The ongoing refurbishment of the smelter plant at BCL mine, which is expected to take two months, will cost the mine a total of P728 million, the Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, Kitso Mokaila has revealed. Kitso Mokaila told parliament on Friday that the refurbishment which is undertaken every five years makes more business sense than buying a new smelter plant altogether. According to Mokaila getting a new plant will force the mine to close down for quite some time resulting in immense loss of income to the mine.
Mokaila said the shutdown has already commenced and they expect it to last 62 days as planned. The main unit operations impacted by the refurbishment are the flash smelting furnace, waste heat boiler, drying plan, electric furnaces, converters and all the associated ancillary equipment. The contract of the refurbishment has been awarded to Kentz Engineers and Contractors through a competitive bidding process pursuant to the BCL internal tender review committee protocols. Mokaila explained that Kentz Engineers and Contractors was chosen to execute the project because of their track record as specialists of note in project management of shutdowns. The company has been engaged twice before by the BCL in their previous shutdowns.
Selibe Phikwe West MP Dithapelo Keorapetse had wanted Mokaila to explain whether the current shutdown of the smelter was different from past ones and whether it would not make business sense for BCL to rather replace the smelter with a new one instead of refurbishing it.
Mokaila said government is committed to ensuring that BCL mine becomes a viable project that will benefit the town of Selibe Phikwe and the country in general. He says that is the reason the mine is now looking beyond coal mining and acquiring other mines in Botswana and outside, citing the Nkomati mine in South Africa. “ The idea is to turn Phikwe into a metallurgical hub,” he said.
BCL Managing Director Dan Mahupela recently told journalists that at the peak capacity, the total contractor workforce head count will be 1500-2000, in addition to the normal 4500 BCL complement. The BCL, contractor management and operational structure will be organised to work on a two 12-hour shift work cycle to complete all the planned activities.
According to Mahupela the purpose of the rebuild is to modernize the BCL smelting furnace to run for a longer service campaign. “The improvements effected on the cooling systems and refractory and the upgrade will render the smelter the capability to treat a myriad of nickel concentrates arising from both the future BCL mineral exploration tenement and the acquisitive tolling opportunities pursued through the Polaris II strategy,” he said
Mahupela further said BCL continues to invest in the development and expansion of its business to ensure future sustainability with the majority of this expenditure relating to mining capital development as well as other diversification related projects within the sub region.