On-The-Air (26/01/2024)

26th January 2024 By: Martin Creamer - Creamer Media Editor

On-The-Air (26/01/2024)

Every Friday, SAfm’s radio anchor Sakina Kamwendo speaks to Martin Creamer, publishing editor of Engineering News & Mining Weekly. Reported here is this Friday’s At the Coalface transcript:

Kamwendo: Australians are investing in a new vanadium mine in Limpopo.

Creamer: Vanadium, which was huge in South Africa in the heyday of Highveld Steel & Vanadium in Emalahleni, is being recognised again as a very important metal in the new world where we are transitioning our energy. This is because manganese is being sought after as a battery metal and batteries are going to be so important to store wind and sun energy. The Australians have realised this, and they have listed on the Australian Stock Exchange a company called Vanadium Resources, better known as VR8.

They have come into South Africa and their studies are now advanced. It looks like they are going to not only mine vanadium here, but they are going to also eventually manufacture vanadium batteries here. Adding value on site is the new business model of today’s junior miners. In the new world, junior miners think big. They don't just think of pulling vanadium ore out of the ground and sending it off in a train to some distant destination. They are now seeing how important these vanadium batteries are going to be. Already at this stage, they are looking to eventually producing electrolyte here, they are looking to manufacture batteries here.

This is the big opportunity for South Africa, because they need to be incentivised to make those batteries here and not elsewhere. VR8 envisages doing this in Limpopo, in the Steelpoort  area. It would be great if they actually did this on site, because it’s always is better for a mining company to export something more valuable that only the ore that is taken out of the ground. They are talking about that already. They are also discussing listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, which is important for South Africa, so that we South Africans can also invest in future-facing ventures like this promising vanadium venture. It is not seen as being so conducive to list in South Africa, which is why juniors tend to go on the Australian Stock Exchange first, even those from South Africa.

This is just the way it is but it needs to change. Our stock exchange hasn't been accustomed to small companies, but it has got to become accustomed to opening the way for small companies to raise equity capital on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. The Johannesburg Stock Exchange is reaching out, so that is important and the whole manufacturing side of vanadium batteries here must be encouraged.

Kamwendo: The revival of copper mining in the Northern Cape this week received yet another positive nudge forward.

Creamer: We have had tremendous responses to our own story on copper mining once more being nudged ahead in the Northern Cape. In this case, it involved removing obstacles in the way of Orion Minerals, which couldn't get down to implementing its geological drilling programme because of being unable to gain access to the land on which the drilling is now taking place.

Orion Minerals is also primarily listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, but the good news is that it has also secured a secondary listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange as well, which is so important. Orion needs to do some drilling to confirm the data that they have got but they couldn't gain access to the ground to drill. Those obstacles have now been removed through obtaining surface rights and through acquisition of property. It will be great to get things moving in the Northern Cape.

A lot of people see the Northern Cape as being as prospective as what Western Australia and  other parts of Australia were decades ago. Copper is going to be a very important metal because it is essential as the world becomes a fully electric world. Orion Minerals has seen what the now defunct Anglovaal did in copper and zinc mining n the Northern Cape. The company has also seen what Newmont and Gold Fields have done. They have taken that data and they will be developing a mine at Prieska in the Northern Cape, and data for the Okiep area, where the obstacles in Orion’s way have now been removed. Now, they can get going.

The drilling has already been mobilised, so the speeding up of turning what is in the ground into copper for sale and also beneficiation is going to be so important for us in South Africa and so important for the Northern Cape. The person who is leading it is South African born, he had emigrated to Australia and now has come back with his family and seen important opportunities here. We are going to see the development of Okiep. We are going to see development at Prieska. All moving at a pace that is very encouraging.

Kamwendo: South Africa’s IDC opted to fund a manganese project in Botswana rather than a similar one our Mbombela. Why?

Creamer: Now the question why, I can't fully answer. They have responded to some of our questions as to why this has happened. The biggest thing is that the strategy is to get battery manganese going in this region, but there is an opportunity to get battery manganese going right in South Africa, in Mbombela, in Mpumalanga, as well.

TIPS, which is the independent Trade and Industry Policy Strategy organisation in South Africa, which pushes interesting developments that can take place in South Africa, describes the Mbombela manganese metal making factory as an industrial jewel that should be many times bigger. So, it would be great to see the IDC, which is giving R300-million right now to a Canadian company, which is based in Botswana, also funding the Mbombela company, which has got 50 years of beneficiating manganese and now wants to turn manganese ore into battery manganese, which is already in demand and which is heading for huge demand.

But the South African company is not getting the funding from the IDC, exactly why we don't know, but hopefully the IDC will also extend their strategy, which they say is to build the region into a beneficiation of manganese area, a region where battery manganese is made to meet major upcoming world demand, to the Mbombela company, which wants to build a demonstration plant but needs the type of developmental funding that the IDC was created to provide but is seeing fit to give a Canada-owned, Botswana-based company a chance to get ahead while the South African company is still being forced to mark time.

Kamwendo: Thanks very much. Martin Creamer is publishing editor of Engineering News & Mining Weekly.