One of the world’s most important sources of high quality zinc, Skorpion Mining Company, part of Vedanta, is taking mining operations at the site to the next level.
Around 25 kilometres north of the town of Rosh Pinah in southern Namibia lies the eighth largest zinc mine in the world.
Producing 1.5 Mtpa of oxide ore and with a nameplate capacity of 150,000 tpa of refined zinc, Skorpion Zinc is without doubt a flagship asset for the country’s mining industry. Comprising an open-pit mine and refinery, the operation provides crucial employment for the region, with 1,500 people making sure that the Special High Grade zinc produced is of the finest possible standard. Of this 1,500-strong workforce, 800 are directly employed and 700 are contractors but, crucially, 96 percent are Namibians.
Led by rising star Irvinne Simataa as General Manager since December 2015, plans are afoot to extend the life of the mine to 2020 and possibly beyond. Simataa’s rise in the industry is an impressive and rapid one, for when he graduated in Mining Engineering in 2005 Skorpion had already been in production for more than a year.
In 2010, operations passed from Anglo America to Vedanta Resources in a deal worth $707 million, and one which places Vedanta among the most prolific global producers of zinc.
New lease of life
And it is more zinc that Skorpion is looking to produce and refine in the coming years. A project is underway to mine waste rock and expand the existing open pit, extending the life of the mine until at least 2020.
To carry out the work in an economical timeframe, Skorpion Zinc has brought in expert contractors and equipment, with up to 450 jobs being created in the process. Existing Skorpion workers are also likely to be given preference in the recruiting process.
These expansion plans look set to maximise the potential of what is widely regarded as one of the industry’s finest examples of zinc ore. The supergene zinc ore body is composed of alluvial accumulations of zinc carbonate and detrital silicate materials deposited within a paleochannel, making it a rare and sought after deposit. Another sought-after set of products mined at Skorpion comprise zinc oxides, namely smithsonite, hydrozincite, tarbuttite and willemite.
In terms of quality processes, Skorpion’s operations involve solvent extraction-electrowinning metallurgy to process and refine zinc products, the only refinery of its kind to do so.
Further afield, Skorpion Zinc could be joining forces with operations at a similar deposit of zinc in South Africa. The Gamsberg opencast mine is located 20 kilometres east of the town of Aggeneys in the Northern Cape, and is one of the largest known, unexploited deposits of zinc in the world.
While the grade of zinc is relatively low (between six and 6.5 percent), the current reserve and resource sits at 214 million tonnes, which translates into an estimated mine life of 30 years. To fully exploit this, further drilling will be required to prove additional reserves.
Vedanta has awarded a contract to develop the mine at Gamsberg to Aveng Moolmans, with production expected to begin in 2018 and lasting around 13 years. The project is expected to employ 850-900 people when operational.
A total of 50 million bank cubic metres of waste and ore is expected to be mined in the first 44-month period, with at least some of the sulphide zinc concentrate being trucked over to the refinery at Skorpion. A decision on whether to build a standalone refinery at Gamsberg will not be considered until phase one is completed, meaning Skorpion has a vital role to play in the initial production process.
This is not the first involvement of Aveng in the Skorpion project. Back in 2003, the company built the original sulphuric acid plant, producing two types of acid - industrial and chemically pure. The waste heat generated from the acid plant is used to produce steam and keep the Skorpion refinery at optimum temperature. There are also two 14MW electrode boilers to produce steam if the acid plant is down at any time.
As well as proving to be a substantial employer for the Rosh Pinah region and beyond, Vedanta and Skorpion Zinc are giving back to the community in other ways.
The Skorpion Zinc Karas Goat Project aims to boost the economic emancipation of rural people in Namibia. The project, which started in March 2012, aims to contribute towards poverty eradication in Namibia by affording rural, underprivileged families a sustainable entrepreneurial opportunity to improve their livelihoods through goat farming. More than 60 percent of the beneficiaries of the project are women, a deliberate intervention to assist women-headed households in rural Namibia.
Healthcare is another area in which Skorpion has invested heavily for Rosh Pinah. To help accommodate the rapid growth of the town, the company invested more than N$4 million in the upgrade of the Rosh Pinah State Clinic and construction of a satellite facility at nearby Tutungeni. Completed in 2012, this new development replaced a system which only saw visiting doctors come to the area twice a month.
By continuing to expand operations, employ locals and give back to the communities in which it serves, Skorpion Zinc and Vedanta will strengthen its legacy in Namibia and South Africa, making it a global capital for the production of zinc.