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Africa’s emerging tin champion

Cassiterite, or tin, may be the forgotten battery mineral but it is nonetheless expected to benefit equally from the increase in demand for the product considering it will play a significant role in the lithium-ion battery market.

As a result, AIM-listed junior AfriTin is fast tracking the development of its Uis tin mine in Namibia which, over the course of two phases, will ultimately produce 5 000 tpa of tin concentrate.

LAURA CORNISH spoke to AfriTin CEO ANTHONY VILJOEN about the company’s strategic vision to become Africa’s tin champion and the steps it will take to achieve this.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 3, 2019 

The fastest route to building a mining strong company with a strong market capitalisation is to acquire a high demand asset, in an investor-friendly jurisdiction with a large-scale and well known resource.

This is exactly the foundations upon which AfriTin was established and will likely see the company achieve its aspirations to become a dominant tin player in Africa.

Not only is tin a new technology mineral which like cobalt, nickel, lithium and graphite will benefit hugely from the rapidly increasing demand for lithium-ion batteries, its potential use in electronic touch screens is equally significant.

Tin casings for lithium-ion batteries can double the battery life of a mobile phone – a technology benefit which at this stage has not been fully explored.

This would likely explain why the global touchscreen controller market is expected to grow from US$5 billion in 2016 to $15 billion in 2023.

Combined with Viljoen’s track record, AfriTin success potential is high.

He is a founding member of Bushveld Minerals which, in a short space of time, has grown from a £20 million company to a £0.5 billion market capitalisation company.

“I intend to deliver similar results for AfriTin,” Viljoen highlights.

Based on the company’s strong in-house team of mining experts and its strategic foundation principles, the company is on the right track. Its principles include:

  1. Developing the “right” commodity;
  2. Positioning itself at the low end of the cost curve (first quartile cash cost curve for Phase 2);
  3. Moving into production early (phased development approach); and
  4. Preparing to up-scale (Uis comprises a large mining licence area with over 180 mineralised, outcropping pegmatites);

The Uis potential

Mined over a period of three decades up until the 1990s when the tin price dropped, Uis was during this time the largest hard rock open cast tin mine in the world.

It is situated in the town of Uis, about 200 km north of Swakopmund.

The 15 km x 15 km tenement is composed of what Viljoen says is a “unique” geology comprising large pegmatite belts which run for up to 200 km. 

The Uis project was acquired through Bushveld’s Vametco acquisition and spun out into AfriTin.

It was purchased with all the necessary mining permits and licences in place as well as a historic resource (conducted by SRK) which includes a non-JORC compliant resource of 73 Mt at 0.13% Sn (tin) with an additional 2.7Mt at 0.015% tantalum oxide.

This equates to around 70 years of operating lifespan based on production figures AfriTin is primarily targeting.

“We do need to confirm these numbers and have drilled extensively on just one of the identified pegmatites.

“But based on past production and a geological programme we have completed which identified found 180 outcropping pits within a 5 km radius – 90% of those containing tin mineralisation – we are confident of establishing ourselves as a long-term tin producer in the region,” Viljoen outlines.

All mining will be open cast which will ensure the company establishes itself as a low cost producer when compared to its peers.

Once in production it will be one of only two open cast tin mines in the world. Private entity Minsur owns the San Rafael open cast tin mine in Peru.

Fast track approach to production

“Thanks to the historic information we have on hand, we want to move into production as quickly as possible,” Viljoen confirms.

To achieve this the company will develop the project in two phases (on the back of a small production test phase already completed).

Phase 1 entails the construction of a R100 million plant, designed to process 0.5 Mtpa of material to produce 800 000 tpa of 60% contained tin concentrate.

The plant is scheduled to be completed in March this year and should reach design capacity by mid-year, AfriTin COO, Frans van Daalen confirms.

“Our material is also very coarse grained making it easy to liberate using no chemicals and a gravity extraction process,” he explains.

The company is also looking to announce a JORC-compliant resource mid-year as well after which it will quickly move into completing a scoping study and bankable feasibility study (BFS) for Phase 2.

“Our timeline targets production start-up from our second phase in 2021 and will more than quadruple our production to a plant feed of 3 Mpta to produce 5 000 tpa of tin concentrate. With cash flow in hand, it will assist fund this £40 million development,” Van Daalen notes.

While Phase 1 production has the necessary infrastructure in place to operate – grid power, underground water and road access to a port 200 km away – some infrastructure will likely need to be upgraded to support the larger operation.

At this stage, the company does not have an off-take agreement in place but has been engaging with the two largest tin smelters outside of China in Malaysia and Thailand to sell product directly to them.

With a three-year timeline to build a 5 000 tpa tin business, the vision beyond this is to double production to 10 000 tpa which could either be the result of further expansion at Uis or through sector consolidation.

“This is the vision we need to realise in order to fulfil our goal of becoming Africa’s tin champion,” Viljoen concludes.

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