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MEI Online: Plant Operation News: Africa: February 2nd 2007


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:: New Platinum Refinery to open in Port Elizabeth, South Africa

The first phase of a new platinum group metal (PGM) refinery would open in Port Elizabeth on Saturday February 3, Northam Platinum CEO Glyn Lewis said in Johannesburg on Thursday. The refinery had been developed by Hereaus of Germany, with which Northam had a long-standing offshore refining contract. The refinery was being opened at a time of a looming shortage of South African refining capacity.

There would be three phases in the establishment of a full-blown 400 00 oz refinery and the fine-metal refinery being opened was the initial R70-million phase.

Northam's production was currently insufficient to justify the construction of the full 400 000 oz refinery.

But in order to facilitate Northam's commitment to refine in South Africa, Hereaus had undertaken to construct the refinery in a phased manner, with some of the processing continuing to take place offshore and the balance at the new Port Elizabeth refinery. "As we secure more ounces from minorities, it will allow for the building of a fully-fledged refinery, with further beneficiation benefits beyond pure platinum and pure palladium," Lewis told Mining Weekly Online.

A new junior was in discussion with Northam to smelt its ore, which would also then be refined by Hereaus, Lewis said. "We have had a long-standing relationship with Hereaus and we are very supportive," he added.

All of Northam's platinum and palladium would be refined at the new Port Elizabeth refinery, which was the bulk of its metal. Once Northam began mining the long-delayed proposed Booysendal platinum joint venture with Anglo Platinum, the output from this operation would also be refined at the new Hereaus refinery. It was also anticipated that steps would be taken to channel PGM material from many more junior miners, wanting to remain independent of the platinum majors, through Northam to the Port Elizabeth refinery.

This would give Hereaus sufficient PGM material to justify going ahead with the remaining two phases. Lewis said that Northam currently had excess smelting capacity, which more juniors could consider taking up. The strategy was to attract as many juniors as possible to work towards the creation an independent processing facility in which they could all share and avoid having to use facilities owned by platinum majors. Northam director Bernard van Rooyen said none of the major platinum companies had any significant refining capacity to spare, which justified Hereaus's decision to go ahead with the refinery's first phase.

Hereaus had a downstream business that produced a range of semi-finished PGM products, many of which were sold into the catalytic-converter industry. This was why the company had chosen Port Elizabeth as its location as it was within the heart of South Africa's autocatalyst industry. Van Rooyen said that platinum refining was a high-technology industry that required experienced operators and Northam had committed its refining business to Hereaus. He said it was a given that Booysendal output would be refined at the new Port Elizabeth refinery.




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