The shutdown of the BCL smelter last year affected copper-nickel-cobalt matte production at the mining company in the third quarter of 2014, data showed on Thursday.
The latest industry report released by Statistics Botswana on the quarterly Indices of Mineral Production (IMP) for the period 2003 to the third quarter of 2014 showed that matte production fell by 52.1 percent between Q3:2013 and Q3:2014.
“The decline was mainly due to a smelter shutdown which subsequently led to zero production during the month of July 2014 to the first week of August 2014. Production subsequently resumed during the month of August 2014,” Statistics Botswana said.
Matte is a product of a smelter, containing metal and some sulfur, which must be refined further to obtain pure metal. After smelting, the matte is then transported to Zimbabwe and Norway for refinery. BCL, the company owned 100 percent by the government of Botswana, last year shutdown its smelter for remedial work following the buildup of slug in the furnace. It was during the shutdown that the company took advantage and did maintenance on the concentrator. The company is the only one operating a smelter in the country.
The copper/nickel miner is in the process of modernising its smelter and has already appointed Outotec, an international company in minerals technology, to undertake the P200 million project. BCL currently produces two products for two different refineries, high sulphur (20%S) matte and low sulphur (6%S) matte. The smelter, built in the 1970s, treats concentrates from the mine’s three shafts and more from Francistown based Tati Nickel Mining Company (TNMC) and Nkomati Nickel.
The facility will be busy in future when BCL completes its acquisition of Norilsk’s Africa assets that include Tati operations. If the P3 billion deal goes ahead, Norilsk Nickel would sell to BCL its operations in Africa which include its 50 percent participation interest in the Nkomati Nickel and Chrome Mine in South Africa, and its 85 percent stake in Tati Nickel Mining Company in Botswana. The deal includes a 50 percent participation interest in the Nkomati Nickel and Chrome Mine (‘Nkomati’), South Africa, and its 85 percent stake in Tati Nickel Mining Company in Botswana. Then BCL will strike a deal to treat concentrate from Nkomati through taking over Russia major’s Metal Trade Overseas AG (MTO).
Although BCL accounts for only 1 percent of the world nickel production, it runs a big underground mining comprising four shafts. It treats three million tonnes of ore per annum from its three underground mines, namely Phikwe Central, South East Extension, Selebi and Selebi North. BCL employs about 5000 people and its annual turnover is believed to be around US$200 million (about P1.8 billion) and total assets of US$800 million (over P7 billion).