Tati Nickel Mine general manager, Seb Sebetlela, has hailed the Dense Media Separation technology that was commissioned last year as a trendsetter that has enabled the mine to optimise operations and mine low grade ore at a profit.
Addressing the media after a tour of the mine last week, Sebetlela said that the DMS technology will actually assist in extending the lifespan of the Tati Nickel as the mine is now able to revisit the ore that was previously considered as waste and reprocess it with a view to reaping more metal.
The DMS technology basically upgrades the material obtained from the pit, presently Cut 6 and 7, to a grade that can be treated profitably. Before the introduction of DMS technology, Tati Nickel used to treat only high grade ore, such that now the company can revisit the stockpiles of what was initially considered waste to retreat it and obtain more metal, further extending the lifespan of the mine.
Commissioned in 2008, the 12 million tonne per annum DMS plant, which selectively increases the head grade of run of mine material, has enabled Tati Nickel to increase annual production from 14,500 to 22,000 tonnes of contained nickel in concentrate, reduce total cash operating costs and extend the life of the mine by seven years to 2019.
In 2007, mining from the Phoenix open pit removed six million tonnes of ore. The two Dense Media Separation plants (DMS) were optimised to each treat 200 tonnes of ore per hour, both delivering results that exceeded the design specifications in terms of metallurgical performance.
One of the tertiary and quaternary crushers was replaced by a more efficient and less maintenance intensive crusher towards the end of Q4 2007. Test work to optimise this crusher to crush finer ore was completed in 2008.
Presently, the DMS plant is being fine tuned to optimise its operations and ensure maximum efficiency so that it can operate at high level output.
“Tati Nickel is essentially pioneering the use of DMS technology in mining base metals, as the technology has traditionally been used in non-ferrous minerals like diamond and coal. We are also benchmarking with other operations like Debswana which have been using the DMS technology for non-ferrous minerals” said Julius Rampart, Section Manager DMS Plant.
While it will demand much lesser manpower than the present 150 strong workforce at maximum operation, the DMS plant will in the end reap more profits for Tati Nickel while at the same time further extending the mine’s lifespan. The dense medium separation technology ideally uses density differentials to extract minerals. It is a part of physical metallurgy that ideally uses the physical differences of minerals to extract the final product.
Despite the postponement of the Tati Activox┬« Refinery Project, the Tati Nickel Mine has a sustainable, long-term future with a current lifespan of up to 2019, ore reserves of 99 million tonnes, mineral resources of 98 million tonnes and forecast annual nickel production of 22,000 tonnes of nickel in concentrate from 2009.
There is potential to further increase Tati’s lifespan, including the evaluation of the nearby Selkirk Deposit as a potential open pit operation. Selkirk has mineral resources of 231 million tonnes at 0.24 percent nickel.
Norilsk Nickel also continues to evaluate and assess opportunities for a long-term sustainable future of the Botswana nickel industry. Both parties are proactively exploring a number of alternatives to meet these objectives.