Laboratory and minerals specialist SGS Minerals Group is riding the gold and iron ore rush in West Africa. Its establishment of new, upgraded and expanded laboratories across numerous countries is evidence of this, writes Laura Cornish.

A new XRF iron ore laboratory in Liberia

“Early this year we officially launched and opened the first commercial X-Ray fluorescent (XRF) iron ore laboratory in Liberia [West Africa], aimed at servicing the wide range of current, new and emerging iron ore projects in the country, and for neighbouring countries as well,” Derick Govender, SGS vice president: minerals begins.

Govender attributes the success of the laboratory, which is already busy with work for certain key clients, to the vast amount of iron ore experience present within the entire global group.

While it is already running according to ISO standards, it will take between 12 and 18 months to attain full ISO 17 205 accreditation.

The new laboratory (employing about 35 local and expat staff members) is capable of processing between 10 000 and 12 000 samples every month, but plans are already under way to increase this to 20 000 by the beginning of 2013.

This is largely to the upcoming addition of a basic metallurgical test facility and the addition of a gold laboratory facility (already in operation).

Because the XRF instrument is an extremely complex piece of equipment, SGS will provide continuing support from its Johannesburg office to ensure the laboratory maintains constantly high-quality levels and standards.

Govender also mentions that the company has a significant footprint in the Republic of Congo (ROC) – providing on-site preparation sampling services to the Mayoko iron ore project of ASX-listed iron exploration and development company Equatorial Resources.

“Although our intention is to open up a laboratory facility in the country and expand our service capabilities in the region, we will temporarily transport samples from the ROC to our new Liberia laboratory for processing.


“Our three West African offices are bursting at the seams as a result of the massive uptake in gold projects,” Govender notes.

SGS has its major commercial laboratories in Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali. The expansion projects are not only aimed at coping with the additional project work, but are also aimed at increasing and improving efficiency and flow rate levels, thanks to improved equipment. It will also alleviate the pressure and stress on the current workforce.

Burkina Faso

SGS is expanding its commercial laboratory facility to include a larger sample preparation gold assay facility.

Once complete, the Burkina Faso laboratory’s capacity will increase from 60 000 samples a month to between 80 000 and 100 0000.

Govender says that the new equipment has already been ordered, with the new facility on target to be commissioned in October and opened in November.


“Our expansion plans for Mali are similar to what we are doing in Burkina Faso,” says Govender. SGS is adding a full gold laboratory onto its sample preparation facility, thereby increasing its capacity to between 80 000 and 100 000 samples per month.


The plan for the Tarkwa town-based commercial analytical facility is to relocate it to a nearby site, which will provide it with the space to add on a new laboratory.

The new laboratory, due to be in operation by February next year, will cater for 100 000 samples each month.

“We are still deciding whether to keep the original facility open or not. This will depend on the demand for its capacity, which is between 55 000 and 60 000 samples a month.”

The attraction of mobile laboratories

A fairly new initiative for SGS that has taken off with great success is its mobile sample preparation laboratories.

Referred to as mobile sample preparation units (MSPUs), they are either 20 ft or 40 ft containers that are shipped to any remote location and are fully equipped to prepare samples with speed.

“Last year we set up four units in Bukina Faso, Ghana, Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and have another five on order for this year already,” Govender outlines.

SGS provides a full commissioning team, and also provides operational management of the MSPU with staff of between six and 10 people, which is equipped to run for between 12 and 60 months.

They can be used exclusively on a single operator’s site, or placed in a more neutral position and shared between several clients.

MSPU facilities offer numerous benefits for both ourselves and obviously our clients,” Govender explains. “Because the samples are prepared on site, this prevents a back-log from building up at the laboratory, which speeds the analysis process up substantially.”

In many African countries, there is a lot of red tape to go through before obtaining permission to send bulk samples out of the country. By preparing the samples on site, the volume of the sample is reduced to between 200 and 300 g, making it less expensive and easier to transport.

They are able to run 24/7, depending on the volume of work required, and can be operated anywhere in the world.

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