At the East & Central African Mining Forum, held in Kigali, Rwanda in late October, Ray Power of UK-based Power Resources Group (PRG) announced plans to invest US$22M in the building of a plant near the city to process coltan tailings into tantalum. The plant could use ore processing technology developed by the UK’s Metalysis, which had just been placed under administration when PRG purchased it in July this year. PRG adopted the Metalysis brand in September.
The move could be seen as a genuine disruptive model—a fully-integrated mines-to-metal approach based on new technology—with both ore sourcing and processing taking place in Central Africa for the first time. Using this approach, the company would have control over the entire processing chain and, provided technical targets can be achieved, will have a saleable product at each of the major production stages (concentrate, K-salt, oxides and metal). This differs from the current situation, where miners simply produce and sell concentrate. There are thus opportunities to retain the added value in Central Africa.
The plant will be a transplant from the company’s existing operation in North Macedonia, which already imports ore from Central Africa for digestion and processing to oxides (company literature indicates that it can also produce K-salt and metal powder).
There are some concerns regarding the need to control oxide structure and post-reduction chemistry and carbon is a possible issue. Some industry sources question whether this new and unproven technology can produce even low capacitance powder, given the carbon content. Others consider that capacitor powder is the ultimate goal (highest value) but that the alloy market might be addressed first as it has lower barriers to entry and is largely price-based. The new operation will almost certainly be low-cost.
If this venture succeeds, it will probably lead to others in the region.
Roskill’s NEW report, Tantalum: Outlook to 2029, 15th Edition is due to be published in December 2019. Click here to download the brochure and sample pages for the report, or to access further information.