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PGMs miner eyes reopening shuttered mine

SLOW RAMP-UP
The Crocodile River Mine is gradually resuming operations after being placed on care and maintenance in 2013 due to economic factors and challenges associated with the mining method

SLOW RAMP-UP The Crocodile River Mine is gradually resuming operations after being placed on care and maintenance in 2013 due to economic factors and challenges associated with the mining method

8th December 2023

     

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Midtier platinum group metals (PGMs) miner Eastern Platinum (Eastplats) reports that operations at its North West province-based Zandfontein underground operation – within the greater Crocodile River mine (CRM) – are ramping up slowly.

This follows on from the CRM being placed on care and maintenance in 2013 owing to economics and problems with the mining method.

In October, Eastplats CFO Wylie Hui confirmed that initially, Eastplats wanted to restart the mine with a full run rate, but that the miner had to “be mindful of shareholder dilution” as it aimed to reopen the mine in a phased approach instead.

In line with these plans, Eastplats scheduled to undertake the first blast at Zandfontein – with an estimated life-of-mine (LoM) of 22 year – during October or November this year.

In mid-2022, Eastplats South African operations GM Hannelie Hanson told Mining Weekly that to start up the underground operations at CRM, Eastplats would need $25-million (then R380-million) which would largely comprise the initial mining capital to re-equip the stopes and winches, refurbish the lamp room and get equipment on site.

In May this year, the company completed a rights offering for C$7-million, part of which will be used to restart the Zandfontein underground.

Eastplats has also completed a LoM study and underground mine design for Zandfontein, which confirms the mine's economics and provides the company comfort to restart the mine slowly and ramp up production rates as PGM prices increase.

As part of the mine's soft relaunch, Hui said two mining crews have been trained with the aim of increasing this number to four crews, in line with the miner’s strategy for CRM to steadily ramp up to a peak production rate of about one-million tonnes a year from the underground operations, using a hybrid mining method.

The new hybrid mining method was suggested by mining advisory firm Ukwazi in a trade-off study, as a result of the complex geology of the Zandfontein orebody and the minimum requirements for the selection of a suitable, technically- and economically viable mining method.

Previous mining methods failed because of inefficient stoping methods and infrastructure that was costly to operate, according to Eastplats.

The new hybrid method involves mechanised on-reef development and conventional breast stoping; while hydropower will replace pneumatic power underground to improve power of the drills, reduce noise and heat and extend penetration on levels 6 to 12.

A steady ramp-up of three years has been incorporated into the mining schedule, with mining starting at 20 000 t a month, followed by 40 000 t a month for two years.

Eastplats will then ramp up to a steady state of production of 80 000 t a month, at which stage it  expects PGMs production to account for 65% of the company's revenue by 2025/26.

"The company is currently remining the tailings [at the nearby Zandfontein tailings storage facility] to extract chrome and low-grade PGMs," Hui commented, adding that the miner will then focus on the Zandfontein underground, thereby initiating a soft-restart and reopening of the mine.

Legacy PGMs Mine

Initially established in 1987, the CRM is a shallow, long-life PGMs mine on the western limb of the Bushveld Complex.

Eastplats is planning to mine the Upper Group 2 chromitite layer from its Zandfontein vertical shaft.

Hui explained that the CRM is ideally located in an area with good infrastructure and good access to employment – factors he said are a key element for mining projects to be successful.

"Being in this area, 70 km away from Johannesburg, the [South African] government and Department of Mineral Resources and Energy are very keen for us to restart the mine and create jobs for South Africans," he said.

Within the CRM are three key mining lease areas, which include the Zandfontein mine and two development sections – Crocette and Kareespruit.

To date, about $630-million has been invested in the CRM, with more than $100-million invested since new ownership took over in 2016, which has allowed the company to keep the Zandfontein mine well maintained.

As such, Eastplats said this means reduced time and lowered costs are required for it to reopen the mine.

Edited by Donna Slater
Features Deputy Editor and Chief Photographer

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