African Chrome Fields has unveiled its R800 million mineral beneficiation plant in Zimbabwe for the first time, which utilises a world-first aluminothermic process that has placed the company and the country at the forefront of mining technology. African Chrome Fields has an investment of US$ 250 million at present in Zimbabwe.
Headquartered in South Africa, African Chrome Fields is a private black-owned mining company with mining operations spanning along the Great Dyke region in the Midlands province of Zimbabwe. Launched in 2014, the new smelting plant represents the company’s first venture into mineral beneficiation in keeping with Zimbabwe’s growing emphasis on local mineral processing.
The technology is the culmination of several years of research and testing, and was specifically developed in response to a lack of available power and infrastructure in the area, states Zunaid Moti, Chairman and Country Representative of African Chrome Fields.
“The Zimbabwean government has placed increasing focus over the years on beneficiating its natural resources and minerals as opposed to exporting raw material, with the aim of promoting inclusive, sustainable economic growth. In line with this thinking, we took the decision to build a plant to beneficiate our chrome within the country.
“So, over the past few years, we have invested more than R1.2 billion to develop completely new technology that is not dependent on electricity.”
Unlike traditional power-hungry and carbon-intensive furnaces, the aluminothermic plant draws on a proprietary chemical mix to produce the heat needed to convert raw chrome ore into ferrochrome, a specialised ferroalloy used in stainless steel manufacturing. This proprietary mix ensures that the ferrochrome produced is ultra-low carbon, high-grade ferrochrome featuring between 62% and 65% chromium and just 0.2% carbon – a quality that is unmatched by most international counterparts.
“To explain the process, we take atomized aluminium and chrome concentrate, mix it with other accelerants and light it. The mix then self-ignites and the aluminothermic process takes over, producing a very hot chemical reaction that is completed within a few minutes rather than the hours needed to produce the same reaction in furnaces,” he says.
“The slag then separates from the ferrochrome, and once the mix has cooled, we can remove the ferrochrome, which remains of exceptionally high quality without harmful contaminants.”
As a result, its ferrochrome is suitable for specialised high-grade stainless steel manufacturing for end-clients in the aeronautics and construction industries, amongst others.
In addition to its aluminothermic technology, the company’s boasts extensive alluvial mining operations in the area, only drawing on the upper layers of soil between one and three metres deep to extract chrome. It currently has seven wash plants, the latest of which is a double plant that has increased its chrome production to 550 tons of chrome per day, or 20,000 tons per month. These wash plants rely on a simple combination of water and gravity to separate sand from the chrome ore. Once production at plant six commences, production will increase to 30 000 tons per month. Plant six is scheduled to commence operations in the next 90 days.
The company has invested some $250 million into expanding its mining operations since 2014, including the construction of necessary infrastructure such as boreholes, roads, and accommodation for staff, as well as the construction of seven wash plants. Likewise, its staff component has grown from less than 40 individuals to over currently over 600 employees, contributing significantly to job creation and economic development in the region.
The life of the mine is expected to endure for at least 20 years, if not 30 or 40 years given the richness of the chrome reserves in the area. This will provide long-term job security for local employees and hope for further sustainable socio-economic development and stimulus for decades to come, notes Moti.
“This cutting-edge technology has positioned Zimbabwe and African Chrome Fields as frontrunners in mining and mineral beneficiation, and signals our commitment to innovation and sustainable practices,” he says.
“The investment made by African Chrome Fields has not only brought technological advancement but has also contributed significantly to employment opportunities, skills development, and infrastructure enhancement in Zimbabwe. Through the power of public-private partnerships, we have witnessed the transformation of natural resources into sources of sustainable prosperity.
“As we continue our progress, Zimbabwe as a country is likewise forging forward. We strongly believe that the future for African Chrome Fields and for Zimbabwe is bright, and we hope to continue fostering a deeper understanding of our efforts as we work to reimagine the future of Zimbabwe and of mining,” he concludes.