Platinum ore. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Platinum ore. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Tharisa, a chrome and platinum group metals (PGM) producer, will greatly expand output at its South African mine as it looks to add a smelter that can handle all its PGMs and hunt for an acquisition outside of these two minerals to diversify its risk.

In an interview after the release of Tharisa’s full-year production data showing record chrome production in a year of sharply higher prices and increased PGM output, CEO Phoevos Pouroulis said the company was targeting chrome concentrate output of 2-million tonnes, up from the 1.4-million tonnes target for 2018, and 200,000oz of PGMs from 150,000oz by 2020.

As Tharisa settled its new mine and processing plants near Brits into steady-state production, it was looking to expand its output by taking over mining from a contractor, initiating a number of internal projects and improving recoveries, he said.

The board had relaxed its requirement that Tharisa look for assets in commodities used to make stainless steel to now hunting for assets that were shallow, low cost and gave a comfortable profit margin, Pouroulis said.

Asked if were any opportunities were presented by nearby platinum miner Lonmin, with its strategy of partnering or selling some of its growth assets as well as selling production capacity, Pouroulis said Tharisa was watching the process and would be interested in surface prospects much like the deal signed earlier in 2017.

Tharisa subsidiary Arxo Metals has an agreement with Lonmin to process material at its K3 mine and expects to generate 200,000 tonnes of chrome concentrate a year.

Tharisa has installed and is commissioning a second-hand 1MW furnace at a cost of about $1m to test the processing of its own PGMs as a precursor to possibly building a new 5MW furnace to handle all the group’s output, Pouroulis said.

The pilot project, which would be fully commissioned within six months, would process 250 tonnes a month of concentrate, delivering just less than 1,000oz of six PGM elements, which fall outside a four-year supply agreement of concentrate to Impala Platinum (Implats). If the pilot project was successful and economically viable, Tharisa would build a smelting complex to treat its PGMs to coincide with the end of the Implats contract.

Tharisa reported an 8.3% rise in PGM production to 143,600oz for the year to end-September, while chrome concentrate was up 7% to 1.3-million tonnes. Speciality grade chrome output grew 20% to 323,100 tonnes.

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