Orion Minerals is on track to become a new generation base metals producer through the development of its flagship Prieska Copper.
The clean, green copper that Orion Minerals will mine with the help of the Northern Cape’s hot sun and prime wind will be almost free of cost, paid for by the zinc credits, Orion Minerals CEO Errol Smart said on Tuesday.
“If you take it as a copper mine only, net of zinc credits, we come close to dropping off the scale, because the zinc actually pays for the production on this mine. You get the copper almost for free,” Smart told the 2020 Junior Indaba, a virtual online event, which was moderated by mining stalwart Bernard Swanepoel.
Right now, base metals prices are surging and copper and zinc are mooted to be really streaking ahead over the next couple of years and the abundance of renewable energy will provide the added benefit of premium prices.
“And we have this build-ready project,” Smart said of the Prieska project, the centrepiece of Orion’s asset portfolio, near Copperton, a copper and zinc-mining area that saw its heyday between 1970 and the end of the twentieth century, when it housed about 3 000 workers and their families.
When it was owned by AngloVaal, the current Minerals Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe, was building the National Union of Mineworkers’ base metals division, and had 3 000 members on this mine. He lived in a hostel room on the mine for nine years.
Environment-friendly clean, green metals is the current demand of today’s climate-conscious world and the Northern Cape is well positioned to respond to this far-reaching demand.
“The Northern Cape is just completely covered in solar and wind and our particular mine site is surrounded by solar and wind, which presents an opportunity for the region, not just our mine,” Smart told the Indaba, in which Mining Weekly participated.
“Our mine will start up being 52% renewable energy but we can see very clearly a pathway to being completely off-grid and being 100% renewable energy with a combination of hydrogen or one of the battery storage systems.
“Between solar, wind and hydrogen in the Northern Cape, we can have absolutely clean, sustainable mining, which is a great position to be in because producers of those metals actually get paid a premium for their product and buyers around the world, the Tesla’s, the Mitsubishi’s and the big names around the world, want clean metals. We can do that in the Northern Cape. We’ve got all the things in place and we built our mining plan around sustainability.
“It’s not box ticking. It’s actually financially attractive to do this. Renewable energy is now becoming lower cost than certainly what Eskom can give us in the long term. Now the regulations are in place that we can self-generate, I think it’s going to unlock a lot of value for the Northern Cape.
“Again, this is going to be a mine of the future,” said Smart.
This will make it very different from when it was operated by AngloVaal for 20 years. It is now becoming a modern Fourth Industrial Revolution mine with low labour intensity and high skills sets. It is going to have a safe operating environment, different from when it was labour-intensive in the old days and the health and safety was not at the standard that it should have been.
“Very safe rock conditions. You never had rocks falling on people but, gee, you had a lot of people falling down ore passes and getting run over by machines. The modern mining environment is very hands-off. Machine operators sit in air-conditioned rooms. Very often, they are not even at the mine site. They could well be sitting in Cape Town or Johannesburg,” said Smart.