Zimbabwe’s mining industry is set to receive a significant boost as a pioneering chrome smelting factory nears completion, which will place the country firmly on the map in mining circles. The company behind the ground-breaking facility expects to revolutionise the sector with its cutting-edge, proprietary aluminothermic technology and commitment to sustainability, offering a beacon of hope for a region that has long suffered from economic instability.
African Chrome Fields has injected around $250 million (R4.6 billion) in investments into the underdeveloped Midlands province since the launch of its operations in 2014. The privately owned mining company has become one of the largest chrome miners in Zimbabwe, home to the second-largest chrome reserves in the world.
Its new aluminothermic smelting plant cost around $40 million. In addition to stimulating job creation, the new factory will position Zimbabwe as a global frontrunner in ferrochrome production – an essential ingredient for stainless steel manufacturing.
Notably, the factory’s state-of-the-art technology does not use electricity in the reduction of chrome ore to ferrochrome, a key advantage in an area with little power infrastructure. Additionally, by avoiding chemical contaminants, the process is substantially “greener” and more ecologically friendly than other beneficiation processes.
“As the result of our continued commitment to innovation, the new plant is truly a game-changer for chrome beneficiation,” says Zunaid Moti, managing director of African Chrome Fields.
“Our proprietary aluminothermic processes produce ultra-low carbon, high-grade ferrochrome in just a fraction of the time required by traditional methods. This means that we will soon be producing a superior product than what can be found nearly anywhere else in the world.”
Moti explains that the technology is so game-changing that African Chrome Fields has refrained from publishing information that would reveal any trade secrets in an attempt to safeguard its intellectual property and ability to establish a copyright, patent or proprietary protection.
“It would have been improper form to fully disclose the actual processes and ingredients used, which may have allowed others to unfairly consider the information and possibly attempt to replicate it,” Moti says.
The plant marks the latest milestone in the company’s expansion strategy, underscoring its commitment to environmental sustainability and economic growth. While it will initially only operate at 40% capacity before gradually scaling up its output, it will support African Chrome Fields’ mineral beneficiation activities, benefiting its extensive list of well-known South African and international clientele.
Focus on environmental sustainability
African Chrome Fields’ commitment to environmental protection is reflected in its reclamation and rehabilitation efforts. The company has a policy of restoring mined lands to their natural state – a process that involves extensive planning and investment.
In keeping with this focus, the new factory’s novel approach to chrome beneficiation is substantially more environmentally friendly than traditional mining methods. It reduces the refining process to minutes rather than hours, accelerates land rehabilitation times and minimises the company’s carbon footprint, notes Moti.
“Responsible mining means thinking about the lifecycle of a mine. We are committed to returning the land to good condition and minimising the effects of our operations. As such, we’re very proud of our aluminothermic technology. It not only significantly reduces our environmental impact but also improves the efficiency of our operations and quality of our products.
“Our aim is to expand our operations in a way that benefits everyone involved – our shareholders, our employees, the local communities, and the environment. We believe that our approach to mining – one that balances economic growth with social responsibility and environmental stewardship – is not only the right thing to do, but it’s also good for business.”
Thrusting Zimbabwe onto the world stage
Zimbabwe has proven an ideal location for African Chrome Fields to call home, as the company’s reserves are mined from an easily accessible alluvial deposit along the land’s surface. Additionally, the quality of its chrome ore is of a higher grade than many of its international counterparts.
Over the past few years, African Chrome Fields has vastly expanded its operations to include seven chrome processing plants and 19 modular wash plants, with a total template capacity of approximately 1,000 tonnes per hour. The company has also invested around R200 million in mineral exploration over the past six years.
Despite delays due to the pandemic and regional challenges, the construction of the aluminothermic plant, which began in 2016, is reaching completion. The plant will initially produce limited tonnage of low and ultra-low chromium products, but Moti is confident about the plant’s potential.
“Zimbabwe and African Chrome Fields have the opportunity to compete with major players like Elektrowerk Weisweiler (EWW) in Germany and a factory in Russia that effectively control the global market,” he says.
Ferrochrome, a blend of iron and chrome, is a vital ingredient in stainless steel production. With the increasing demand for stainless steel due to its longevity and resistance to oxidisation, African Chrome Fields plans to gradually increase production to meet rising demand.
Moti is optimistic about the future of the mining industry in Zimbabwe.
“Mining is essential to the future of Zimbabwe as a major economic contributor. By helping the country localise its value-added and beneficiation activities, we hope to ensure that surrounding communities benefit from these opportunities rather than seeing the profits funnelled overseas.
The new plant is a testament to African Chrome Fields’ commitment to sustainable mining practices and economic development in the region.
“As an African business, we are proud to be expanding our operations in the area. We are committed to supporting its economy and developing supply chains in this unique region,” concludes Moti.