JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Years of diligent research and development have paid off for Pallinghust group platinum mine Sedibelo, which is now ready to implement an amazing new technology that will send platinum processing costs tumbling down the cost curve, use a fifth of the electricity currently needed for smelting and throw caution to the wind when it comes to mining chrome-containing platinum ore.
The new Kell process route takes cutoff grades far lower, extending mine life and saving the cobalt in the platinum group metals (PGM) ore mix from the destruction.
By allowing an operation to go from mining to finished refined metal in a week, the process unlocks significant capital.
Construction of a plant to facilitate the commercial implementation of the patented paradigm-shift technology – which has been 18 years in the making – will begin this year.
Sedibelo in the North West province dispatched 165 000 oz of four element PGMs in the 12 months to December 31.
Not only is the operating cost far cheaper, but so is the capital cost.
The plant at Sedibelo, which will have a capacity to process 300 000 oz of PGMs a year, is budgeted to come in at less than $100-million. When the construction of a PGM smelter was planned in Zimbabwe a couple of years back, the cost cited was $2-billion, whereas a Kell equivalent would be a tenth of that.
“We’ll turn the first sod this year and cut the ribbon in two years’ time,” Pallinghurst CEO Arne Frandsen told Mining Weekly Online in an exclusive interview on Friday.
The development of Kell has accelerated in the last five years following the backing it received from Pallinghurst, South Africa’s State-owned Industrial Development and investors.
The enormous volume of data has been gathered from running two pilot plants for five years.
“Without any hesitation, I can tell you that the study has firmly established that Kell is viable, technically doable and is exactly what is needed to transform the industry,” Frandsen said.
Former Mintek researcher Keith Liddell, the developer of the technology, explained that the process carries out on the mine site what normally takes place in smelters and refineries.
It does so by reconfiguring, in a slightly different way, standard unit operations that already exist in the industry.
The substantial electricity saving is brought about by avoiding heating worthless gangue, as is done currently, and only expending a fraction of usual heat on the commercially valuable metals.
Kell processes upper group two (UG2) reef, Merensky reef, platreef, Zimbabwe’s Great Dyke reef, North America’s polymetallic ore and even refractory gold.
The spinoffs on the gold side are that cyanide is not required in the processing and the output is 99.99% refined gold, with the potential to unlock major synergies in locations that host both PGMs and refractory gold.
A slightly modified Kell is also successful for the reprocessing recycled platinum.
Cobalt, now in a strong potential earnings position because of its growing use in electric vehicles, is recovered with the use of the Kell system.
“When you add up the numbers, cobalt is worth tens of millions of dollars a year,” Liddell noted.
Because the presence of chromite is no issue at all, UG2 concentrators can be optimised for greater PGM recovery than when being forced to meet the chrome constraints in the concentrate.