An environmental-impact assessment was under way for the proposed R500-million hydrofluoric acid (HF) project, earmarked for Richards Bay, Vergenoeg fluorspar mine GM Dennis Cooke told Mining Weekly Online on Tuesday.
Cooke said that the HF project was an import-substitution initiative that would require 70 000 t of fluorspar a year.
The tonnage of fluorspar would, in turn, be converted into 30 000 t of HF, which would be used to produce both aluminium fluoride as well as HF.
Some 22 000 t of HF would be used for the production of 32 000 t of aluminium fluoride, leaving 8 000 t of HF for supply to the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (Necsa).
Cooke said that the project was being undertaken by Alfluorco, in which aluminium fluoride producer ICF of Tunisia held 50%, South Africa’s State-owned Industrial Development Corporation 25%, and Metorex’s Vergenoeg Mining Company 25%.
Should the project prove economically viable, Vergenoeg would spend R70-million to increase its mining capacity by 70 000 t/y, which would take its total capacity to 250 000 t/y.
Currently, South Africa is exporting fluorspar from which others in the world were converting it into aluminium fluoride for resale to South Africa.
The locally-produced aluminium fluoride would be marketed to South Africa’s growing number of aluminium producers and Necsa would produce proprietary products.
Necsa already produces HF in small, uneconomic quantities at Pelindaba.
As South Africa proceeds with an expanded nuclear programme, it will require more HF for use in the uranium-enrichment process.