Government backs bulk mineral sample exports

By ChikuJere

The Malawi Government has moved in to quell misconceptions that have been making rounds in public domain, particularly on social   media, insinuating that exploration companies are ripping off the country of its precious   minerals through exports of high tonnage of ores disguised as samples.

The issue has come to light after three companies namely Globe Metals and Mining, Sovereign Metals and Mkango Resources announced that they were shipping   substantial amounts of samples from their respective exploration sites for metallurgical tests in specialisedlaboratories abroad.

ASX-listed African-focused specialty metal and rare earths company Globe Metals, which is prospecting for   niobium in Malawi’s Northern District of Mzimba’sKanyika area, announced that it was to send 40 tonnes of mineral samples to China for a metallurgical pilot plant programme in 2014.

Last year, ASX-listed Sovereign Metals Limited also announced that it was sending 40 tonnes of samples from its Malingunde Graphite Project in Lilongwe to Canada for testing as part of feasibility studies, and last month Canada-listed Mkango Resources published a statement in the local press that it was ferrying a 60-tonne bulk sample from its Phalombe-based Songwe Hill Rare Earth Project to Australia for pilot plant testing.

Such developments have triggered an outcry from some Malawians who have shown their wrath on social media as they suspect foul play by the companies “that they are stealing from the country as they are exporting such huge mineral quantities for commercial purposes in the guise of feasibility studies.”

However, in a presentation made during the 2018 Alternative Mining Indaba held in Mangochi, Mining Inspector for the Department of Mines in the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, MphatsoKapokosa said Malawians should not get alarmed on this issue because government makes sure that any amount of sample exported for testing should conform to the authorisedrequired volumes.

Bulk sampling is an advanced part of a feasibility study which involves taking samples of minerals to chemical laboratories to determine content of the required elements.

The engineers and metallurgists use bulk samples extracted from a particular deposit site to design and develop a suitable mining and processing plant for a particular mineral.

“Among major things, the bulk sample testing assist to ascertain the quality and quantity of the mineral as well as determine the right plant to be used in actual mining,” said Kapokosa.

The justification is that pilot plant consists of small scale equipment similar to what will be used in the            processing plant for the main project and the testing is undertaken to provide key design information for the actual processing plant and to demonstrate the achievable product quality.

He explained that samples vary with type of minerals as some require very small samples while others, such as copper, graphite, granite, gold, rare earths, niobium among others, require considerably large bulk samples, especially during advanced stages, to test and optimise processing methods.

Kapokosa explained that one haul truck (tipper) can pack over 200 tonnes in one go which means a 50 or even 100 tonnes sample is less than one truck.

“Imagine large mines can mine up to over 200,000 tonnes of material per day with a single truck carrying 200 or even 300 tonnes per trip, then 40 tonnes, 60 tonnes or even 100 tonnes is not that huge a sample” he said.

He also said companies pay royalty for the exported samples as they do with any mineral exports hence there is no profit made in exporting materials as samples.

Kapokosa also said a bulk sample may only contain 5% or even >0.5% of the mineral with the rest being wastes, so  in transporting of the sample, which is very expensive, the company cannot obtain any tangible retain for the value of the mineral extracted from the sample.

In an earlier interview with Mining & Trade Review on the same issue, Department of Mines Director JalfSalima explained that among many other factors, the laboratory tests involves establishing volumes of minerals likely to be extracted from the bulk, nature of the land on which the mining activity will take place and the design of the plant that will suit extraction of a particular mineral.

“So you need huge quantities of the sample in order to achieve the required results with almost 100% certainty to avoid loss of capital investment,” said Salima.

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