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Kropz eyeing first ore through phosphates plant this year

MINING NEWS / 24 JANUARY 2018 - 14.00 / MARTIN CREAMER

JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Explorer, developer and miner of plant nutrient minerals Kropz, which has invested $120-million in its 95% complete Western Cape processing facility, is finalising plant design and mulling capital raising to take the Elandsfonten phosphates project to the next level, Kropz CEO-designate Ian Harebottle told journalists on Tuesday.

“This would be a push, but we’d certainly hope to be putting some of the first ore though our plant before the end of the year,” the former Gemfields CEO told the media conference in which Creamer Media’s Mining Weekly Online took part.

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Questioned on the milestones the company hopes to achieve this year, Harebottle outined the steps this miner of fertiliser feed minerals is taking to develop a vertically integrated fertiliser manufacturing capability, producing a progressive range of plant nutrients for the agricultural industry.

Harebottle’s vision for the business extends well beyond the current single Elandsfontein project.

He sees an opportunity to build a big plant nutrient champion, that begins with Elandsfontein and then looks to acquire the many price-stressed assets that are struggling to come into production.

When with Gemfields, he would say he wanted that company to be the De Beers of coloured gemstones.

“But if you ask for my quick statement for Kropz it would be to become the Glencore of plant nutrients…with exploration, production, sales and potentially a trading platform involving the sale of other company’s products,” Harebottle explained.

The Elandsfontein project is held 70% by Kropz, 25% by Patrice Motsepe’s African Rainbow Capital (ARC) and 5% by a smaller empowerment partnership. Ubuntu Botho Investments forms part of the ARC structure.

“Fertiliser is largely overlooked,” said Harebottle of the industry dominated by parastatals and large conglomerates, which generally take time to adapt to changing operating environments.

“So, there’s this incredible opportunity to create an independent, global champion in the plant nutrient business,” he said.

He drew attention to South Africa being a substantial net importer of fertiliser, despite a large percentage of the South African economy being driven by agriculture, including small-scale farming, which is also a large supporter of the livelihoods for the people of Africa.

He has found in his discussions with financiers that investment in fertiliser production features extremely poorly and advocates that the investment community acknowledges the under investment in nutrient material processing.

The fertiliser sector is recovering from a ten-year low, characterised by delays in downstream fertiliser projects that has resulted in a price-depressing oversupply of phosphate rock.

He predicts that Kropz’s plan to sell moderate percentages of product at reduced prices to small-scale farmers is destined to have a very positive impact.

“There’s an overnight positive impact from digging nutrient into the ground. We’ve got a friend who put some in the ground to grow his aubergines and they were literally almost bigger than his babies, and that’s just one example. These are the kind of things that really float my boat,” he added.

Kropz technical director Michelle Lawrence, who was accompanied by Kropz FD Mark Summers and director Sarah Cort, told Mining Weekly Online that Trollope Mining Services had been contracted to mine Elandsfontein’s continuous, well-developed, sandy sedimentary deposit.

The box-cut has been developed and ore has been opened for what will be an estimated 15-year life-of-mine.

The processing facility is 5% off completion and the access road to site, overhead powerlines and the water supply lines have been developed.

It has capacity to supply 1.35-million tonnes of phosphate rock into the market, with an important aspect of the concentrate being that it is very low in cadmium and heavy metals.

Minopex has won the contract to operate the plant, with associate company DRA Global the winner of the engineering, procurement, construction management contract.

VDM Transport has been contracted to haul the concentrate from the mine site to the deep-water port of Saldanha, which is 50 km away and accessed by national freight routes.

The company has secured offtake agreements for its total production.

The plant’s commissioning was paused in August when it was hit by the perfect storm of depressed phosphate prices, delayed water drawdown in the pit and the inability to produce a 32% grade for sale to the market.

The plant was consequently placed on care-and-maintenance in September so that its weaknesses could be strengthened through robust redesign.

In the interim, many additional boreholes have been drilled across the resource and initial metallurgical sample testing returned from Tenova in Israel is positive.

Changes to the processing plant are likely to be minimal and the cost of implementing the required changes are being calculated with a view to getting back into production as soon as possible.

While this has been taking place, water has been continually pumped out of the aquifer for recharging downstream to draw down the water levels within the mining area.

MARKET FUNDAMENTALS

The market is driven by population growth and the expectation of the International Fertiliser Industry Association is that farmers will have to produce as much food in the next half century as was produced in the last 10 000 years.

“Really, this is only possible by increasing crop yields and fertilisers are obviously required to do so,” Lawrence stated.

Phosphorus, which is essential for plant growth, has no known substitutes, is not economically recyclable and has to be mined and processed.

While the population is increasing, the availability of arable land is decreasing, which means that crop yield must be increased.

Africa, which has the world’s fastest growing population, currently has the lowest fertiliser addition rates globally.

In European Union, pressure is mounting for a reduction of the cadmium and heavy metals content of phosphate fertilisers and Kropz sees itself as being well positioned to benefit from the more stringent legislation.

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LINK : http://www.miningweekly.com/article/kropz-eyeing-first-ore-through-phosphates-plant-this-year-2018-01-23/rep_id:3650

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LINK : https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/national/2018-01-24-mps-force-transnet-directors-to-remember-who-they-serve/

Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER

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