Despite South Africa’s rich chromite endowment, the low chromium oxide (Cr2O3) grades in its orebodies and the high cost of electricity are significant barriers to the country becoming the dominant player in the global industry.
Mintek metallurgical project development consultant Dr Nic Barcza highlighted that the estimated global chromite produc- tion last year was about 30-million tons, with South Africa leading the charge at 14-million tons, followed by Kazakhstan at 5.5-million tons.
Barcza was giving a keynote address at the Southern African Institute for Mining and Metallurgy’s Chrome Colloquium at State-owned research organisation Mintek’s Randburg facilities, in Johannesburg, last month. He noted that South Africa and Kazakhstan, which collectively boast a shipping-grade chromite reserve of about five-billion tons, accounted for over 95% of global chromite resources.
China consumed the bulk of South Africa’s chromite output in 2016, accounting for about 75% of the locally mined ore, a significant proportion of which is produced from the tailings and middlings of platinum-group metals (PGMs) production along the upper group two (UG2) reef.
Barcza pointed out that the amount of chromite along the UG2 reef was dependent on where on the reef mining took place, with middlings and tailings with chromite grades ranging from 3% to 40%, which could be processed to produce Cr2O3 grading 40% to 42%.