will be separated and contained. Water usage will be limited, and re-use maximised, with no dirty water discharged from site.
Smaller blast intensities will be employed at a higher frequency to limit range of impact on the environment.
Primary crushers will be positioned on the same side of the road as mine operations to limit vehicle interference and crossing of the main road.
Concurrent back-filling of the pit will minimise the footprint size of any spoil dumps with key topsoil being preserved for rehabilitation purposes.
Sensitive environmental areas will also be carefully demarcated and monitored, with limited crossing points and dust suppression measures implemented.
“Natural vegetation will be preserved as much as possible – and used where possible – to create natural barriers to camouflage mine infrastructure.
Buildings, etc. will be painted to further reduce the visual impact and all protected tree types will be demarcated,” he adds.