Tenova Pyromet, a South Africa-based furnace and smelting plant specialist, has developed what it describes as “a landmark technology solution” for Northam Platinum Ltd.

Northam is expanding its smelter facilities in Thabazimbi, South Africa, to support its planned growth in platinum group metals (PGM) production. Northam Platinum is looking to increase its output by increasing the throughput of UG2 ore—rich in chromite and difficult to smelt—from the Eastern Limb of South Africa’s Bushveld Complex.

The expansion needed an innovative approach to increase the group’s processing and refining capability using a technical solution that offers the flexibility to process both high- and low-base metal concentrates.

Tenova Pyromet’s involvement in the project covers the PGM smelting furnace, feed system and off gas handling plant, as well as the furnace building and all associated civil works, infrastructure and services.

Basic engineering for the 20-MW PGM smelting furnace and ancillary systems has been completed, and detail engineering is currently in progress. The company noted that close collaboration between client and technology provider throughout the development of the technical solution was key to successfully meeting the challenge of designing a furnace with a sufficiently broad operating range to accommodate feedstock with such widely varying mineralogy.

“The cyclical nature of the mining industry requires that miners such as Northam adopt a long-term perspective in terms of strategic capital expenditure. Tenova Pyromet’s solution, which provides us with the flexibility to accommodate a range of smelter feedstock, positions us well to meet our growth aspirations,” said Rene Rautenbach, manager of projects and strategy for Northam Platinum.

The partnership between Tenova Pyromet and Northam, the world’s fourth largest PGM producer, dates back to the 1990s and includes the recent design of a complete furnace cooling system for Northam’s existing 15-MW furnace. These were the first Tenova Pyromet copper cooling elements to be installed on a six-in-line furnace.

Tenova Pyromet designs and supplies high-capacity AC and DC furnaces and complete smelting plants for production of ferroalloys, base metals, slag cleaning and refining. It also designs and supplies equipment for material handling and pretreatment, alloy conversion and refining, granulation of metal, matte and slag, furnace off-gas fume collection and treatment, and treatment of hazardous dusts and waste.

A portion of the funding for the R750-million smelter expansion was made available to Northam after it extended its cooperation agreement with Heraeus Deutschland GmbH & Co. and Heraeus South Africa last October. The agreement, intended to cement the strategic partnership between the companies, supports Northam’s expansion plans by way of a 20-million (approximately R300 million) contribution by Heraeus for construction of the 20-MW second furnace at Northam’s metallurgical complex.

Northam Chief Executive Paul Dunne said at the time of the agreement extension, “The addition of a second furnace at the Zondereinde division is a critical element of Northam’s strategic growth: it supports the expansion programme at Booysendal and the increased UG2 mining at Zondereinde and will immediately raise the group’s processing capacity to more than 1 million PGM ounces. In addition, it reduces operational risk, while providing headroom for third-party concentrate purchases and toll treatment arrangements.”

The agreement also provided for renewal of the current offtake and toll refining agreements with Heraeus, and represents an initiative in which both parties will also support product development and optimization.

Heraeus’ capital contribution will be fixed according to a progress schedule, and paid in tranches. The furnace is planned to be commissioned by the end of 2017. In return, Northam will renew its toll refining agreement with Heraeus and HSA for a period of 20 years at competitive terms. Northam will also undertake to sell up to 40% of its production to Heraeus or HSA at market prices.