LSE-listed specialist graphite producer and graphene developer Tirupati Graphite is investigating ways to harness hydropower at its Madagascan graphite projects in a bid to ensure that its operations are sustainable and have a low carbon footprint.

It would also provide a green source of natural flake graphite to the burgeoning electric vehicles and green technologies markets. CHANTELLE KOTZE speaks to CEO SHISHIR PODDAR about the company’s hydropower ambitions in Madagascar.

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN MINING REVIEW AFRICA ISSUE 3, 2021
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In line with its sustainable mining strategy, Tirupati Graphite has set itself the ambitious target to meet 100% of the power requirements for its Madagascan projects using hydropower.

“Increasingly, consumers and manufacturers alike realise that achieving ‘zero carbon at use’ is only one part of a larger goal and that there is a need to look holistically at all of the processes along the entire supply chain.  Accordingly, as highlighted by the strong demand for our primary flake graphite, there is significant preference for the lowest impact deposits around the world.  With this in mind, we remain focused on delivering a green source of graphite for the 150+ applications and uses of the commodity. Our hydropower initiatives are part of this strategy, which will help us reduce our carbon footprint by almost 50% and also result in cost savings,” says Poddar.

Born out of its India-based holding company Tirupati Carbons & Chemicals, Tirupati Graphite has inherited wide-ranging expertise in the entire flake graphite value chain from mining to graphene production. It is focused on creating value through its two primary mining and processing projects in Madagascar, the Greenfields Vatomina project and the Brownfields Sahamamy project, its specialty graphite projects and graphene & technology center in India.

The company’s strategy is to increase its production capacity of high-quality flake graphite concentrate with up to 96% purity to 84 000 tpa by 2024 from the 3 000 tpa currently being produced at Sahamamy. In line with this, the company commissioned its first 9 000 tpa production module at the Vatomina mine in April, taking the capacity across both projects to 12 000 tpa of flake graphite. An additional 18 000 tpa of production is targeted by early 2022, says Poddar.

The company therefore aims to achieve its 84 000 tpa production target by bringing online a total of 21 000 tpa of graphite production at Sahamamy and 63 000 tpa of graphite production at Vatomina by 2024, explains Poddar, highlighting the strong and growing demand for the company’s eco-friendly products in the global ex-China graphite markets.  

Having successfully brought the Sahamamy project back into production in 2019, the company set its sights on the redevelopment and refurbishment of the existing 50 kW hydropower plant at Sahamamy – last operated in 2005 with an increased capacity to 100 kW.

Following further assessments of the hydropower plant during 2021, the redeveloped hydropower plant, expected to complete by end Q4, 2021, is anticipated to meet Sahamamy’s current power consumption of about 100 kW, resulting in an estimated ongoing saving of approximately 10% in the operating cost per ton of output and a 50% reduction in carbon emissions.

In meeting its green energy targets as its Madagascan operations ramp up, the company is simultaneously accelerating further studies and detailed planning on the back of the earlier conducted prefeasibility studies for an additional 900 kW of hydropower capacity.

At Sahamamy, an additional 450 kW will be brought online, which will ensure that the company is able to supply 100% renewable energy to the next 18 000 tpa production modules at the operation. Meanwhile, at Vatomina, the company undertook a study in 2018 into the possibility of establishing hydropower capacity in the area. At that stage, the company had identified two potential locations, which together could produce a combined 450 kW of hydropower. “Going forward, we will initiate detailed studies into the development of this so that the 450 kW hydropower can be brought online at Vatomina by as early as Q2, 2022,” says Poddar.

He explains that the availability of natural water in perennial streams at elevations will allow the company to fast-track the development of the hydropower plant as no back and forth pumping of water will be required.

Moreover, the company is investigating solar and wind power opportunities in Madagascar with the overall strategy of maximising the use of renewable energy for all of its power requirements as much as is doable in the areas in which Tirupati operates, Poddar concludes.