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In the space of four years, a major new iron ore mine has emerged in the Northern Cape. Kumba Iron Ore’s R8.5 billion Kolomela mine, although officially launched late last month, began operating at the end of 2011. Laura Cornish attended the event.

By the end of 2013, the greenfield Kolomela operation (located about 80 km from Kumba’s Sishen mine near Postmasburg) will offer another 9 Mtpa of iron ore to the export market.

Not only has the mine increased Kumba’s mine portfolio from two to three (it also owns Thabazimbi iron ore mine), but will help the company achieve its 2019 production target of 70 Mtpa of iron ore.

Despite the large-scale size of the project – with a plant that consists of a three-stage crushing circuit, together with screening – it exceeded expectations when celebrating its first production five months ahead of schedule.

Last year the mine produced 1.5 Mt, will deliver between 4 and 5 Mt in 2012, and ramp up to its nameplate capacity by the end of 2013.

A 36 km rail link was also completed in time by Transnet Freight Rail to link the mine with the Sishen-Saldanha iron ore export channel.

The mine’s official launch ceremony was extremely well attended and not only included the Minister of Mineral resources, Susan Shabangu; Kumba CEO, Chris Griffith; and Anglo American CEO, Cynthia Carroll, but also paid tribute to the company’s export customers with representatives from China, Japan, India, Korea, Germany and Austria. Anglo American holds a 65% stake in Kumba.

“Today’s ceremony marks an important milestone in Kumba and Anglo American’s history. This project has had an excellent track record since inception. Not only is the mine development within budget and boasts an excellent safety record of 26 million lost-time injury-free hours, it also started dispatching product to the port of Saldanha five months ahead of schedule and shipped the first ore for sale to customers in China,” Griffith said on the day of the official launch.

Another major milestone, according to Carroll, is the mine’s commitment to a cleaner, more energy-efficient future. “The Kolomela plant is a dry plant, meaning it consumes less water, and comprises energy-efficient equipment and technology wherever possible,” Carroll noted.

Although Kolomela only consists of a single open pit currently, at nameplate capacity it will constitute three pits.

Kolomela mineral resource manager, Mike Carney, says the current pit (Leeuwfontein) will vary in depth from 170 to 350 m and, thanks to 190 t waste trucks and 100 t ore trucks, will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Based on its current resource and annual production, Carney adds that Kolomela’s life of mine (LOM) is about 28 years, although Kumba is already looking to increase output to about 15 Mtpa, which would require processing lower grade ore and a beneficiation process for upgrading.

The macroeconomic impacts from the new mine are significant; throughout the project, roughly 15 000 people worked on Kolomela, enhancing their learning, skills and experience, which is particularly important for the Northern Cape as it is one of the poorer provinces in South Africa.

Once in full production, Kolomela will be responsible for the employment of roughly 840 permanent employees and about 150 contractors, with more than 90% of the employees being recruited from the Northern Cape.

Beneficiation and surplus

While Shabangu is in the midst of encouraging local beneficiation, for which iron ore is a key commodity, all of Kolomela’s production has been allocated for export.

“Despite this, we do discount our prices to the local steel industry and can and do provide the local market, together with other iron ore miners, with the volumes it requires. Even if the industry grows, we have sufficient capacity to supply the market. In essence, this means we are contributing positively to the minister’s beneficiation strategy already,” Griffith points out.

Regardless of future iron ore demand and consumption forecasts, Griffith notes that Kolomela has come online at a good time, where iron ore prices are high.

“Many potential projects will also never reach production, or come online later than anticipated. With India’s demand predicted to escalate substantially, Kolomela and Kumba are well positioned to supply into such key markets.

Corporate social responsibility

“The R33 million we invested in regional development and upliftment in 2011 alone is proof that the physical asset that lies in Kolomela mine reaches wider than the confines of the mine itself. We have proven to our local communities that even before we develop a mine, we start developing a community and this integrity will continue throughout the life of the Kolomela mine,” said Griffith.

In addition to new job opportunities, the Kolomela mine is building 718 new houses for its employees, most of which have already been completed and handed over to the residents.

“There is only one way to finish a project: on time, on budget and with zero harm. This mantra is at the heart of our approach to project development – the Projects Way – and was adopted by everyone involved in the Kolomela mine; I am proud of the team who set a number of standards for the wider Anglo American group in delivering on this project. The Kolomela project has prioritised safety throughout, while making a contribution to its community since construction began, exemplifying the Anglo American way, which puts people and partnerships at the heart of its business. Kolomela mine is one of the three big projects delivered by Anglo American on or ahead of schedule in 2011 – Barro Alto and Los Bronces being the others. This excellent performance will contribute significant new volumes of iron ore, copper and nickel to Anglo American’s portfolio as the new operations continue to ramp up throughout 2012.”

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