"From a resource point of view, the project is well integrated and we have good strategies in play at both Gamsberg and Skorpion Zinc to provide feed to the refinery."
Can you give an overview of Vedanta Zinc International?
Vedanta Zinc International (VZI) is a subsidiary of Vedanta Resources Limited and has a grouping of zinc assets in South Africa and Namibia. Vedanta Resources Limited acquired the Skorpion Zinc, Black Mountain Mining (BMM) and Lisheen assets from Anglo American in 2011, and has invested over US$1.7 billion into its Southern African operations. VZI’s flagship project, Gamsberg Open Pit and Concentrator, was inaugurated in February 2019 and is now fully operational. Gamsberg is a part of the South African Black Mountain Complex cluster, which includes two underground operations: Deeps and Swartberg. Swartberg produces primarily copper and lead, with silver and zinc as a by-product. Our vision is to upscale our production at Swartberg by its conversion to a major open pit operation. This will eventually replace the current combined underground production from Deeps and Swartberg, which presently gives BMM an overall output of 1.7 million mt/y and a production capacity of 90,000 mt/y metal in concentrate.
Our Skorpion Zinc asset in Namibia went into care and maintenance in 2020, but we have embarked on an aggressive drilling program to further develop Skorpion as an underground mining operation and identify zinc resources elsewhere in Namibia. We commenced with a US$430 million refinery conversion project to co-treat sulphide and oxide ores and to increase capacity to refine zinc sulphide concentrate from the Gamsberg mine. This project sees the refinery’s production double its capacity to 300,000 mt/y within the next 18-20 months. It will potentially beneficiate zinc concentrates from local zinc mines in Namibia and then export the refined product, making Namibia a net zinc exporter.
We are one of the biggest employers in our regions of operation. Skorpion Zinc provides employment to approximately 1,900 people, of which 94% are Namibian citizens, in compliance with Namibia’s localization policy.
What are some of the challenges VZI has come across in expanding the refinery and undertaking local beneficiation in Namibia?
From a resource point of view, the project is well integrated and we have good strategies in play at both Gamsberg and Skorpion Zinc to provide feed to the refinery. The market is also relatively stable, which is a great advantage. However, to make this project economically viable, an affordable power rate is required to develop the project to its true potential. We are in negotiations with the Namibian Government and NamPower to ensure that we have access to the required power.
Is VZI looking to explore the same local beneficiation model in South Africa at BMM?
We have extensive reserves and resources at our BMM operations. We have several mine and concentrator plant debottlenecking initiatives and ramp up plans which will almost double our current production to from 320,000 mt/y to 800,000 mt/y metal in concentrate and 5 million mt/y to 10 million mt/y mine output. As such, it is imperative that we adopt a local beneficiation model that will see the Namakwa community benefit from the expansion projects in the pipeline and, in turn, the South Africa economy.
Our Swartberg shaft currently produces 13,500 mt/y of metal-in-concentrate. We have made significant progress on our plan to deepen Swartberg to secure 1.6 million mt/y copper and lead ore production pending a favourable economic assessment. Furthermore, our plan is to ramp up our operations which will see Swartberg produce over 2 million mt/y.
Gamsberg also has tremendous potential, and we have a definite expansion plan to double the capacity of our concentrator plant over the next 18 months. VZI is simultaneously pursuing a feasibility study into developing and constructing a smelter-refinery complex, which speaks to both our and the government’s commitment to local metal beneficiation.
Can you elaborate on the digital technologies implemented at the Gamsberg mine?
In collaboration with GE and mining software developer MineRP, we launched the Smart Ore Movement program, centered around ensuring that all available information about the state of the mine, the quality of ore, the conditions of the processing plant and the value of the output product are not only made available to the mine management team in real-time, but that the information is presented in such a way that it allows for effective decision-making, minimizing risks, and foreseeing future issues.