Stock image purchased by Nyanza Light Metals
Huntsman Pigments Titanium dioxide manufacturing plant, Greatham works, Tees Road near Hartlepool, England, UK
Africa’s titanium pigment market will have a new player through a technology partnership between Nyanza Light Metals and Avertana of New Zealand.

The partnership between Nyanza Light Metals and Avertana will culminate in the construction of a R4 billion titanium dioxide pigment (TiO2) production plant in the Richards Bay industrial development zone.

The plant will use waste steel slag that Evraz Highveld Steel and Vanadium has been stockpiling at its Witbank operations, 120 km east of Johannesburg, since 1965. The Witbank slag of about 45 Mt equates to about 200 years of project life.

“This project marks a milestone in the development of the titanium mineral value chain, not only in South Africa, but in Africa as a whole since Huntsman announced the closure of its Umbogontwini plant,” says Donovan Chimhandamba, CEO of Nyanza Light Metals.

Donovan Chimhandamba, Nyanza Light Metals
Donovan Chimhandamba, CEO of Nyanza Light Metals. Image from Nyanza Light Metals.

South Africa consumes around 35 000 tpa of titanium pigment, mainly in paint manufacturing. The Nyanza Light Metals project will produce 50 000 tpa of titanium dioxide pigment that it will sell both locally and export to the rest of Africa and Middle East.

The agreement follows a successful pre-feasibility study coupled with piloting studies conducted between 2015 and 2017 by Nyanza Light Metals and its technical partners.

About 550 permanent jobs and 1 200 indirect jobs are anticipated when the plant is fully operational, with 800 being created during construction. Building of the plant is expected to start in 2018 with production scheduled to begin in 2020.

The project will bring new technology to South Africa and help the government’s industrialisation programme and efforts to add value to the South African mining and mineral processing value chain.

Avertana, which has developed a proprietary process to extract titanium from the waste steel slag, refines titanium as well as other industrial minerals and chemicals from steel waste with a lower carbon footprint than existing processes and with minimal residual waste.

“With the Avertana process Nyanza Light Metals will also produce aluminium sulphate, magnesium sulphate and gypsum as co-products”, adds Chimhandamba.

[quote]“The overall manufacturing process is unique and will be a world first. This is largely because conventional processes use purer feed stocks such as rutile and ilmenite, which have titanium content ranging from 50% to 96%, while Nyanza’s feed stock has a TiO2 content of 32% or less.

“The focus of feasibility studies has been to develop a unique process and demonstrate that we could use this waste steel slag and produce a world-class grade pigment.”

In 2011, Nyanza Light Metals appointed Hatch to perform scoping and conceptual studies on the possibility of extracting titanium from the waste steel slag produced by Evraz Highveld Steel and Vanadium and beneficiating it to produce the highly valuable and sought after titanium dioxide pigment.

“To date, with Hatch as the engineering company leading the technical feasibilities, Nyanza Light Metals has produced TiO2 pigment at a pilot scale and the economic and financial modelling show that Nyanza will be a low cost producer of TiO2 pigment as it is using a waste material compared to the expensive conventional sources of TiO2,” explains Chimhandamba.

Titanium dioxide pigment is the most widely used white pigment in the world accounting for about 70% of the pigment market. Due to its unique opacifying and whitening capabilities, it is used in everything from paints and coatings, cosmetics, and foods to papers and plastics.

Global annual demand for titanium dioxide pigment is estimated at about six million tons, equating to approximately US$15 billion, with the paints and coatings sector accounting for more than 57% of demand.

Titanium dioxide pigment prices in 2011 reached heights of US$4 300 per ton.

Successful implementation will see the following benefits accrue to the country:

Import substitution to the value of more than $60 million per year and export of value added product in excess $90 million per year.

The replacement of lost production capacity in Richards Bay industrial zone due to the closure of the only titanium pigment plant in Umbogontwini and access to manufacturing technology predominantly owned by Americans and Europeans; as well as the reprocessing of material that had been classified as waste to generate high value products.

New Zealand high commissioner Mike Burrell has welcomed the signing as “an excellent example of governments working closely with their respective industries to grow opportunities for both New Zealand and South Africa”.

The main shareholders of Nyanza Light Metals are private equity companies, Arkein Industrial Holdings which is based in Johannesburg and Mauritius-based DBF Capital.

Feature image credit: Stock image of a titanium dioxide pigment plant courtesy of Nyanza Light Metals