2011/03/09 06:37:25 AM
By Edward West
The new lease area effectively extends the economic and job creation benefits of the mine in the region. Previously, operations were expected to extend to about 2030.
The company, a joint venture between Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and its empowerment partners Blue Horizon Investments and RBM staff, is a leading producer of titania slag, high-purity iron, rutile and zircon. Its turnover is about R6bn a year and 99% of production is exported.
RBM trades as two companies, Richards Bay Mining, which mines sand dunes near the smelter north of the town, and Richards Bay Titanium, which smelts ilmenite to produce titanium dioxide feedstock and pig iron. RBM mining and planning GM Joey Kunji-Behari says the group is also commissioning a tailings plant that uses new technology to reprocess minerals from previously mined sand deposits. A prefeasibility study is under way at the Zulti South area and mining may commence around 2016, depending on the outcome of the study, he says.
Mining of the Zulti North mining lease area, situated just north of Richards Bay and which ends at the border of the St Lucia reserve, would continue to around 2030.
Mineral grades in the Zulti South site are expected to be similar to Zulti North where the grades are slightly lower than the Tisand lease area south of Zulti North where RBM first started mining when it was established in 1976.
Chief financial officer Bruce Beath says, in the long term, once all the mineral deposits are depleted, it may be possible to continue operating the smelter by using imported feedstock.
RBM, one of only a few companies that beneficiate mining production in SA, has sold its production for its main products for the next two to four years and prices are favourable. Mr Beath is concerned about the rising price of electricity affecting the competitiveness of the smelter and talks are under way with Eskom. Copper cable theft has recently become a problem.
A co-generation plant is being investigated which will use carbon monoxide from the furnace facility to drive gas engines and produce power.
Mr Kunji-Behari says RBM has been a pioneer in dune rehabilitation, rehabilitation being a condition of the mining approval processes. RBM claims to be one of a few mines in the world where rehabilitation has started from the first day of operation. The mining involves stripping the dunes of vegetation, filling a sunken pond with water and floating a dredging and a concentrator facility to suck up the sand and separate the darker mineral-rich sand from the lighter sand and transporting the concentrated material to the smelter.
Rehabilitation involves rebuilding the dunes to original contours and initially planting casuarina trees to re-establish the indigenous forest vegetation. Casuarina trees are chosen because they add nitrogen to the sand and improve its fertility.
Rehabilitation is a continuous process of up to 12 years, and by the look of some of the older forest-covered dunes, it has succeeded. Rehabilitation has been involved in the community around the mine and RBM makes 55ha of dune crops available to the community every year who use the trees to make charcoal or use the acacia eucalyptus trees, sometimes planted as a second crop, to supply nearby wood chip manufacturers.
Mr Kunji-Behari says RBM is investigating planting other crops on dunes that can generate a better income for the community. Rio Tinto owns 37% of RBM, BHP Billiton 37%, Blue Horizon Investment 24% and RBM employees hold 2%. Most of the Blue Horizon empowerment group are black-owned companies in KwaZulu-Natal. (Business Day)