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Major graphite development shows Mozambique resource potential

Australian resources company and graphite miner Syrah Resources says the Balama graphite project is the first major resources development in Mozambique for several years, with the company, along with the Mozambique government, “demonstrating the importance of operating stability in Mozambique to ensure that sustainable operations are founded on mutual benefits”.

According to Syrah Resources, Balama is the only new major graphite project entering operation globally. The operation, in the Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique, was officially opened by Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi in April.

The Balama graphite operation is expected to produce an average of 350 000 t/y of graphite concentrate at full capacity over a 50-year mine life. Syrah Resources MD and CEO Shaun Verner reiterates to Mining Weekly that Balama fully transitioned to operations at the start of this year.

“The Balama process plant is consistently producing high-quality, low-impurity graphite products with a high carbon grade and particle-size distribution within specification. About 11 200 t of natural flake graphite were produced in the first quarter of the year.”

Balama provides a long-term and consistent source of high-grade flake graphite, Verner adds.

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The company is targeting a production guidance of 160 000 t to 180 000 t, with a planned production ramp-up split of 25% in the first half of the year, and 75% in the second half of 2018. Syrah Resources expects a production target of between 250 000 t and 300 000 t in 2019, based on expected market demand. The company expects to ramp up to full capacity of 350 000 t/y subject to demand.

Balama is a Tier 1 asset, with a “world-class” ore grade of more than 17%, and the largest defined graphite reserve globally, he adds.

“The ore body and processing methods result in about 70% of production being ‘fines’ (–100 mesh) graphite, the preferred size for battery applications, enabling Syrah to be in a first-mover position to capitalise on the strong demand outlook of the battery sector.” Balama is also one of the lowest-cost producers, with cash operating cost in the lowest quartile of the cash cost curve.

“All other potential developments are either unfunded or partly funded and are generally of lower grade and resource,” details Verner.

Syrah Resources will also undertake a review of Balama expansion and optimisation opportunities, including the option of processing the vanadium stream.

Community Development

Verner says more than 90% of employees at the Balama graphite project are Mozambican nationals, including a large number from the company’s eight local host communities. Experienced and well-trained Mozambican professionals are also active in leadership positions on site.

“We are keen to continue developing local sourcing and are working with local suppliers to ensure that products and services are of a global standard. Ongoing improvements to the national grid, road systems and other infrastructure will benefit the country in developing the supply of products and services.”

The company also continues to focus on the development of its health and safety leadership amid the developing nature of the workforce.

“We continue to enhance our community programmes based on our fundamental value of partnering with stakeholders,” adds Verner. “The initiatives include health programmes; developing the Balama training centre curriculum; completing remediation works on the Chipembe dam, with ongoing provision of clean water for several local villages; a large-scale irrigation and agriculture programme; and starting the Balama nursery.”

Commenting on the outlook of the Mozambique mining industry, Verner says the country has significant exploration and resource potential, with many international companies considering potential projects in its mining industry. “The Balama project shows the importance of sustainable operations that can attract international investments,” he concludes.