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Precious Metals  
29 April 2015

South Africa could fill emerging gap in Chinese manganese production

South Africa remains the most valuable minerals real estate in the world with the advantage of a global opportunity to fulfill an emerging gap in Chinese manganese production.

This is according to international geology researcher and professor Nick Beukes.

“South Africa still has the world’s biggest known resources of gold, manganese, platinum group metals, chrome and alumina-silicates. The second biggest known resource of vanadium is in South Africa. We also have very important deposits of fluorspar and the titanium and zirconium minerals,” says Prof Beukes, speaking at the latest NRF Science for Society Lecture hosted at UJ (University of Johannesburg) late last week.

However, due to the global steel industry, the opportunity in manganese is particularly compelling for South Africa. Manganese is a metal added to brittle pig iron, to produce the flexible steel used in buildings and other construction.

Emerging global gap

“The biggest global producer of steel is China. For many years the country was also the biggest producer of manganese. But China is rapidly running out of its manganese resources. About four years back, South Africa overtook China as the biggest producer of manganese,” says Beukes.

“Also, Chinese ore contains about 15-20% manganese, while South African ore contains 38 -50% manganese. So Chinese operations have to mine a much larger amount of ore, to produce the same volume of manganese.”

South Africa can potentially fill the emerging gap in global manganese production, he says.

“The world’s biggest deposit is in the Kalahari Manganese Field, 60 km north-east of Kuruman in the Northern Cape. The Kalahari Manganese Field contains 77% of the world’s known land-based manganese resources, in an area 35 km long and 15 km wide.”

Mining challenge

However, mining the field will be challenging.

“Most of the ore in the Kalahari Manganese Field is very deep at about 1.7 km and the grade is between 25 and 35% manganese. At the moment we can mine economically down to about 400 m and we only mine ore that has more than 35% manganese. To export the ore, rail infrastructure would need to be upgraded,” he says.

Still, looking at global per capita use of steel, and the way it is likely to increase in India, Brazil and Africa, with a corresponding rise in the consumption of manganese, further research and development is required, Beukes points out.

Prof Beukes was giving a lecture hosted by the DST and the National Research Foundation at the University, with Prof Judith Kinnaird from the University of Witwatersrand (Wits). Prof Kinnaird is Co-Director of CIMERA, Associate Professor of Economic Geology in the School of Geosciences and Director of the Economic Geology Research Institute at Wits.

Prof Beukes is an international researcher, the Director of the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Integrated Mineral and Energy Resource Analysis Research (CIMERA), and Research Professor of Geology at UJ.

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