As TSXV-listed tin mine developer Alphamin Resources approaches its commissioning D-Day at its DRC-based Alphamin Bisie tin mine project, the company deserves praise for this achievement.
In spite of the challenges associated with building a Greenfields operation in one of the most remote locations in Africa, the company has maintained its development schedule and remains on track to achieve its steady-state production goal in July, CEO BORIS KAMSTRA tells LAURA CORNISH.
This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 2
Alphamin has journeyed a long road – literally – which will soon see it transition from mine developer to mine operator.
Having joined the company in 2012, Kamstra has travelled to the company’s Northern Kivu-based Bisie many times over the last seven years to ensure his mandate to deliver the world’s highest grade tin producing mine is fulfilled.
Considering the mine is 180 km away from Goma, the closest city, which initially had little or no connecting infrastructure, building the US$160 million Bisie was no easy task.
Located within the depths of uninhabitable jungle historically dominated by violent rebel groups, the site was initially occupied by around 4 000 artisanal miners reluctant to lose their livelihoods.
And the market has watched with a close eye to see just if and how Kamstra and his team would overcome such difficulties.
Having built the necessary transportation infrastructure, including a new 38-km road to site, selected a supporting team of contractors and worked with the local miners, that road to delivering the project became attainable.
“To have achieved such significant progress to date, on time and within budget for a project of this scale, in a challenging environment, is a testament to the skill and dedication of our staff and contractors on the ground,” Kamstra highlights.
The company will commence with commissioning activity at the end of March. Scheduled to run for three months, plans are also on track to achieve steady-state production in July.
At start-up, Alphamin will mine the underground Mpama North ore body and produce between 9 600 and 10 000 tpa of tin concentrate.
Based on current known reserves to a depth of 550 m only, this equates to a 12-year lifespan although Kamstra has plans to expand its tin base beyond this by opening up and mining the Mpama South ore body, extending Mpama North at depth and evaluating new tin resources within its larger 1 270 km² licence area.
Progress update and path to production
In January this year Alphamin successfully commissioned its processing plant front-end crushing circuit, on schedule.
This includes the primary crusher, two tertiary crushers and the screening buildings. Ore is now being fed through this circuit to create a stockpile with which the gravity circuit can be commissioned.
The underground mine capital footprint was completed at the end of December 2018, two months ahead of schedule. The run-of-mine ore production rate is now being ramped up to approximately 1 000 tpd to achieve the targeted steady-state feed rate to the processing.
Kamstra admits however that the project has not been challenge-free. “Like any new mine development, we’ve encountered a few bumps along the way but none so far that we were unable to resolve.”
This most recently entailed adjusting its mining methodology which was until about six months ago a sub-level caving process known as delayed draw retreat long hole stoping.
As underground development has progressed over recent months, Alphamin determined the ore body’s complexity was better suited to a cut and fill operation.
“During the design phase we recognised that a sub-level cave may be unlikely to be suited to the entire ore body, to mitigate this we designed a spine of off reef declines and footwall drives, from which we could accommodate any mining method should it be required,” Kamstra explains.
Ironing out the finer details in terms of planning around the new mining method is now underway and on the plus side will give Alphamin more control over what it mines.
“The trade-off is that this equates to a slightly higher cost but even so, this should be offset by higher grades owing to less dilution.”
And because the ore body does consolidate at depth, the company may consider changing its mining method at depth as it progresses.
While building a new (sand) road and rehabilitating regional roads in dense jungle was a challenge overcome, maintaining the roads requires equal commitment, particularly in a high rainfall country.
Alphamin has employed local inhabitants to manually keep the road in good condition as trucks continue to deliver the last remaining components for the project to site.
The way forward, beyond Mpama North
Once Bisie reaches steady-state production, the remainder of the year will be spent optimising the operation.
“With a smooth-flowing operation and cash generation, we will look to refinance our debt and start building some cash reserves to explore and bring our other targets to production readiness.”
Alphamin Resources Corp.’s subsidiary ABM (Alphamin Bisie Mining SA) has drawn on the total available debt package of US$80 million and this together with the previous capital raisings are expected to fund the project to production, bar any unforeseen events.
While the designed production volumes from Mpama North was based on the resource, market demand and global supply, Kamstra has aspirations for Alphamin to become an anchor producer in the tin industry.
A predicted deficit in the tin market from this year moving forward (the result of few new tins mines in development phase) could see this materialise faster.
In mid-January the price of tin rose above $20 000/t – up from its $19 000/t range in 2018. “I would love to see the price stabilise around the $23 000 – $25 000/t mark and forecasters believe this a likely future scenario for the metal,” Kamstra indicates.
“We are confident that we can produce tin for more than 60 years from within our existing licence alone and will in time look to quantify our resource to confirm this.”
Kamstra does confirm that the next phase of growth will likely come from the nearby, adjacent Mpama South ore body – which will require far less capital expenditure to deliver because there will no need to build additional infrastructure to develop the mine.
“We simply have to determine when it makes the most financial sense to bring this mine on board for the company and the tin market,” Kamstra concludes.