Sepfluor's Nokeng mine on course for first fluorspar shipments in early 2019

By Michael Greenfield, Michael Greenfield
Published: Friday, 20 April 2018

Nokeng mine will have capacity to produce 210,000 tonnes per year of fluorspar when fully operational, according to the Sepfluor executive.

Sepfluor's Nokeng mine is on budget and schedule to bring its first fluorspar shipments to the market in early 2019, with no major delays in the ramp-up forecast by chief executive officer Rob Wagner.

Construction at the 210,000-tonne-per-year plant will finish by early October this year and the ramp up will follow, allowing the first initial trial shipments of around 5,000-10,000 tonnes to leave the plant in January and February 2019.

The Nokeng Mine, situated near Pretoria in the Guateng province in South Africa, is majority-owned and run by Sepfluor. Construction started in July 2017

Wagner is bullish on Sepfluor’s ability to bring the product to market with no major delays due to the company’s HR strategy and contractual arrangements with the company constructing the plant.

"It is easy for someone to build a plant but more difficult for another company to then take over the plant and ramp it up to capacity," Wagner said.

"Our contractor has extensive experience running similar plants, and they will leave 13 key managers in operational roles on site for six months after; providing on the job training for Sepfluor’s staff," he added..

This combines with the company having brought in management positions very early in the process. As an example, the general manager has been on the company’s books for 18 months.

The fluorspar market has been waiting for Canada Fluorspar's 200,000 tpy of capacity to come online, which was widely anticipated in late 2018. There has been no official word on the reason for the delay.

Market status

Sepfluor has pre-sold about 40% of its material on three-year contracts, which provided the foundations of finance for the company. Wagner declined to comment on the price at which these contracts were negotiated. 

Industrial Minerals' acidspar, 97% CaF2, dry filtercake, fob Durban, South Africa price stands at at $350-400 per tonne as of April 19.

This moved up from $300-350 per tonne on January 25 and it has since held firm.

The price increase reflected a lack of Chinese product available in the international market, a supply gap that was serviced by South African and European material. South African and European suppliers raised their prices in response to this stronger demand.

Chinese exports slumped in the latter months of 2017, attributed to sporadic production levels due to government environmental controls on mining. Although they spiked again in January 2018, exports fell back to below-average volumes of 10,000 tonnes in February.

Wagner noted that Sepfluor has received inquiries from Chinese consumers, describing this as "unusual".

On the topic of current prices, Wagner says the company is not counting on seeing prices in the $400-500 per tonne range in the short term, rather settling closer to $350-360 for acid grade, fob, 97% CaF2, dry filtercake, fob, Durban.

Quality

Of the 210,000 tpy capacity at Nokeng, 180,000 tpy will be acid grade and 30,000 tpy will be metal grade with impurities of less than 10ppm arsenic and 1% iron, according to Wagner.

Sepfluor's customers so far have been largely from North America and Europe.



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