South Africa’s Impala Platinum, the world’s second-largest platinum miner will set up a refinery in the country by upgrading its existing facilities, with work on the first phase scheduled to start in July, an official said on Friday.
The platinum refining process goes through two significant stages; in the base metal refinery – which separates base metals such as nickel and copper – and then the precious metal refinery which processes the various platinum group metals and gold to high levels of purity.
Zimbabwe, which has the world’s second largest platinum reserves after South Africa, has given miners two years to localise platinum group metal refinery, which is currently done in the southern neighbouring country.
On March 20, mines minister, Walter Chidhakwa told The Source that Implats chairperson Dr Khotso Mokhele, on a visit to Zimbabwe, had indicated that Implats was willing to set up a platinum refinery in the country.
Zimplats chief operating officer Stanley Segula said the board had given the company go ahead to upgrade its existing smelter to a base metal refinery at an estimated cost of $100 million as part of the first phase which will take about 24 months.
“We are going ahead to establish a refinery,” Segula told delegates to an investment conference touring the plant, adding that engineers from Zimplats’ parent company, Implats were in the country to start work on the project.
“On commissioning, we will process matte from the existing smelter to produce final base metals, ” he said.
Segula said the second phase will involve establishing another smelter and upgrading the base metal refinery to process precious metals, but did not give a timeline while costs for the second phase are yet to be determined.
The base metal refinery will process 270,000 tonnes of ore to produce matte while Zimplats is currently mining 240,000 tonnes of ore, he added.
Segula said the miner is shipping 7,000 tonnes of matte per year for final refining in South Africa.
The local platinum industry, dominated by Implats and its world number one rival Anglo American Platinum Zimplats has said it is approaching the 500,000 ounce per annum levels that are required for platinum refining facilities to be viable.
On Wednesday, RioZim said it was considering plans to upgrade its Empress nickel refinery to process the base metal elements in platinum group metals.