In order to create a sustainable life for the Skorpion Zinc mine in southern Namibia and to shorten the care and maintenance period that commenced in May last year, owners Vedanta Zinc International (VZI)’s accelerated focus is currently on its Namzinc Refinery Conversion project at the mine. This conversion is expected to enable co-treatment of both sulphides and oxides to produce refined metal of which the successful execution will make Namibia the only country in Africa to produce refined SHG (Special High Grade) zinc and is envisaged to enable the country to be a net exporter of zinc.
Total investment in the project is estimated to be N$6.5 billion with a job creation of approximately 2 000, which will make this the single biggest investment in the //Kharas region. Further, the restart of the Skorpion mine refinery is also expected to contribute significantly to local community.
According to VZI spokesperson, Nora Ndopu, the refinery’s production capacity is planned at 150KT per annum, with plans to expand to 300KT per annum with the introduction of the latest technology, required modifications and additions to the existing processing plant.
“Significant works have been put into the Refinery Conversion project including the finalisation of the bankable feasibility study. Once construction is completed, the refinery is to process zinc concentrate from Gamsberg, South Africa and add value in Namibia and export the refined product, not only to South Africa but also elsewhere in SADC and beyond. It will potentially beneficiate zinc concentrates from local zinc mines in Namibia and then export the refined product. In addition to zinc production, Skorpion Zinc will also produce sulphuric acid, that may be available for local and export markets,” Ndopu said via a media statement. Ndopu added that the refinery’s success depends on a few critical factors, of which the most significant is availability and affordability of power. “VZI is currently in discussions with government and other key stakeholders to ensure the availability of power at affordable rates. VZI is ready to start execution on the ground subject to finalisation of power in a timely manner,” Ndopu stated.
Meanwhile, Ndopu said VZI, a subsidiary of London-listed Vedanta Resources, remains focussed on prioritising growth projects across its operations in Africa and the Skorpion Zinc mine is no exception. Since VZI acquired Skorpion Zinc, through Vedanta Resources in 2011, the company has invested over N$1.4 billion to extend the life of the mine from 2015 to 2020 and continues to explore mines in nearby areas.
However, Ndopu explained that significant and unforeseen geotechnical instabilities in the open pit resulted in intermittent stoppages and delays which unfavourably extended the project timeline and significantly eroded project value. For this reason, the company took a painful decision to place the mine under care and maintenance with effect from 1 May 2020. Vedanta Resources acquired Skorpion Zinc as an integrated world-class mining and refinery operation located near Rosh Pinah, producing Special High Grade (SHG) Zinc and as the only refined zinc producer in Africa.
VZI also enlisted the services of geotechnical experts, SRK Consultants, for a feasibility study on safely mining the remaining ore. “We remain optimistic that, we will, in the near future resume mining the remaining ore but this will be feasible only with the refinery conversion project being executed,” Ndopu concluded.