One of four selected coastal areas in South Africa could become home to the world's first integrated pure metals refinery plant producing titanium, zirconium, magnesium and silicon.

Leading development fund-ers, the National Empowerment Fund (NEF) and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), have joined with Magnesium and Metals, an American and Russian consortium, as well as TJTI, a Soulh African company, to invest at least R40 million into a project developed by a consortium of investors called Rare Metals Industry (RMI).

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Depending on the final outcome of the feasibility study, the full capital cost of the project is estimated to be over US$1.2 billion, in what is a groundbreaking venture from a South African and global perspective.

"We expect that the project will generate at least 2 800 skilled jobs during the construction phase and in excess of 5 000 permanent jobs once the plant is fully operational in 2014. Additionally, much needed skills transfer is likely to occur through our Russian partnership, further strengthening South Africans' mining know-how and long-term sustainability," explains Donovan Chimhandamba, RMI's project chair and bead of strategic projects fund at the National Empowerment Fund.

The prefeasibility study (PFS) for the project .which is currently underway and is valued at R40 million, has been funded equally by the investor Ihe i hemi cats and allied industries represent the largest manufacturing sector, contributing 32% of manufacturing GDP.

"The project gained momentum when RMI secured a technology and licence agreement with SMWE and other Russian Technology institutes in 2009", adds Chimhandamba.

South Africa has an abundance of mineral resources and is the world's second-largest producer of titanium slag, which is a non-beneficiated mineral. Titanium, a rare metal, which is difficult and expensive to produce, is used in high-technology industries such as aerospace, nuclear and chemical processes.

So far, in South Africa, the bulk of these specialist minerals has been mined and shipped to international markets, primarily in their raw form, before further value is added during refinement. The ability to extract these metals in their pure form is capital intensive, and therefore holds enormous international demand.

South Africa has the second-largest reserves of titanium in the world (behind China) at 16.9%, and produces over 1 100 kt per year, or 19.5% of global production - second only to Australia. South Africa also has the second-largest reserves of zirconium in the world (behind Australia) at 19.5%. and produces just over 400 kt per year, or 32.7% of global production - second again only to Australia.

Access to the pure minerals furthermore creates the potential for local finished goods industries to emerge, such as production of micro-chips for computers and mobile phones, lightweight alloys for aerospace, semi-conductors, and various products for the pharmaceutical industry.

"This is a major step forward in terms of dcvclopingastrongiitanium metal beneficiation cluster, which will be underpinned not only by its natural abundance in South Africa, but as a metal that is increasingly becoming a resource of choice. Titanium is especially valuable for its high strengthto-weight ratio, thermal conductivity, biocompatibility and resistance to corrosion. A downstream industry is likely to emerge as a result of the RMI project, which could lead to an improvement in global competitiveness through economies of scale and an increase in net value of export earnings," says Chimhandamba.

Part of the activities to be conducted by the PKS is site modelling with investigation at this point encompassing various sites situated within the industrial development zones simulating the various process plant integration capabilities, considering that it will be the first integrated metals plant producing titanium, zirconium, magnesium and silicon, in the country. It is envisaged that at full opera tional capacity, the plant will produce 50 000 t of magnesium, 15 0001 of titanium, 80001 of silicon and 2 0001 of zirconium annually, coupled with some derivative products.

Construction is to begin in 2012, with expected annual capacity of 15 000t of refined titanium and 2 000t of zirconium primarily for the export market. It is also expected that at full operational capacity, the plant will also produce 50 000t of magnesium and 8 000t of silicon.

With projects like these, the South African mining industry is once again set to take the lead in boosting the economy and creating job opportunities.

Plant will produce annually:

NEF rare metals project draws global interest

Key to location selection:

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