Alphamin Resources is looking to establish itself as one of the highest grade tin miners in the world when it starts producing metal concentrate from its US$160 million Bisie project in the DRC.
While the successful start-up of the mine will be a major milestone achievement for the company, it represents only the starting point for this company, who is ultimately looking to uncover and develop a wide-scale tin producing region in the country’s North Kivu province, says CEO Boris Kamstra.
This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 8 2018
While all junior mining companies have one major characteristic in common – quick production start-up from their single/first operation – Alphamin’s aspirations extend well beyond this.
“Producing tin from Bisie is naturally a primary objective, but the quality of the tin resource in the area represents the opportunity to build multiple mines across the region over time and this is my long-term goal objective,” Kamstra highlights.
The Bisie operation comprises the Mpama North and Mpama South ore bodies – Mpama North is the current mine focus, but Alphamin’s licence extends well beyond these areas and in fact covers 1 270 km² where exploration is already underway, which for now includes an area further to south known as Marouge where Alphamin has already picked up tin anomalies.
This exploration is in addition to Mpama South and the evaluation of depth extension opportunities at Mpama North (Mpama Deeps).
Drill holes to date from Mpama South are similar to those at Mpama North and with only 1 000 m of distance between the two ore bodies (situated along a single ridge), the company would likely find it easy to establish a second mine and expand the process plant it is currently constructing to accommodate additional production.
“Once we start generating cash we will retain some money to further our exploration activities with large-scale drilling programmes. Ultimately, we believe this region can produce tin for well over 60 years.”
“Mpama North simply represents the starting point on a continuum to establish a rich and expansive tin region which in turn will have a significant economic impact around the mine and in turn across the DRC.
"This could help stimulate the development of a tin smelter in time. Considering there are numerous potential hydropower sites in the relatively close Walikale area, the potential for downstream beneficiation opportunities is a definite possibility.”
Kamstra has always believed – from the outset when the company first acquired Bisie in 2011/2012 that the area has the potential to emerge as a tin province based on the geological signatures it has seen. And the intention to unfold this opportunity only grows stronger as production from Mpama North grows increasingly closer.
With few new tin mines in the global project pipeline, the opportunity for North Kivu to emerge as a leading producer of tin in the medium-term future could easily become a reality.
Starter project economics look hot
Alphamin’s investment partners are highly indicative of the company’s ability to produce strong financial returns on the back of a product that will be in demand as a supply deficit forecast remains unchanged.
Its strategic stakeholders include Denham Capital (44%), Gerald Metals (6%), Sprott Resources and the Industrial Development Corporation (14.25% interest in project).
The Mpama North project will mine and process some 360 000 tpa of material which will deliver between 9 600 and 10 000 t of contained tin per annum, although the plant has been designed to process slightly more than this.
This may seem small, but Peru-based tin miner Minser (one of the largest and most well established tin miners in the world outside of China) produces around 20 000 tpa of tin.
At the above rate, the project will operate comfortably for about 12 and a half years although this is only based on the known 230 000 t of contained tin which Alphamin has defined to a depth of 550 m.
Considering the company’s best intersections are at depth, the team is confident that while the area of mineralisation decreases below 500 m, the grades are likely to improve further.
This is unbelievable considering the average grade from the mine is 4.5% - three to four times higher than any other operating tin mine in the world.
“Mining below the current defined resource could deliver a ‘super’ high grade mine,” Kamstra states.
With excellent metallurgical recovery characteristics and very low levels of deleterious materials in concentrate, Bisie is expected to produce tin concentrate at an all-in operating cost of US$8 837/t tin, after it comes into production.
Tin will be sold to Alphamin’s off-take partner, United States Washington-based trading house Gerald Metals. The companies have secured a five year off-take agreement.
Based on all of the above project parameters, Mpama North offers an NPV8% of US$402 million and a 17-month payback.
Project status update
It has been 16 months since the establishment of the Mpama North box cut was started in April 2017.
Today, the site is a hive of activity with approximately 800 people working on the construction of the process plant and development of the underground mine.
At this stage development work is underway on two levels underground and their associated footwall drives are nearly complete.
The return airway shaft will soon be operational and contract miner Reliant Congo is already moving ore and waste to surface. The ore is being stockpiled and will be used to commission the plant.
Kamstra explains that Reliant Congo will mine the Mpama North ore body using a form of sub-level caving known as delayed draw retreat long hole stoping.
This was determined the most suitable mining method. An on reef drive is developed along the ore body. This is designed against a series of fan drilling from a footwall drive.
Once the on reef drive is complete, a ring of 15 m holes are drilled into the ore body extending above the ore drive. These are then blasted and a portion of the broken ore removed.
As the mine extends to lower levels so the quantity of material drawn from each blast increases. The broken ore migrates progressively down leaving the host rock above it to cave into the void left behind. This method of mining has been termed an “ore factory”.
Mine development on the Bisie project is currently ahead of schedule with 1 146 m achieved as of the end of June says Thys de Bruin, DRA’s on site project manager. DRA was awarded the EPCM contract for the full project (mine and plant) in the later half of 2016.
“DRA and the rest of our contractors and sub-contractors continue to deliver above and beyond expectation on the project, including Group Five, the company responsible for our structural, mechanical and platework contract.
"Another local business, Kongo River, has also exceeded expecation on the delivery of its contract component including earthworks and civils. Under the guidance of DRA they have not only delivered their scope of work as outlined but in fact completed some of portions of their project ahead of schedule,” Kamstra outlines.
In order to meet the productions start-up deadline, it will be ‘all hands on deck’ from this point forward.
The majority of the components for the plant are either already on site or in transit. Larger items including the primary crusher have already been installed.
Steel, mechanical, plate and pipe work needs to be completed and followed immediately by the necessary electrical and instrumentation work.
Thys is confident that the plant will be ready for client handover at the end of Q1, 2019, ready for full commissioning in Q2, 2019.
Logistics have undoubtedly been Alphamin and DRA’s greatest challenge – from the border post and through 1 400 km of distance from the Port of Mombasa in Kenya to site – on a 38 km road that had to be fully constructed and is now the access point to the site.
In the month of June this road saw the delivery of 92 truckloads – well above the 50 loads average required to maintain the schedule. So even this difficulty has not impeded the project from advancing on time.
“Our local logistics providers TMK & Tembo Logistics have moved heaven and earth through hell to get us what we require to build and operate this mine, on time and in one piece.”
Individuals travelling to site is equally challenging but Alphamin has established an air strip close to the mine which will cut the travel distance down quite significantly.
“We are in the process of getting the strip licenced and expect to use it to gain quick entrance to the mine imminently.”
All in all, Alphamin is proving that a project with strong economics, peerless team and strong market demand, pose no challenge too big to overcome when working in even the remotest parts of Africa.