Local innovation drives value in chrome industry

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Local innovation drives value in chrome industry

It is not only chromium producers that are benefiting from the high global demand for stainless steel.

The situation also bodes well for South African platinum group metals producers, considering that a large portion of chromite is extracted relatively cost-effectively and effortlessly from their concentrator tailings streams at a grade of between 40% and 42% Cr2O3, providing struggling producers with a valuable additional revenue-earning commodity.

Some of South Africa’s major chrome producers include Anglo American Platinum, Glencore Merafe Chrome Venture, Samancor Chrome, Tharisa Minerals, Northam Platinum and Chrome Producers, while several smaller industry participants subcontract their operational capacities and management skills to specialists, such as Chrome Traders.

As Phoevos Pouroulis, Chief-Executive Officer of Tharisa Minerals, recently noted in Mining Weekly, the chrome plant is no longer the neglected “stepchild” of platinum production.

“Real capital investment into chrome mining operations and proper processing plants is now required to supply the high demand and bridge the forecasted deficits over 24 months,” Pouroulis says.

Blue Cube Systems, a technology company that focuses on real-time in-line instrumentation and analysers for the mineral-processing industry, has long realised the increased importance of chrome for PGM producers.

It recently provided eight MQi real-time, in-line mineral analysers to four key chrome operations and will be installing more of its technology at several other plants.

Blue Cube’s technology is based on diffuse reflective spectroscopy and advanced chemometric methods, providing rapid in-line element and mineral measurements to optimise the spiral gravity-separation process. This improves recovery and ensures that the required grade of the final concentrate stream is met and maintained.

Moreover, Blue Cube Systems’ hardened inline scan head with a sapphire window has mitigated abrasion challenges associated with chrome ore, thereby, extending maintenance cycles to a bi-annual operation to lower operating costs.

The technology is designed to provide measurements several times per minute, enabling concentrate and tailings feedback control.

This is in addition to a feed-forward control option with a measuring point on plants’ feed streams to provide full processes optimisation and control of the grade and recovery.

Albertus Heydenrych, Blue Cube Systems’ New Business Development Manager, says that multi-steam analysers significantly reduce the per stream costs of installations in multiple-stream scenarios.

“The technology was developed by Blue Cube Systems as a proactive response to the requirements of industry, while also in line with those demands for more affordable automation and control technology options. A further development includes our sampling cabinet which, in addition to its calibration functions, provides an accurate, consistent plant shift sample point,” Heydenrych says.

The company’s analysers have been installed in numerous mining geographic locations for diverse applications, and are even being used to measure sulphides in gold processing plants in Papa New Guinea and silicas in iron ore in Brazil.

“This, combined with our long legacy working with leading mining houses in South Africa, means that we are well positioned for ongoing expansion. However, our roots will always be firmly planted in the development and re-industrialisation of South Africa. This requires continuing our intense focus on providing high service levels, which will continue to benefit our customers in the South African chrome industry,” Blue Cube Systems’ Managing Director, Francois Du Plessis, concludes.

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