Things are moving at an impressive pace at Ivanhoe Mines’ Platreef palladium-rhodium-platinum-nickel-copper-gold project in Limpopo Province, South Africa. The miner has announce that the company’s South African subsidiary, Ivanplats, has concluded stream-financing agreements with Orion Mine Finance and Nomad Royalty Company for a $200 million gold-streaming facility and a $100 million palladium- and platinum-streaming facility for its world-scale Platreef palladium-rhodium-platinum-nickel-copper-gold project in Limpopo Province, South Africa.
The proceeds will be used to advance the first phase of Platreef’s mine development, with commercial production expected in 2024. The definitive feasibility study for Platreef’s phased development plan, which will provide updated production forecasts for the initial mine and subsequent expansion, is nearing completion with release expected in Q1 2022. Ivanplats also has signed documents relating to offtake arrangements for 100% of Platreef’s Phase 1 platinum-group-metals (PGMs) concentrate production, which is expected to be more than 40,000 t per year containing six payable metals, including palladium, rhodium, platinum, nickel, copper and gold. These agreements are with Northam Platinum Limited and Heron Metals Pty Ltd, a JV majority held by Trafigura.
Marna Cloete, Ivanhoe Mines’ President stated: “The Platreef Mine is very scalable, and we see the first-phase, 700,000 t/y operation as only our starter mine – one that will establish a strategic production foothold on South Africa’s Bushveld PGM Complex, and support potential future expansions of this unique orebody, which contains 59 Moz of platinum, palladium and rhodium plus gold (3PE+Au) in indicated resources and a further 94 Moz in inferred, in addition to significant quantities of nickel and copper, at a cut-off grade of 1 g/t 3PE+Au. Future expansions to 12 Mt per annum and beyond, as demonstrated in previous studies, would position Platreef among the world’s largest and lowest-cost nickel and PGM mines, producing more than 24,000 t of nickel and 1.1 Moz of palladium, rhodium, platinum, and gold per year; and help feed the demand for critical electric minerals that the world needs as it transitions to a net-zero future.”
Operationally, as part of the phased development plan, Platreef’s 996m deep Shaft 1 will be used to initially access the high-grade Flatreef orebody that has an average thickness of 26 m – massive when compared to the typical, approximately one-metre-thick reefs being mined elsewhere on South Africa’s Bushveld Complex. The remarkably thick Flatreef orebody also is flat-lying, which is ideal for safe, bulk-scale, mechanised mining and processes optimised for maximum ore extraction. Shaft 1 has three development stations that will provide underground access to Flatreef, on the 750-, 850-, and 950-m levels. The current focus is on equipping the 950 m level station with rock-handling and mining infrastructure. The 950 m level is the lowest mining level, where skip loading will take place – initial lateral development will start from this station. After the 950 m level is completed, the higher stations will be provided with rock-tipping and ore-pass infrastructure, with the equipping expected to be completed in early 2022.
The changeover construction at Shaft 1 is progressing to plan and on schedule for commencement of rock hoisting, also early in 2022. All materials, consumables and equipment for the shaft changeover have been procured and all designs completed. The changeover work is being done by Platreef’s experienced owners’ team with a focus on safety, and a full quality assurance and control system is in place.
The winder that was used to sink and equip Shaft 1 will be the permanent rock, personnel and material winder following the shaft-equipping phase. The shaft will be equipped with two 12.5 t skips with a fixed man and material cage installed above the skips in both compartments, an optimisation that will allow for an increase in hoisting capacity, which will be discussed in the forthcoming definitive feasibility study expected in Q1 2022.
Lateral mine development on the 950 m level toward the Flatreef ore body is expected to begin in Q2 2022. The initial development will use battery electric Boomer M2C drill rigs and ST14 Battery 14 t load haul dumpers being manufactured by Epiroc in Örebro, Sweden. The partnership with Epiroc for emissions-free mining equipment is an important first step towards reducing the carbon footprint of the mine, with learnings to be employed across Ivanhoe Mines’ operations. The battery electric mining fleet is expected to arrive on site in early 2022. Ivanplats plans to install solar-photovoltaic cells to recharge the electric fleet’s batteries.
The contract for the initial mine development has been adjudicated and is in the final stages of negotiation. Newly designed rock chutes on surface will connect the conveyors feeding the concentrator plant and the waste rock area; from there the waste rock will be crushed and used as cemented backfill underground for maximum ore extraction, as well as for protection berms to contain storm water and reduce noise emissions. The waste-rock conveyor from Shaft 1 is progressing to plan with all mechanical and electrical orders well advanced. Delivery of the stacker is planned for February 2022 and the complete waste conveyor load-out system is expected to be fully operational shortly thereafter
Pilot drilling of the first main ventilation shaft will commence in 2022, after which it will be reamed to its final diameter of 5.1 m, providing the main return airway for the Phase 1 development. On completion, this ventilation shaft also will serve as a second egress from the mine.
Early surface construction for Shaft 2 began in 2017, including the excavation of a surface box-cut to a depth of approximately 29 m below surface, and construction of the concrete hitch for the 103 m tall concrete headframe (headgear), which will house the shaft’s permanent hoisting facilities and support the shaft collar. The Shaft 2 headframe construction, from the hitch to the collar level, is progressing well with completion expected in May 2022. With the possibility of increased hoisting capacity at Shaft 1, the mining and engineering teams, in conjunction with leading consultants, is evaluating changes to the sinking methodology for Shaft 2 to significantly accelerate the availability of the shaft for hoisting, compared to the previously released preliminary economic assessment.
In collaboration with South Africa’s Murray & Roberts Training Academy, Ivanplats established a training facility in Mokopane, which includes e-learning, equipment simulators, and professional coaching. Cadets will be instructed in underground mining and engineering, and prepared for skilled jobs like those that will be needed at Platreef.