Northam processing and refining
Northam’s processing and refining capability presents a significant strategic advantage for the group. As an integrated metals producer, Northam’s smelting capability dates back to 1993, when the metallurgical complex was first commissioned. At the time the smelter contained a 15MW furnace, which was used to treat Zondereinde’s output. Spare capacity was used to treat third party material, and then later arisings from Booysendal. More recently the smelter was expanded with an additional furnace, which has grown capacity to 35MW, and is now able to process in excess of 1 million ounces. The smelter expansion came about as a result of a strategic agreement with Heraeus, who invested €20 million in Northam’s smelting capacity. Total capex in the expanded smelter amounted to R900 million.
With growing output from the Booysendal complex, and the prospect of Eland being recommissioned, the new furnace is able to accommodate the higher volumes emanating from the mining growth. The new furnace incorporates a number of advances in the area of PGM smelting. These include extended refractory lining life expectancy, metal containment and cooling, along with best practice in terms of monitoring, tapping and furnace control functions.
Within the smelter, the PGM-containing matte is tapped from the furnace and sent to the converter for the removal of iron. The matte is then quenched with water and bagged, before being transported to the BMR, or base metals removal plant where nickel (Ni) and copper metals (Cu) are removed through chemical processes in the form of crystalline nickel sulphate and copper cathode.
The remaining PGM solutions are filtered and dried to produce a final concentrate ready for shipment to the Heraeus refineries located in Hanau (Germany) and Port Elizabeth (South Africa), where individual precious metals are toll-refined to final metal purity of 99.95%. Northam sells refined metal to contractual metal customers at various global destinations.